Crafty, precise, meticulous and witty. These words are what come to mind when I think of a finesse pitcher in baseball. They may not possess overpowering fastballs, but they sure know how to dissect a lineup. Sadly, finesse pitchers are becoming a dying breed in today’s game. In this article, I will share my thoughts on why finesse pitchers are scarce in the pros today and if they will cease to exist in pro baseball for good.
The goal for any pitcher is to avoid the barrel of the bat. Finesse pitchers seem to accomplish this better than any other kind of pitcher. I would describe a finesse pitcher as one who puts emphasis on having the utmost control in every pitch that they throw. They also dabble with the grips of their pitches to get the most movement out of each pitch. They generally force hitters to put the ball in play and as a result, they don’t walk hitters very often. What they generally lack in pitch speed, they make up for in command and precision. The average fastball in the MLB is normally about 90 MPH. In 2013, the average fastball was clocked at 92 MPH. That might not sound like a big difference, but if you factor in off-speed pitches, those extra miles can be a major difference. Today’s pitchers are also more physically fit and this completely links to the fact that pitchers are throwing harder. Relief pitchers have been the main beneficiaries of the decline in finesse pitchers. Starting pitchers don’t pitch late into ballgames like they used to in the past so having a strong bullpen is a necessity in this era. Relief pitchers can cut loose since they each pitch for only an inning or two. That’s music to a flamethrower’s ears.
When I think back on some of the game’s great finesse pitchers, it’s hard to see why they aren’t utilized in the majors today. Jamie Moyer, a left-handed starting pitcher was the prime example of a finesse pitcher who was able to prolong his pro career by having an open mind on learning how to control multiple pitches along with keeping his body and arm healthy. Moyer enjoyed a 25-year MLB career, becoming a 20-game winner twice, winning a total of 269 games and one World Series ring. In 2012, he became the oldest pitcher in MLB history to win a game at the age of 49. Moyer aged gracefully in the MLB because he understood that pitching is more than just pleasing the radar gun.
The remaining finesse pitchers in the game today are quite effective against big league hitters. Jered Weaver, ace for the Los Angeles Angels headlines the ideal finesse pitcher in this generation. He has a full arsenal of pitches and mixes each of them in during every start. His fastball rarely reaches 90 MPH, so he relies on using his secondary pitches to create deception for hitters. Mark Buehrle is another premier finesse pitcher in pro baseball. One of his more valued qualities is that he works extremely fast on the mound which often makes hitters uncomfortable at the plate. Buehrle really proved that finesse pitchers can be dominant like any other pitcher when he became the 18th pitcher in MLB history to throw a perfect game.
I truly don’t know if young finesse pitchers will make their way into the major leagues in today’s game. Baseball scouts and teams are enamored with hard-throwing pitchers so the only way that a finesse pitcher can get a fair chance at reaching the major league level is if their pitching statistics are out of this world. Left-handed finesse pitchers used to have more of an advantage over righties because of the fact that they naturally cause matchup problems for the opposing team. In this day and age however, lefties are throwing just as hard as righties which makes it even harder for any finesse pitcher to reach the MLB. If you’re a finesse pitcher, this notion shouldn’t discourage you. There are scouts out there that are still concerned with players that are coachable and have a winner’s mentality. They’re also looking for pitchers that are durable and can contribute to teams in the long run. Pitchers that throw hard have a tendency to overwork their arm resulting in several elbow and shoulder injuries. All of the notable finesse pitchers that I mentioned before have all been highly durable throughout most of their careers because they know how to work their way through games. A great statement that I once heard is that a radar gun does not track how much movement a pitch has. Once pro baseball can come to this realization, the window of opportunity will be reopened for finesse pitchers.