Ashley Wittgren, a certified strength & nutrition coach with a last name you may recognize, recently posted some photos she had been holding onto of a certain pitching prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization.
They’re worth a closer look because, I mean, just look at them.
Also, @T_eazy24 once held a foam roller out of my reach over my head while KNEELING. I’m not short (5’6). He’s got some wings. (Yes I’ve been holding onto these photos for ages for whenever you made your debut ; I still have the ones of you doing a 3 leg race w Winger as well). pic.twitter.com/tWH2FLYvkr— Ashley Wittgren, MS CSCS (@ashleyecrosby) August 20, 2020
I mean, what?
SIR, YOU CANNOT DO THAT
Triston McKenzie’s wingspan is part of what adds to his appearance of being a spindly trebuchet on the mound. This extension (along with a high spin rate) is why his fastball, despite hardly ever reaching the mid or upper ‘90s, has been so effective for him throughout his minor league career.
He may not be throwing 97 mph, but when he’s fully extended from the rubber, he no longer appears to be a clean 60 feet, six inches away from the plate. He’s barreling down and dropping a missle over the plate right in front of you. The actual velocity stays the same, but the perceived velocity, which is what’s important to fool another human being, increases.
Wingspan measurements aren’t commonly public for baseball players, as far as I am aware, but if we go by that ridiculous picture of him in the door frame above — assuming it’s an average door frame height — we can estimate that McKenzie’s wingspan is around 80 inches. Doing some deep forensic work by zooming into the tape measure picture would confirm that number, and it might be even longer (I count at least six feet markers visible, and it might extend all the way to seven when the tape measure is straight). Conservatively going with 80 inches would put him at a tie with the longest wingspan measured at this year’s NFL combine: Former Utah State Quarterback Jordan Love.
McKenzie’s frame is also the reason he incorrectly gets compared to Dwight Gooden. Where Gooden was tall and had long limbs like McKenzie, the comparisons mostly stop there. Gooden was a physical marvel and threw a fastball that legitimately approached 100 mph. He, too, benefited from the extension of being 6’3 with arms like a 747 — that’s what took his fastball from great to legendary. But despite what your Little League coach may have told you, simply being tall with long arms doesn’t guarantee velocity or an easier pitching experience.
In fact, angular velocity would suggest that it might be harder to consistently throw with a high velocity — and accuracy — when you have to account for all that extra arm-age. There’s no discovered secret to velocity quite yet, and even as places like Driveline Baseball get closer to discovering it, it’s obvious that the answer isn’t just having long arms. As with most things in baseball, it’s about efficiency.
It’s a minor miracle that McKenzie is known for accuracy and pitch feel when he’s tasked with keeping two full-length pool noodles under control at all times. His velocity was a concern when he debuted as a young kind who struggled to light up the gun, but now that he can routinely sit 91-93 and touch 95, he has a real shot at making it work.