REPOST: The Renaissance Of Baseball’s Ivy League Control Pitchers

Many coaches and baseball scouts are seeing the need for control pitchers in their team. This article from Forbes discusses the renaissance of Ivy League baseball control pitchers.


In an era when Major League Baseball scouts have become increasingly obsessed with radar guns and pitching velocity, a pair of Ivy League control pitchers — Kyle Hendricks and Chris Young — have emerged as two of the game’s top hurlers despite throwing fastballs that often top out below 90 miles per hour.  Think that’s a fluke?  Two more Ivy League finesse pitchers, Matthew Bowman andBrent Suter, are experiencing similar success in the high-level minor leagues.

Over the past two months, Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks has quickly emerged as the poster boy for the renaissance of the Ivy League control pitcher — smart, crafty, and in control.   In his first seven Major League starts, Hendricks has posted a record of five wins and one loss, with a minuscule 1.48 Earned Run Average.  Hendricks has only allowed more than one earned run once in his Major League career — in his big-league debut at Cincinnati on July 10.  Since that date, he’s been as stingy with runs as any hurler in the game.

Make no doubt, Kyle Hendricks’s fastball does not light up the radar gun.  By Major League standards, it is not even likely to be described as “fast.”  According to ESPN , Hendricks’s average fastball travels at just 87.2 miles per year.  But his ability to mix his pitches and throw strikes has led to great success.

An economics major at Dartmouth College, Hendricks ranked 11th on Dartmouth’s win list before he was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the eighth round of the 2011 Major League Baseball draft. Last season at Double-A ball (two levels below the Major Leagues), Hendricks earned the Cubs honor of Minor League Pitcher of the Year, posting a 10-3 record and a 1.85 E.R.A.  He has since continued similar mastery at both Triple-A and in the big leagues.

Yet, Hendricks is not the only Ivy League pitcher who is turning heads on the mound this season.

Enter Chris Young — a six-foot-10 veteran pitcher who played for both the Princeton Tigers baseball and basketball teams back in 1999.

After arm injuries forced Chris Young to miss all of the 2013 season, the Princeton alumnus is arguably having the best year of his career at the age of 35.  With a 12-6 record and a 3.69 E.R.A, Young is mastering opposing batters through his strong command of the strike zone and his ability to effectively change speeds.  Early in his career, Chris Young threw a fastball that occasionally hit 90 miles per hour.  This year, his success has come despite barely hitting “85″ on the gun.

Image Source:
A much younger Chris Young, throwing for the San Diego Padres | Image Source:

Behind Hendricks and Young on the list of promising Ivy League control pitchers are at least two others.

Down on the New York Mets farm, most scout are all hollering about Noah Syndergaard and his hard fastball.  However, statistically speaking, Syndergaard has not been the top performing Mets minor league prospect.  That honor actually goes to Matthew Bowman — a 23 year old Princeton graduate who was selected by the Mets in the thirteenth round of the 2012 draft and has quickly moved his way up through the minor leagues.  Like Hendricks, Bowman was a student of economics, who actually completed his degree in the off-seasons after signing his first big-league contract.

For his minor league career, Bowman has a 21-14 record and just a 2.87 E.R.A.  Bowman is currently pitching in Triple-A — the highest minor league level below the Major Leagues.  Pitching in a home ballpark in Las Vegas known for high altitude and cheap home runs,  Bowman has allowed just 1.74 earned runs per game over the course of his first five starts — an exceptional statistical line anywhere, and nearly three runs per game better than the Mets more well-known pitching prospect, Syndergaard.

Bowman does throw a bit harder than Young and Hendricks, so some baseball purists would argue whether it is fair to call him a control pitcher.  Rumor has it that he can occasionally throw near 95 miles per hour on a radar gun.  But much like Hendricks and Young, it is not Bowman’s fastball speed that makes him successful.  More impressive is his just 65 walks in 282 minor league innings.

Finally, further down in the minor leagues at Double-A is former Harvard University finesse pitcher Brent Suter.  Like the three other Ivy League pitchers mentioned, Suter is  turning heads for the Milwaukee Brewers this season with a broad repertoire of off-speed pitchers that he can throw for strikes.  Arguably cut from the same mold as Young and Hendricks Suter got off to a great start this year with an E.R.A. locked at 2.55 on June 1.

As of late, Suter has struggled.  But he is a lefty, meaning that perhaps the Brewers organization will cut him a little bit more slack to develop.

It’s difficult to predict with any certainty the ultimate career trajectories of Hendricks, Young, Bowman and Suter.  However this much seems certain: in a sport where so many scouts have turned to fastball speed as the proxy for pitching success, a hard, crisp fastball is not the only way to earn wins on the mound.

For each of  these four former Ivy League pitchers, their success has called into doubt the longstanding mantra of baseball scouts that the secret to Big League success is all in the radar gun.  None of these four pitchers have achieved their level of success through throwing hard fastballs.  Rather, each has achieved success through finesse and precision, much like some of Major League Baseball’s greatest hurlers before then, a la Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina.

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