04/06/11 11:35 PM ET
Size no matter to pitchers
Collins, Kimbrel further proof there's no need to be six feet
By Peter Gammons / MLB.com
Ricciardi was then the general manager of the Blue Jays, and was home in Worcester, Mass., watching a kid named Keith Landers.
"I heard a really loud pop in a glove somewhere behind me," said Ricciardi, who went to see who was making all the noise, "and I saw this tiny little guy about 5-foot-5 throwing BB's. The ball sounded as if it were exploding in the catcher's mitt."
So Ricciardi signed Tim Collins for the Blue Jays, he went over to the Royals through Atlanta, and at 21 he is a sensation -- four shutout innings over the weekend. Collins got the win Sunday, and throws 93 with a killer curveball and changeup.
"He makes Dustin Pedroia look like Adam Dunn," said one scout. "But he's going to be one of the best left-handed relievers in the league."
Check the Minor League resume: 151 innings pitched, 101 hits allowed, 221 strikeouts. Now he has five strikeouts in four shutout innings with three hits allowed in the bigs.
Then there's Craig Kimbrel. Like Billy Wagner, Kimbrel is listed at 5-foot-11 -- wink, wink. Kimbrel looks like the mirror image of Wagner, a 97-mph fireballer who going into Wednesday's game had faced 68 batters in the major leagues ... and struck out 45.
"He can be a great closer," said Braves GM Frank Wren, who has a warehouse full of big arms throughout the Atlanta organization.
Kimbrel was a third-round pick out of Wallace Community College in Alabama in 2008, 15 months before he landed in the Majors. Because most scouts thought he was 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-9, many scouts backed away and projected him in a later round. Braves scout Brian Bridges loved Kimbrel.
"Roy [Clark, then the Braves scouting director] and Frank [Wren] were great," Bridges said. "They didn't care about his height. They asked, 'Can he pitch? We're looking for pitchers.'"
Not wing forwards.
Which brings up Wagner. He pitched one inning in the Cape Cod League All-Star Game in 1992. Not only did he strike out the side, but not one hitter fouled one pitch off. Yet after the game, the scouts voted Wayne Gomes as the best pitching prospect in the game, Brian Anderson the runner-up. The following June, Wagner lasted until the 13th pick, while Anderson and Gomes went 3-4 at the top of the first round.
"Five-foot-nine guys don't translate to the big leagues," said one scout. "Gomes is what we're looking for."
Wagner retired with 393 more saves than Gomes. So much for the myth of the small pitcher.
"I remember hearing that I couldn't be a starting pitcher because I was too small," said Pedro Martinez, a certain first-ballot Hall of Famer. "When I was traded by the Dodgers [for Delino DeShields], Tommy Lasorda said I was too small."
They said the same thing about Tom Gordon.
"When I was young, I always heard that I was too short to have a long career," said Gordon, who had a great power curveball and whose fastball hit 95 mph at his peak.
From 1988 through 2009, Gordon won 138 games, saved 158 and in '99 with the Red Sox was 46-for-47 in saves -- the one blown save coming when he entered with the bases loaded and no outs in the eighth inning in a one-run game. He induced a double-play ball, and hence, a blown save.
No small thing
"There used to be that thing about wanting big-boned, tall pitchers," Jays manager John Farrell said. "Of course, there are a lot of big pitchers who turned out to be great. But I remember when I spent time at ASMI [Dr. James' Andrews' institute in Birmingham], they told me that the smaller pitcher could have better arm speed than the tall pitcher because his arm has a shorter path to follow. They don't have to exert the maximum effort. All you have to do is think about the arm speed Pedro generated."
Martinez also had an exceptionally long middle finger on his throwing hand, so with that arm speed, when he threw his changeup it stayed on that finger longer. In fact, in decelerating the velocity, it was with such ferocity that it would actually cause his calluses to burn.
"Most pitchers who are very good are great athletes," Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "It takes a clean, consistent delivery to pitch nine innings, and it's more difficult to maintain that delivery if you're 6-7 or 6-8."
Which is why what Randy Johnson did is so remarkable. Or why the Yankees look at 5-foot-10 Manny Banuelos and are confident that once he has built up his innings, he will be a terrific Major League pitcher. But for 6-foot-8 Dellan Betances and 6-foot-10 Andrew Brackman, there are questions about whether or not they can repeat their deliveries well enough to start and throw 200 innings.
"How big is Greg Maddux?" Rothschild asked -- probably 5-11. "How big is Roy Oswalt?" asked Bridges -- probably the same.
Tim Lincecum is one of the best in the business and is listed at 5-foot-11, 170 pounds. Johnny Cueto is 5-foot-10, Gio Gonzalez 5-foot-11, Daisuke Matsuzaka 5-foot-10. They're being generous to list Mike Leake at 5-foot-10. Shaun Marcum is 5-foot-11.
As Rob Tracy of the Elias Sports Bureau points out, clubs usually list pitchers taller than they are in reality.
Then there are the 200-save closers: 5-foot-10 John Franco with 424, 5-foot-9 Billy Wagner with 422, 5-foot-11 Jeff Montgomery with 304 and 5-foot-10 Gene Garber with 218.
So when Kimbrel pitches in the All-Star Game and the playoffs, and Collins keeps running up the punch-outs in Kansas City, the myth of the small pitchers can be filed in the wastebasket, forever.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.