Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Loek van Mil and the mystery of super-tall pitchers

The news Monday that former Twins farmhand Loek van Mil had died awoke the usual sense of dismay when someone dies at an absurdly early age (van Mil was 34).

It also led me to ponder this connumdrum: As a general rule, the bigger the pitcher, the faster the pitches. But with the obvious exception of Randy Johnson, that advantage seems to vanish once the pitcher gets above 6-foot-8.

Van Mil is believed to the the tallest pitcher in the history of professional baseball at 7-foot-1. He never made it to the majors. He pitched in the Twins system from 2006 into 2010, when he was traded at the deadline to the Angels. From there he bounced to the Cleveland and Cincinnati organizations; he concluded his career in the States back with the Twins organization. He also pitched quite a bit in the Australian winter league and for the Dutch national team.

He was an easy guy to pick out during spring training on the Twins minor league side; he was the guy head-and-shoulders, and sometimes more, above everybody else. (Photos of him with Chris Cates, a 5-foor-3 shortstop who was frequently van Mil's teammate in the low minors, looked almost fake.)

Baseball America's coverage of van Mil generally used some variation of the thought that he needed "to pitch like a 7-footer" -- meaning he needed to rely on his fastball and use those long levers to generate greater velocity.

The thing is, other than Johnson, super-tall pitchers generally haven't been able to do that -- or if they could, to command that velocity.

Jon Rauch, 6-11, was a high velocity starting prospect with the White Sox system. An injury turned him into a reliever with diminished speed. He got 11 years in the majors, some of them with the Twins. He is probably the tallest player in major league history.

Chris Young, 6-10, was probably the most accomplished super-tall starter other than the Big Unit (also 6-10). He had four seasons of double-digit wins, and started and won a World Series game for Kansas City in 2015. He had a career-threatening arm injury in the middle of his major league career and never threw 200 innings in a season.

Mark Hendrickson was a 6-9 lefty who bounced around the majors for 10 seasons without notable success or a notable fastball. His career ERA was 5.03, although in fairness to him, it was generally with bad teams.

Eric Hillman, 6-10, ptiched in three seasons for the Mets, going 4-14 with a 4.85 ERA. He had very low walk and strikeout rates in his brief major league tenure.

All of which leads me to the conclusion that van Mil did indeed pitch like a 7-footer. It was Randy Johnson who didn't fit that mold.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.