The Athletics, The Phillies, And Short Pitchers by Eno Sarris February 24, 2015 If you watch the Athletics, you may have noticed something about their pitching staffs over the last few years. They’re… shorter than average. Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, and Jarrod Parker are all six foot one or shorter, and none of the A’s pitchers are taller than six foot six. Look across the country at the Phillies, and the difference becomes more stark. @enosarris Phillies have 4 guys 6'6" or taller to the Athletics 0, it would be interesting to see if it is an org philosophy or just random — Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) February 20, 2015 Turns out, these two staffs define the range between the tallest and shortest pitchers in the majors. It’s not immediately as obvious if you go by average height. Here are the teams ranked by their average height in inches, over the last five years. Team Height (inches) Mariners 75.15 Yankees 74.98 Orioles 74.90 Pirates 74.86 Reds 74.82 Rangers 74.82 White Sox 74.80 Phillies 74.79 Tigers 74.76 Nationals 74.75 Cubs 74.74 Marlins 74.72 Indians 74.70 Padres 74.69 Red Sox 74.64 Cardinals 74.64 Twins 74.59 Rockies 74.57 Rays 74.56 League Average 74.55 Diamondbacks 74.50 Athletics 74.45 Dodgers 74.38 Mets 74.33 Angels 74.30 Blue Jays 74.19 Brewers 74.17 Braves 74.09 Giants 74.04 Astros 73.96 Royals 73.63 The Phillies are near the top and the Athletics are near the bottom, but there isn’t much spread here. An inch and a half separate the tallest from the shortest, and no staff is an inch shorter or taller than average. But that list isn’t weighted. You could have a 6’7″ reliever hanging out on your 40-man roster, and he’d change the whole calculus. Let’s instead look at the sum of the pitches thrown by pitchers shorter than 73 inches tall, by team. Team “Short” Pitches Athletics 50490 Giants 50295 Astros 48831 Mets 44693 Royals 44200 Brewers 43361 Reds 43218 White Sox 42227 Diamondbacks 39367 Braves 39094 Blue Jays 38340 Orioles 38097 Angels 35552 Dodgers 34532 Padres 34514 Rockies 34253 Indians 32339 Marlins 30397 Twins 28977 Cubs 28091 Rangers 27144 Nationals 27002 Rays 26913 Mariners 26343 Tigers 25936 Red Sox 25236 Yankees 24774 Pirates 20154 Cardinals 19400 Phillies 15119 Well now. Over the last five years, the Athletics have had nearly 40,000 more pitches thrown by short pitchers than the Phillies. Think of Roy Halladay (6’6″) and Sonny Gray (5’11”) as emblems of their respective staffs. Looking at pitches thrown by shorter pitchers gives us a larger spread between the teams, and it indicates that perhaps different organizations do have different philosophies about height. From Mr. Winkelman again: @enosarris I believe the Phillies have not signed a HS pitcher in the draft under 6'2" since at least 2007 — Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) February 20, 2015 It’s interesting to put this in those terms, considering that the Athletics’ pitchers are mostly developed by other teams and then acquired by the A’s. But that also suggests that short pitchers are undervalued by the market — the A’s were able to acquire these guys, maybe because short pitchers don’t sell jeans. And the Phillies have been drafting for height, at least on some level. We’ve heard more substantive critiques of smaller pitchers. Scott Kazmir was actually at the center of this sort of argument earlier in his career — he wasn’t supposed to be able to retain his velocity and pitch deep into a career, given his height. His stature was mentioned in virtually every scouting report at the time. But is height actually correlated to success in anyway? We’ll want to weight the correlation by number of pitches thrown to avoid the 6’7″ occasional reliever problem. But once you do, it looks like height isn’t very important. Matt Dennewitz is six foot one and some pennies, the BeerGraphs co-founder, Saber Archive founder, and Pitchfork Music tech maven by day — but more importantly, he helped run these numbers, weighting the correlation between height and a few obvious variables by the number of pitches the pitcher threw. Here are the p values and r-squared numbers for those correlations, using all pitchers since 2007 that threw more than 100 pitches (to remove position players). Dependent Variable p value r-squared Career Innings Pitched 0.0006 0.01 Fastball Velocity 0.1 0.013 Strikeout Rate 0.9 0.0003 You usually want your p values smaller than .05, so, in tandem with the poor r-squared numbers, it doesn’t look like there is a relationship between height and fastball velocity and strikeout rate in the big leagues. There *might* be a relationship when it comes to longevity, but the size of the relationship is tiny. Height explains 1% in the variance in career innings pitched totals. Baseball as a whole doesn’t seem to be selecting out the shorter pitchers completely, even if the entire population is skewed taller than the general population. The average baseball starting pitcher is six foot two, the average American is around four inches shorter. And yet the starting pitcher population looks normally distributed, just around that higher mean. If you think about things mechanically, it might make sense that pitchers with ‘longer levers’ might be able to create more of a downward plane, and therefore more fastball velocity. But the numbers don’t seem to bear that out, and being shorter has its own benefits, mechanically. Kyle Boddy of Driveline Baseball doesn’t discriminate or think there’s really a big difference with respect to height. But he did say that it does seem “way easier to teach shorter pitchers — shorter levers means less clumsiness usually.” Imagine trying to corral long limbs. Imagine being Anthony Ranaudo. And imagine not taking Marcus Stroman because he was short. Boddy was succinct about that one: “Anyone who thought Marcus Stroman wasn’t at least the third best pitcher in his draft class is/was an idiot.” The lack of a correlation between height and key pitching statistics mirrors a great longer piece on the subject by Jeff Zimmerman, but it is interesting to see the major league teams allotting pitches to short pitchers at largely different rates. The data seems to suggest that you shouldn’t avoid giving shorter pitchers more of a role in your organization, if anything.