How many clichés have you heard regarding pitching in baseball?
You can never have enough, TINSTAAP, pitching and defense wins championships…
…none of them are wrong. However, I do take umbrage when pundits make this statement; “velocity doesn’t matter”.
Of course things like secondary pitches, command, deception, movement, are all very important…and I would admit that velocity is not as important for starting pitchers. Yet, if I am building a bullpen I want as many guys as possible who throw 95mph plus.
Duh! (Your response right now)…everyone does! Every freaking team in baseball does! Especially since most teams are trying to follow the Royals winning blueprint from last season. Our Cubs are no different…yet right now their bullpen has been letting them down…and some of it may be due to a lack of velocity.
In Wednesday’s game, the Cubs lead 3-1 until Tucker Barnhart hit a 3 run homer off of Trevor Cahill and just like that…the game was gone. Cahill has done a nice job over the last calendar year for the Cubs using his sinking fastball and his deceptive movement.
According to Fangraphs Cahill is averaging 92.3 MPH on his fastball. Compare this to a pitcher the Cubs saw routinely in the 7th inning in the Miami series…David Barraclough…who is sitting at 95.5… or David Phelps who is throwing right at about 94. At first glance those differences may not seem significant. 92? 94? 95.5? Only a couple of ticks on a radar gun right? Well…not really.
First…my not so scientific argument…these are averages…so Trevor Cahill(hey…I like Trevor Cahill) sits between 90 and 94 on his fastball…Phelps goes 92-96 and Barraclough sits 94-98…those are considerable differences.
Now the scientific evidence…
Last night I watched the documentary Fastball directed by Jonathon Hock and narrated by Kevin Costner (if its baseball or westerns for Costner…count me in!) For a baseball nerd (like me) I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend it. Without giving away any spoilers – Who threw the hardest pitch ever? Who did Ted Williams say was the fastest pitcher he ever saw? Could Bob Feller really throw harder than a speeding locomotive?- I will use some of the science involved. There is an entire section called “92-100” which breaks down the difference anecdotally and scientifically between these important 8 miles per hour. First, Fastball has hitters like Bryce Harper, Brandon Phillips, and Tori Hunter(whose description of a helpless at bat off of Joel Zumaya is wonderful) explain the noticeable difference in the batter’s box. Which, once again…duh?!
Ah…but the science of Fastball! I will explain this as simply as I can (for the reader and myself). A hitter has 50 more milliseconds to react to a ball thrown at 92 mph than one at 100 mph. 50 milliseconds may not sound like much…but according to these fellas who are lot smarter than me…the brain is capable of about 25 times more brain computations during those 50 milliseconds.
Example- A pitch comes in at 92 MPH…the hitter can see the release, gauge the location, and possibly adjust in the last 5 feet of the balls flight. A pitch comes in at 100 MPH…guess and swing…and many times the hitter can’t even see it in the last 5 feet!
The solution is simple…right? The Cubs just need to get a couple of 100 mph throwers. Well we know the scarcity of these types of pitchers…and good freakin’ luck finding one. (At least one that doesn’t have a domestic violence incident in his background) Let’s go back to those 50 milliseconds for a moment. Let’s say a 93-97 mph split computes to a 30 millisecond difference…that will still greatly affect the hitter’s ability to make decisions. Would Tucker Barnhart been able to catch up to a 95mph fastball?
Currently Hector Rondon (once again according to Fangraphs) is sitting at 95.9 average mph…then Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, and Carl Edwards Jr. are all in the 94 and change range. If you peruse most MLB bullpens you will see similar breakdowns with a handful having two or three 95 plus guys.
So Theo and Jed…that’s all I am asking for…just ONE more 95 plus guy. That’s it…maybe he’s already in the system (Corey Black), maybe he is on another team and has recently been demoted to the bullpen (Nathan Eovaldi)…but he is out there!
…and we need him. (Preferably sooner than later)