Red Sox

Ron Roenicke explains why he's hidden radar gun readings at JetBlue Park

Red Sox

Ron Roenicke dislikes baseball's current obsession with velocity, so he has removed the tool that feeds his pitchers' counterproductive cycle of gratification and mortification — the radar gun.

Attend a game at JetBlue Park this spring, and you'll notice the familiar scoreboard velocity readings are missing. That's by design, Roenicke explained to reporters in Fort Myers on Friday morning, because at this point in camp, no good can come of overextending.

"You guys all see what pitchers do," Roenicke said. "They throw a pitch, then it's rub here and the eye is right on the radar. Right now, that's not a good thing. So I think as much as we can stay, and I realize the fans want that radar up there, we'll get it up there when Bushy feels like, OK, they're beyond the point, we can start putting it up there."

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Bushy is pitching coach Dave Bush, and he brings an analytical bent to the job, but also experience as a veteran of nine seasons, including a pair of 12-win campaigns with the Brewers in the mid-2000s.

The Red Sox have struggled to keep their pitchers from overthrowing early in the spring over the years, with ace Chris Sale memorably hitting 99 mph in his very first Grapefruit League appearance in 2017.

"It's there. It's real," Roenicke said. "You see it in every big league game. A pitcher comes into the game, he throws that first pitch, and those eyes are right up on the radar. When they don't see what they are used to seeing, maybe if a guy is 95 and all of a sudden he looks up there and sees 92, he's like, 'Whoa.' Whether he's going to throw harder on that next pitch or what, it makes a difference."

 

Roenicke played during an era when craftiness and guile were as valued as velocity, with pitchers like Hall of Famers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine living on the black and winning with pinpoint command. It may help explain why Roenicke is so impressed with right-hander Ryan Weber, a longshot fifth starter candidate who rarely breaks 90 mph, but throws a curveball and sinker with considerable movement.

With teams prioritizing big arms above all else in the draft, Roenicke worries about a generation of kids obsessing over throwing rather than pitching.

"When I was young, I didn't even know what a radar gun was," he said. "I just tried to pitch to get guys out, pitch to the corners where guys didn't seem to hit the baseball. Now they're pitching to velocity. You're seeing it in Little League. You're seeing it in radar guns all the way through." 

A kid, if in his mind he's thinking about playing professionally, it's max. It's max effort to throw the baseball. Max effort doesn't last if you do this all the way up through. You just can't last. It scares me.

Roenicke hopes teams don't shy away from the Webers of the world, pitchers with unconventional repertoires who nonetheless show some potential. He'd like to see soft, cerebral throwers win games so the pendulum swings back.

"If we see pitchers come up and they are successful and being able to hit spots again, I think if that happens, yeah," he said. "I hope they continue to give those guys chances. So if you're in college and your record is whatever, 15-3 but you only throw 88, I hope we still continue to give those guys a chance."

So don't go look for radar gun readings in Fort Myers this spring, because for now, they're nowhere to be seen.