Dominican and Venezuelan players are often mistaken on a baseball field; they share the Spanish language so they are generally together, they have that Latin swag that is identifiable from miles away, and they also usually have names that challenge the diction of every single one of the American announcers.
But, being from Venezuela, I have to clarify that there are a lot of things that distinguish these two foreign nationalities on a major-league baseball field. For example: Dominican Republic does not produce major-league catchers. They just don't. Last year, they had 138 players on major-league rosters and only three of them were catchers.
If you compare that to the Venezuelan industry, you will find a big difference: 14 percent of the 100 Venezuelan players in the majors last year were catchers.
The reasons that generate that scenario are beyond me. The language barrier is the same for both. Education levels, if those matter at all for the position, are comparable for the two. So the only logical answer has to be the schools. Venezuelan baseball schools, apparently, are way better at developing future catchers than the Dominican ones.
Why? Beats me. Maybe the early and tragic disappearing of Baudilio Diaz—kind of a national hero—in the 1980s inspired a system that only grows with time.
This example, however, is not the only one. Two years ago, bantering my way through an afternoon of work with my colleague Jonathan Costa, I told him that Venezuelan and Dominican pitchers, on average, must have slightly different repertoires because they come from different backgrounds and have different body types. The same, I posited, will happen with Mexicans and Japanese pitchers and any other nation's pitchers, if you decided to construct the average repertoire of any nationality.
Hearing this, my pal went to his lab and start comparing Venezuelans and Dominicans because they were the only ones with a decent group of players (more than 15) from which to draw conclusions on the "average" repertoire of the nation's arms.
That year he came pretty much with the same conclusions I came when I did the same exercise this year.
Here are the main three:
1. Dominicans pitchers throw harder… A lot harder.
Last year, a total of 75 Dominican pitchers threw at least an inning in the majors (there were actually 76, but Leury García won't count because he is a positional player). Seventy-two of those guys threw four-seam fastballs, averaging a whopping 94.4 mph, according to the data offered by Brooks Baseball.
Let's compare that to the average four-seamer from Venezuelans and the league:
1) Average Dominican four-seamer Velo: 94.43 mph (72 pitchers)
2) Average Venezuelan four-seamer Velo: 93.2 mph (36 pitchers)
3) Average League four-seamer Velo: 92.4 mph
Anyone with a pair of keen eyes would say that Dominicans throw harder because most of them are relievers, and that is true.
Fifty of the 75 (67 percent) Dominican pitchers who played in the majors last year were essentially relievers, and relievers, as a whole, tend to throw the ball faster (they averaged 93.2 mph leaguewide in 2015).
That being said, Dominicans seem to have the upper hand anyway, especially if you notice that 29 of the 38 Venezuelan pitchers who played in the majors in 2015 were also primarily relievers (76.3 percent) and they didn't throw the ball like that.
Why does this happen? I really don't know the answer, but if I have to speculate I would point to this: according to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, Dominican pitchers in the majors in 2015 were a bit taller than Venezuelans.
Venezuelan pitchers with:
- Less than 74 inches of height: 19 (50%)
- More than 74 inches of height: 19 (50%)
- More than 75 inches of height: 12 (31.8%)
- More than 77 inches of height: 2
Dominican pitchers with:
- Less than 74 inches of height: 34 (45.3%)
- More than 74 inches of height: 41 (54.6%)
- More than 75 inches of height: 28 (37.3%)
- More than 77 inches of height: 5
Being taller grants you more probabilities to throw the ball faster. It's not only logic. It's gravity.
2. Venezuelan pitchers throw more changeups… A lot more.
Okay. This is the other number I wanted to show you. The 38 Venezuelan pitchers who played in the majors last year averaged 13.4 percent changeups. That is way more than their Dominicans counterparts (9.4 percent) and more than the league average (10.3 percent).
Let's look at this phenomenon closely:
- Dominicans without a changeup: 12 (16%)
- Dominicans with less than 5% changeup use: 29 (38.6%)
- Dominicans with more than 10% changeup use: 34 (45.3%)
- Dominicans with more than 20% changeup use: 9 (12%)
- Venezuelans without a changeup: 5 (13.15%)
- Venezuelans with less than 5% changeup use: 15 (39.4%)
- Venezuelans with more than 10% changeup use: 20 (52.63%)
- Venezuelans with more than 20% changeup use: 9 (23.68%)
As you can see, the Venezuelan average is being pushed up by a bunch a guys who throw changeups at least once every five pitches.
Why does this happen? For this one I have a little theory. In Venezuela youngsters are not allowed to throw breaking pitches in Federation competitions until they reach a certain age. So they have to throw a changeup if they want a secondary.
If you take that information and add to the equation that the most spectacular Venezuelan pitcher had one of the nastiest changeups in the world about a decade ago (I'm talking about Johan Santana, of course) you can create a little hypothesis to explain why Venezuela has these changeup monsters running around MLB.
3. Dominicans throw more breaking balls… but only a little bit more
Logically, if Dominican pitchers don't use changeups as often as Venezuelans, they have to throw other secondary pitches. In their cases, sliders and curveballs are the weapons of choice.
According to Brooks, the 75 major-league Dominican pitchers of 2015 averaged 18 percent sliders and 6 percent curveballs, or 24 percent breaking balls).
If you compare that to the Venezuelans you will see a slight difference:
- Dominicans: 18.27% sliders, 5.68% curveballs (23.95% breaking balls).
- Venezuelans: 16.98% sliders, 5.03% curveballs. (22.01% breaking balls).
- League Average: 14.06 sliders, 7.08% curveballs. (21.14% breaking balls).
There are other differences that you might notice in this data, but I honestly think that they are either too obvious (Dominicans throwing more four-seam fastballs is as obvious as it gets) or too small of a difference to offer anything valuable.
Because of that I intend leave this over here and perhaps do something similar in the next few weeks that focuses on the southern hemisphere's batters, who, you might have noticed, have certain tendencies that aren't in fashion these days.
Thank you for reading
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