Commentary

In a game of hundreths of a second, arm strength valuable tool

Originally Published: September 10, 2010
By David Pittman | Special to ESPNHS.com

While a standout, do-everything baseball player at Georgia Tech, Matt Wieters could throw a ball 95 mph off the pitcher's mound.

Wieters now plays nearly every day in the American League with the Baltimore Orioles, not as a flame-throwing pitcher, but a catcher gunning out potential base stealers.

Pitchers aren't the only ball players hoping to top 90 mph on the radar gun.

Position players from catcher to the outfield are often judged on how well  by both pitch speed and accuracy  they can throw a baseball.

"You have to have velocity because it's a game of time," said Augie Garrido, who has won five national championships in college baseball between the Cal State, Fullerton and Texas. "It's a game of hundredths of seconds."

To analyze throwing ability, coaches, recruiters and scouts look for a few aspects in prospects: velocity, accuracy and mechanics.

There are two ways to judge arm strength; the good-ole fashion eye test and the reliable radar gun. Georgia Teach head coach Danny Hall at first uses his baseball vision to judge arm strength. The 23-year head baseball coach looks for a zing from a fielder's hand.

"If you really want to get technical, you put a radar gun on them because that gives you a number, but I think a lot of times it's just with a naked eye," said Hall, who has coached a staggering 21 players who have appeared on rosters in Major League Baseball.

Just like scouts line up behind home plate to measure how fast a pitcher fires a ball, coaches position themselves behind first base to test a short stop's or third baseman's arm. The same can be done on an outfielder who throws to home plate.

Garrido points to the magic number of 84 mph as the necessary speed to be able to throw people out whether it's from the infield, outfield or behind the plate.

"Anyone that can throw 90 miles per hour can throw as well as you need to throw," said Garrido, one of only two men to tally 1,700 career Division I baseball victories. "You'd like to see them as close to that as possible."

Garrido notes his Longhorns team counts a left fielder on its roster who can throw 92 mph off a pitcher's mound. He still plays in the outfield.

But not being able is light up the radar gun isn't going to prevent a prospect from playing Division I baseball, at least not at Georgia Tech.

"There isn't a specific number where we say, 'This guy can't throw 85 miles an hour and he's an outfielder, then we're not recruiting him,' " said Hall, who noted former Boston Red Sox All-Star Nomar Garciaparra carried the best arm he's coached. "We don't do that at all. Not for us, but maybe we're behind the times."

Coaches and scouts also eye a player's throwing mechanics  for example, good arm action, the use of legs to throw, balance and stepping toward the target  to judge a player's potential. Garrido says throwing mechanics can bolster accuracy and arm strength.

Still Garrido says hitting the first baseman in the glove or throw a one-hop ball from the outfield so the catcher can tag a runner out at the plate is every bit as important. "In what we're trying to do, it's more important to be accurate," he said.