Tall Pitchers Apply Within

The third pitcher taken by the Padres in this year’s amateur draft was a junior college right hander named Jordan Guerrero, notable for — among other things, presumably — being 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds. In a normal team’s draft class, Guerrero would likely stand as one of the tallest pitchers selected, if not the tallest. In fact, had he been drafted by one of five other teams — the Orioles, Reds, Indians, A’s, or Blue Jays — Guerrero would have been the tallest (or tied for the tallest) pitcher of his draft class.

Instead, Guerrero was taken by the Padres, where he was just the seventh tallest pitcher drafted, behind Trevor Megill (seventh round, 6-foot-8), Jerry Keel (ninth round, 6-foot-6), Trey Wingenter (17th round, 6-foot-7), Chase Williams (25th round, 6-foot-6), Corey Hale (27th round, 6-foot-7), and Adam Hill (39th round, 6-foot-6).

The Padres like tall pitchers, apparently.

But what about the rest of the league? Were the Padres unique in their preference for height on the mound, or were they just part of a league-wide trend?

In an attempt to find out, I looked up each team’s draft class using MLB draft tracker and bucketed pitchers into different groups based on height. Here’s where the Padres ranked in various categories:

  • Highest percentage of 6-foot-6+ pitchers selected: 1st (26 percent, tied with Rangers)
  • Highest percentage of 6-foot-4+ pitchers selected: 2nd (57 percent, Rangers)
  • Highest percentage of 6-foot-2+ pitchers selected: 2nd (91 percent, Pirates)
  • Lowest percentage of sub-6-foot pitchers selected: 1st (0 percent, tied with Pirates, Twins, Rays, Angels, Red Sox)

It’s not like teams were grouped closely together either. Consider the 6-foot-6 and up pitchers: the Padres and Rangers each took six from that group while the rest of the league averaged only 1.7 per team. The league average percentage of pitchers 6-foot-4 and higher? 34 percent. The Padres, as you can see above, sat at 57 percent. The Astros, Rockies, Mets, Rays, and Reds all averaged below 20 percent in that category.

Some teams, like the Padres and Rangers, are pretty clearly putting an emphasis on infusing their respective organizations with tall pitchers. But what does it mean? (I have no idea, but keep reading if you’d like.)

Has A.J. Preller brought a Rangers’ philosophy to the Padres?

Maybe it’s not coincidence that both the Padres and Rangers — Preller’s former team — showed the most obvious preference for tall pitchers in the 2015 draft. Perhaps the Rangers were just carrying on with an organizational philosophy while Preller and co. were putting the same one in place in San Diego. I figured the easiest way to check into this was to simply look at last year’s Rangers’ draft … so I did.

Nothing there. Last year the Rangers only drafted one pitcher taller than 6-foot-4, a 30th rounder named Cody Palmquist. Go back a year further and there’s maybe a little something, as the Rangers took five pitchers 6-foot-6 or taller, though they were all late-round selections. Rangers’ scouting director Kip Fagg on their drafting of tall pitchers this year:

“I didn’t give our guys any guidelines,” Fagg said. “I can’t really explain it. I didn’t realize myself how big these kids were.”

There’s probably not much here.

What’s the deal, then?

Maybe the Padres were really on the look-out for velocity, and were simply drafting larger pitchers because they throw harder. That’s a convenient narrative, especially since Preller acquired a number of hard-throwing right-handed pitchers throughout the offseason. However, research shows that there’s not a super strong relationship between height and velocity, at least not at the major league level.

Of course, it’s probably not that cut and dry. Maybe height at the major league level doesn’t matter much because short guys who don’t throw hard never make it to the bigs. It’s hard to dispute the notion that, on average, a 6-foot-5 pitcher will throw harder than a 5-foot-11 pitcher — or at least have the potential to throw harder, with further work on mechanics or fitness or something. Maybe Preller, known for his work with extremely raw international players, prefers the projectablility of a big-bodied pitcher over one with a smaller frame.

Wait, why don’t we just look at the reported velocities of the tall pitchers? Yeah, let’s do that:

Jordan Guerrero, 6-foot-5 — sits mid-90s
Trevor Megill, 6-foot-8 — 89-92
Jerry Keel, 6-foot-6 — 88-90
Trey Wingenter, 6-foot-7 — 88-94
Chase Williams, 6-foot-6 — I have no idea
Corey Hale, 6-foot-7 — 85-90
Adam Hill. 6-foot-6 — 88 (2014)
velocities from Baseball America unless otherwise linked

Well, shoot, those guys don’t throw that hard at all. Maybe the Padres were more interested in height (and overall size, in general) for other reasons, like increased durability.

Maybe. There’s always a lot of maybes.

Here’s what Padres’ scouting director Mark Conner said, via the Union-Tribune:

“When we were going through players and scouting players, there are a lot of different things that we look at that are positives — not only skill sets, but physicality and athleticism,” Conner said. “A lot of those guys are bigger humans. You look in the big leagues; there’s a lot of big humans in the big leagues. It wasn’t necessarily by design to have a certain height and weight. It just happened to fall like that, that some of these guys that we really liked are bigger guys.”

Also:

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We can say this, with some confidence: the Padres drafted many tall pitchers last week. We can’t say much beyond that that isn’t speculation, so we’ll just stop typing now.

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