Wednesday windup: Ode to Arrieta, in Bucs’ sights

You’re going to be hearing a lot about Jake Arrieta in the next couple of weeks.

He’ll face the Pirates on Sunday, in the finale of the weekend series in Wrigley Field. He also looms in the Bucs’ Wild Card way to the rest of the postseason.

So we need to set the record straight about his remarkable season, which reached the 20-win stage last night.

Noting Arrieta’s 0.86 ERA in 13 starts since the All-Star break, Cubs manager Joe Maddon called his pitcher’s work “Gibson-esque.” Maddon of course was recalling Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA season in 1968.

Ah, but it’s so much better than that.

Gibson was at the lead of a pitchers’ posse that provoked MLB to giver hitters a fairer shot by lowering the mound, a whopping 50% from a height of 15 inches to the still in-use 10 inches.

Think about it … not only is Arrieta putting up numbers not seen since the ‘60s, but he’s doing so with what was meant as a disadvantage for pitchers. … 

That lowering of the mound also dramatically altered what scouts look for in pitchers. Height became a major asset. Makes sense: If pitchers are throwing from lower mounds, we’ll get higher pitchers.

This might amaze you (mainly because no one before has really looked at it), but do you know how many pitchers 6-foot-6 or taller were among the 324 used by the 20 Major League teams in 1968? Six. Yes – 6, and the Bucs’ 6-foot-6 lefty Bob Veale was one of them.

Pitchers 6-foot-6 or taller in action during this season?

55.

More teams (32), way more total pitchers (876!). Still, the percentage of tall pitchers has tripled, from 2% to 6%.

And, no, 6-foot-4 Jake Arrieta is not one of them.

3 Comments

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An *excellent* baseball article, imo. You know what ‘they’ always say:
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Never can have too much starting pitching — and the pitchers can never be too tall (if they can pitch).
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Bob Gibson was 6’1″, and if you add back those five inches to get to the higher pitching mound, then yes indeed, he was pitching like a 6’6″ pitcher today.
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But I’m not sure the lowering of the mound was the exclusive reason for scouts and GM’s to look for taller pitchers. If taller is always better (all other things about comparable pitchers being roughly the same), then I’d want the tallest *good* pitcher, whether the mound was 10 inches of 15 inches. Tall pitchers mean you can usually dominate hitters more — at least more so than most shorter (by comparison) pitchers can. (I think that’s the case, but I don’t have the data to prove it: see below) That is, of course, assuming the tall guy knows how to pitch (e.g. without being wild, having a pitch repertoire, not telegraphing to the batter what pitch your going to be throwing, etc. etc.).
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Indeed, spurred on by today’s excellent article, I went and checked out the pitchers’ heights of those this season who have the highest WAR’s (from Fangraphs). Best pitchers this season, and their height:
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Arrieta – 6’4″
Kershaw – 6″4″
David Price – 6’6″
Chris Sale 6’6″
Dallas Keuchel – 6’3″
Zack Greinke – 6’0″
Chris Archer – 6’3″
Madison Bumgarner – 6’5″
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And we could add it Adam Wainwright (6’7″), Jacob deGrom (6’4″) and even Max Scherzer (6’3″).
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Me, I’d want all these guys pitching, whether or not the mound was ten or fifteen inches tall. (Think how dominant they would be with a 15 inch mound. Wowser !!) These days, if you’re not at least 6-foot three, or six-foot four, you’re at a decided disadvantage to the good pitchers who are. And referring back to the 1968 pitchers’ height data, I wonder what percentage of pitchers back then were even 6’4″ or taller. I bet it would be a mere fraction of that percentage number of all pitchers today.
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It would also be fun to see a “split” on this height factor. Whether it be W/L, or ERA, or xFIP, or whatever metric one uses, is there a statistically significant improvement in success (as however defined), between — let’s say — all pitchers 6’4″ or taller, versus (to establish a break point) 6’2″ or shorter. My gut feeling says yes, but those would be some interesting comparison numbers.
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Inquiring minds want to know !!
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fwiw, Mr. Mercer on another one of his hot streaks as of late. He’s 1 – 1 so far in tonight’s game, and “last seven days” before tonight:
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.391 batting average
.440 On-base Percentage
.918 OPS
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(And his sOPS+ is a lofty 151 !!!!)
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I guess his knee is finally feeling a lot better.
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Tom, keep up the great work. And robs, you are a Savant, and a great fan. It’s a pleasure to read your research. Great addition to the small Tom Singer family of Baseballholics. The trick, especially this year, will be how to fight off the post season depression without getting arrested!
As Tom knows, I have been a fan from a sometimes critical perspective this year, both of coaches and players. My best friend Ernie and I have been lower level coaches and players for years, and are students of the game to this day.
I am happy to say that our Buccos are a remarkable team, and I’m happy to be riding with them into the postseason. What’s better’n this?!
Tom, the EOct Primanti’s offer still stands!

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