May 4, 2017
Cheese in the Kitchen
A Darwinian Critique of Starting-Pitcher Height
The question of short starting pitchers is one that has always interested me, ever since Kevin Goldstein (#RIP) asked about it broadly on these pages way back in 2008. Does a pitcher’s height really matter in regard to his ability to get hitters out, particularly through multiple turns of a lineup? Is being tall an evolutionary predisposition for successful starting pitching?
First and foremost, it’s probably helpful to confirm that starting pitchers are, in fact, a taller breed. And they are! Unequivocally and consistently. Bearing in mind that the average adult man in the United States stands just under 70 inches tall, here are the average heights of qualified starting pitchers in each of the past five years:
Compare this with an average reliever, who over the same span stood an average of 74.36 inches—it’s not a ton of variance, but it exists, and it exists consistently, year in and out: an average relief pitcher is shorter than his starting counterpart.
So, then, what gives? Why is that? And why are pitchers of all stripes taller than the average bear? I though back about that KG (#RIP) piece, and a recurring argument in the comments stuck out. Here’s the most succinct version of it: