On the Height of the Padres' Pitchers

Think the Padres like tall pitchers?

Here’s the height of the pitchers currently in camp:

Chris Young-6’10″
Adam Russell-6’8″
Jon Garland-6’6″
Mat Latos-6’6″
Clayton Richard-6’5″
Mike Adams-6’5″
Kevin Correia-6’3″
Heath Bell-6’3″
Wade LeBlanc-6’3″
Luke Gregerson-6’3″
Sean Gallagher-6’2″
Joe Thatcher-6’2″
Ed Mujica-6’2″
Tim Stauffer-6’1″

None of these guys are really short, and six of them are 6’5″ or taller. The Padres also have Ryan Webb and Aaron Poreda at 6’6″ in Triple-A. The Padres’ top pitching prospect, Simon Castro, is 6’5″.

And hey, there’s nothing wrong with getting a bunch of tall pitchers. Scouting directors have their preferences. Tigers scouting director David Chadd, for example, loves big, flamethrowing righties. In the book Moneyball, the A’s front office loves college players with excellent numbers, particularly OBP for hitters.

So the Padres’ front office (or at least, the old front office) seems to like height in their pitchers. Fine.

Now, when we think of big pitchers, we usually think of hard throwers. What’s interesting is that the Padres, for all their height, don’t really throw very hard. The team averaged 90.3 mph on their fastballs last season, 27th in the majors.

Looking at the relationship of those 14 pitchers to their velocities, here’s what we get:

Chris Young-6’10″-85.8
Adam Russell-6’8″-94.0
Jon Garland-6’6″-89.7
Mat Latos-6’6″-94.2
Clayton Richard-6’5″-91.6
Mike Adams-6’5″-92.3
Kevin Correia-6’3″-91.1
Heath Bell-6’3″-93.7
Wade LeBlanc-6’3″-84.9
Luke Gregerson-6’3″-91.1
Sean Gallagher-6’2″-91.5
Joe Thatcher-6’2″-87.3
Ed Mujica-6’2″-92.7
Tim Stauffer-6’1″-89.7

That has absolutely no correlation, if you run a linear regression on it. Of course, Young is a bit of an outlier, but hey, Mark Hendrickson throws softly too, and it’s not like Jon Rauch is a flamethrower.

For this team, at least, it seems like they’re acquiring big pitchers more for some sort of size factor than for the big pitcher/hard thrower cliche.

However, velocity isn’t what makes a good fastball. A lot of the time, you hear about a pitcher like Young throwing on a “steep downward plane.” Could height improve fastball effectiveness, rather than velocity?

The 2009 Padres ranked eight in fastball effectiveness despite their lack of velocity. Let’s overlay the effectiveness (runs above average per 100 pitches) with the height and velocity from before…

Chris Young-6’10″-85.8-(-)0.87
Adam Russell-6’8″-94.0-(-)0.89
Jon Garland-6’6″-89.7-(-)0.34
Mat Latos-6’6″-94.2-0.99
Clayton Richard-6’5″-91.6-0.79
Mike Adams-6’5″-92.3-3.52
Kevin Correia-6’3″-91.1-.76
Heath Bell-6’3″-93.7-1.72
Wade LeBlanc-6’3″-84.9-(-)0.47
Luke Gregerson-6’3″-91.1-(-)0.41
Sean Gallagher-6’2″-91.5-0.93
Joe Thatcher-6’2″-87.3-1.37
Ed Mujica-6’2″-92.7-0.10
Tim Stauffer-6’1″-89.7-(-)0.40

On this particular team, height and effectiveness actually have a slight inverse correlation, although given the small sample size, it’s not striking. Velocity and effectiveness have a slight correlation, although Russell and Thatcher certainly show that it’s nowhere near linear.

It’s interesting that this team has poor velocity and good effectiveness, and yet velocity and effectiveness have a positive correlation within the team’s pitchers.

The Padres, as a pitching staff, rated better at sliders in 2009 than any other pitch. Interestingly, most shorter pitchers rely on sliders. The Padres ranked 27th in both curve and changeup effectiveness, so height isn’t really helping those pitches.

This data doesn’t lead to many conclusions. The one thing that does seem to come out is that the Padres staff is generally a group of gentle giants, with the exception of Latos, Adams, Bell, and possibly Richard. The overall size of the staff doesn’t seem to give the Padres any huge advantages, although their fastballs tend to be more effective than other teams’ despite their relative lack of velocity. I don’t think it hurts the Padres to collect these types of pitchers, but it doesn’t really help them much either.

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