Padres' tall rotation dunking competition
San Diego leads the NL with a 2.98 team ERA
SAN DIEGO -- Look at them, these ... baseball players?
Chris Young stands 6-foot-10. What sport does it look like he should be playing?
Have a look at Young's teammates, Jon Garland and Mat Latos. They both stand 6-6. Yet another pitcher, Clayton Richard, comes in one inch shorter at 6-5.
Then there's Kevin Correia. He is, apparently, the oddball of the bunch, standing a mere 6-3.
But hey, someone needs to play point guard, right?
Pitchers or basketball players, starting five or starting rotation?
Based on looks alone, the five pitchers who comprised the Padres' starting rotation at the start of the season, looked like they were better suited for shooting jump shots, not tossing fastballs and curveballs.
The reality, though, is the Padres have, though not by design, corralled several tall -- very tall, in some cases -- pitchers in one clubhouse and in one rotation.
These pitching giants have become cornerstones and have been statistical giants as well, as the Padres lead the National League in ERA (2.98) heading into their game Tuesday against the St. Louis Cardinals at PETCO Park.
So how did this happen and, better still, is there a discernible advantage to being a taller pitcher?
First, Latos is the only one of the bunch who is, pardon the pun, a homegrown pitcher that the Padres drafted and developed.
Young came over in a trade from Texas. Richard was acquired last July in a deal that sent Jake Peavy to the White Sox. Correia signed with the Padres on a Minor League contract before the 2009 season.
Garland, who got the start on Opening Day, is the newest pitcher of the bunch, as he signed as a free agent in January. These were all players former Padres general manager Kevin Towers and, in Garland's case, new general manager Jed Hoyer, acquired.
So no, there was no design in lining up so many tall pitchers in the rotation all at once.
As for what kind of advantage -- if any -- these pitchers have by being taller than the average pitcher, that's up for debate and discussion.
"There are advantages. I'm not saying guys who are 6-foot don't have advantages also," Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley said. "The fastball plane, up and down, means a lot. The extension of the arm ... the hitters sometimes feel like the pitchers are right on top of them. I think it's easier for a taller pitcher to change the eye level of the hitter."
In the case of these five Padres pitchers, it's almost better to ask the hitters they face or, like Balsley, the coaches or opposing managers what kind of effect taller pitchers have rather than the pitchers themselves.
For them, it's not really quirky, it's not interesting. It's just pitching, according to Young.
"I don't know what a hitter feels like when he's facing me, so it's tough to say," said Young, who is currently on the disabled list. "I know what I have to do to be successful, which is mixing pitches vertically as well as horizontally."
Young, who played basketball at Princeton before pursuing a career in baseball, tossed six scoreless innings in his first start of the season against the D-backs on April 6. He's been on the disabled list ever since, though the Padres are hopeful he can return from a strained shoulder in the second half.
Count D-backs manager A.J. Hinch as a firm believer that Young's height has something to do with his success. Hinch's hitters, based on opinion or their lack of success that day in April, essentially told him as much.
"It's an awkward look ... he's 6-11 he's coming from a different angle," Hinch said. "He was very effective in raising our eye level and then would throw his breaking balls below the zone or outside.
"His angle is a little bit different. He's able to move his pitches around. He threw above our barrel."
San Diego third baseman Chase Headley said that he's noticed a difference when facing a taller pitcher. Actually, more than one difference, though he said it's not something that he feels can't be overcome.
"With a taller pitcher, it feels like they're closer ... and in some cases, they are closer," Headley said. "Maybe it's a foot or a foot and a half. That makes a difference as a hitter, with the short amount of time you have to make decisions.
"When you see a guy throwing 88 mph who is 6-foot 7-inches, and a guy who throws 88 and is 6-foot, 1-inch, you notice that. Certain tall guys get the really good angle going down. That makes it tough because the ball isn't coming in flat."
In that sense, Headley said, Garland is "a great example of that," because the primary pitch that he throws, a fastball with good sink, can almost look like it has a bowling ball effect to it.
"He throws a really good sinker and it's throwing it at a higher release point. It looks like he's throwing the ball right down on you," Headley said.
Here's another rub with the Padres: If you get past the tall starting pitchers, then you are faced with more size in the bullpen. Mike Adams is 6-5, Luke Gregerson and Heath Bell are both 6-3 Adam Russell, at 6-8, has the size to fit in with these tall timbers as well.
"I've never been at eye level with so many players in the same clubhouse," Russell said. "I don't know if it's groomed that way, or the way they wanted it or what, but it's different."
All can agree that it's different, but it's something the Padres are making work for them. Entering their weekend Interleague series against Seattle, the Padres had the best ERA (2.74) in the Major Leagues.
"I don't know, some hitters just don't like looking at a tall guy out there," Garland said. "I think that it really depends on the individual.
"On this team, with so many tall pitchers, it really stands out."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.