Thursday, March 17, 2005

Hard Stuff

The Star featured Nate Field this morning. His MO: a "bulldog" mentality with a "mid-90s fastball". Time and time again, emasculated baseball writers fetishize the 95 mph fastball. Mike MacDougal's smokin' at 97. Jeremy Affeldt sizzles at 96 (when he's a reliever). Bryon Embry's a VOLCANO at 94. Colt Griffin is freakalicious at 100!

Yeah, I know its a puff piece, and these types of articles are common in spring training - accentuate the positive, assume away the negative. And I can appreciate the fastball envy. I loved throwing a baseball, but the fact was that I couldn't get the ball much past 60 mph. Other kids who were much smaller than me could bring it to 85 mph without much effort. Its just something you have or don't have, and its ok to be a little in awe of someone who has it.

But on the major league level, its all pointless. It goes without saying that EVERY major league pitching prospect throws hard. The ability to generate sufficient torque to propel the ball between 88 and 95 mph is merely the price of a seat at an extremely large table. OK, Jose Lima can't get it much past 82 anymore. But the fact that he, Jamie Moyer and other soft tossers out there can remain relatively effective simply underscores the point that the ability to throw the ball super fast is secondary to other factors.

So why can't baseball writers actually write articles about what makes a pitcher effective, instead of relying on tired, lazy and ultimately worthless standards of "heat"? Its just not interesting or illuminating to know that Nate Field can throw 95. It doesn't tell us anything about his potential to be an effective major league pitcher. I've watched a few games in my day, and its pretty clear to me that most major league hitters can and will HIT 95 mph fastballs will regularity and impressive force unless the fast-throwing pitcher also features the more important elements of pitch movement, control, deception, concentration and moxie.

These elements are considerably rarer than the ability to bring heat, and are notably lacking in many Royal pitching hopefuls. Perhaps baseball writers just don't know how to write about these things, and they aren't as glamorous as the ability to throw hard. Perhaps, but articles that rely on notions of pitch speed as a proxy for pitching potential are a waste of column space.


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