The secret weapon McClanahan and Strider have in common

June 3rd, 2023

The average Major League pitcher in 2023 stands 6-foot-3. The average Cy Young-winning pitcher, whether you go back five years or 10 years or all the way back to 2000, is 6-foot-4. The prototypical pitcher, and especially the prototypical power pitcher, is, well, tall.

But arguably the two best pitchers in baseball right now barely break 6 feet.

stands 6-foot even. stands 6-foot-1. And they overpower the best hitters on the planet every time they take the mound.

One big reason why: Strider and McClanahan pitch above their height.

That typical 6-foot-3 Major League pitcher releases the ball 6.4 feet in front of the rubber. Strider and McClanahan both release the ball 7 full feet in front of the rubber.

The Braves ace and Rays ace rank near the top of the league in overall release extension -- their identical average of 7.0 feet puts them easily inside the top 10% of MLB -- where they are surrounded by taller pitchers with longer wingspans.

"It's definitely important for perceived velocity," McClanahan said. "It impacts that a lot, and decision-making time."

Pitchers with most extension relative to height

  • Spencer Strider: 1.17x | +12 inches
    6-foot | 7.0 feet extension
  • Freddy Peralta: 1.17x | +12 inches
    6-foot | 7.0 feet extension
  • Logan Gilbert: 1.15x | +12 inches 
    6-foot-6 | 7.5 feet extension
  • Bailey Falter: 1.15x | +11.6 inches 
    6-foot-4 | 7.3 feet extension
  • MacKenzie Gore: 1.15x | +11.2 inches
    6-foot-2 | 7.1 feet extension
  • Shane McClanahan: 1.15x | +11 inches 
    6-foot-1 | 7.0 feet extension
  • Yusei Kikuchi: 1.15x | +10.8 inches 
    6-foot | 6.9 feet extension

This is by design. McClanahan and Strider have shaped their deliveries to shorten the distance between pitcher and hitter to far less than 60 feet, 6 inches, and eliminate as much of the time those hitters have to react as they can.

"[Extension's] not necessarily something that's achieved by 'reaching.' It's a timing of rotation, and when you're applying force, and in what way," Strider said. "There is an ideal number, technically, within an equation, that diminishes to a certain degree the hitter's ability to decide when to swing and where. But that's a formula that I can't control necessarily. So I kind of have to take what [my extension] usually is and then alter what I can control to optimize it."

Strider and McClanahan get to their ideal release point in very different ways. Here's how two of MLB's most dominant starters use extension to make their stuff even more electric.


Strider's ability to drive off the mound -- there's a reason he's nicknamed "Quadzilla" -- is what makes his whole approach on the mound possible. The 24-year-old is one of the best examples of an old-school, fastball-first power pitcher in the game today. For him, extension is one key part of a finely tuned mechanical chain.

"Not to say I'm in a sweet spot, but I think I'm currently where I'd like to be, where I'm reaching an extension that is indicative of healthy mechanics, and then the ball is spinning in the correct range for that extension," Strider said. "But it's coupled with a low release height as well, the [vertical approach angle], hiding the ball -- and there are other things that aren't necessarily measurable that go into whether high extension is useful."

He wants to drive far down the mound, but not too far -- Strider pointed out that extension could have diminishing returns past a certain point, because the closer you get to home before releasing the pitch, the better you need the ball to maintain true backspin to actually generate rise in that shorter distance.

"Like what I was saying, with the fastball, there's a formula between your fastball spin metrics, your velocity, your extension, your release height -- all those numbers combined produce something that is deceiving to the X degree."

As The Score's Travis Sawchik detailed at the start of the season, Strider rebuilt his delivery after his Tommy John surgery in college, and the result today is one of the most explosive fastballs in the Major Leagues.

Strider's 4-seamer by the numbers

  • Usage: 60.7% (4th among SP)
  • Velocity: 97.1 mph (8th among SP)
  • Rise: +2.9 inches above avg. (3rd among SP)
  • Whiff rate: 31.2% (5th among SP)
  • K's: 49 (2nd among SP)

Strider wants big extension because he throws a true, rising four-seamer -- a fastball with straight backspin that carries through the zone and past a hitter's bat.

"[My extension] shortens the distance between the ball at release and the hitter, theoretically giving him less time to decide," Strider said. "And if I can couple that with backspin, creating the rising effect, it creates that environment for the brain -- the hitter's brain -- to not perceive exactly where the ball's gonna be when it's time to swing.

"In the same way, a sinkerballer, for the most part, would like to increase the distance to give as much room as possible for the ball to move, for the same purpose -- it diminishes the hitter's ability to pinpoint exactly where the ball's gonna be."

Strider combines all the inputs in the formula: Velocity, spin metrics, release height, vertical approach angle, extension. And, on the mound, the equation spits out an elite fastball.

When he's firing that fastball out of his powerful drop-and-drive delivery, Strider's other main pitch, his slider, becomes just as unhittable.

"If anything, it allows me to throw a harder breaking ball -- I don't have to produce as much movement, because the distance it's traveling is shorter," Strider said. "So I can create deception with the slider comparable to my fastball, with less movement, and velocity is more the focus."

Strider's slider has produced nearly as many strikeouts (47) as his fastball, and is generating a ridiculous 56.8% whiff rate. That's why he can be a top-tier starter with elite strikeout numbers even as a two-pitch pitcher.


McClanahan's release extension is an art to Strider's science. 

He fires his own overpowering stuff from a unique delivery. Strider drives down the mound; McClanahan leaps down it.

The 26-year-old southpaw generates the power behind his pitches with a hop-step off the rubber -- almost like the one Carter Capps used to deploy. Strider is an explosive pitcher, but McClanahan actually explodes at the hitter before the ball leaves his hand.

"The hop-step, as you call it -- when I was younger, when I was a lot smaller, it was just trying to create as much energy as I could to go to home plate, and force, and power," McClanahan said. "I want to translate [the leap] into that."

Unlike Strider, McClanahan is a four-pitch pitcher -- four-seam, slider, curveball, changeup -- and his arsenal and style make Strider think of McClanahan more as a left-handed version of Gerrit Cole than a lefty version of himself. But, like Strider, McClanahan features one of the most devastating two-pitch combos in baseball: his fastball-changeup. Release extension plays a big part in the success of that combo.

McClanahan's four-seamer has the highest average velocity among lefty starters at 96.8 mph, and features a combination of rise (+0.9 inches above average) and run (+2.9 inches above average) that makes it a standout pitch on its own and lets him pair it perfectly with a changeup that starts along the same path and then fades away.

"We always say a guy has an 'invisible fastball,' right?" McClanahan said. "It's one of those things where maybe my fastball plays up a little bit because the extension might be a few inches more."

Because he releases his pitches so close to the plate, the hitter has that much less time to distinguish between the fastball and changeup, choose whether or not to swing and swing in the right place.

McClanahan's fastball is great, but his changeup is the real star. It's his No. 1 strikeout pitch (34 K's this season) and ruins right-handed hitters, with a 52.8% swing-and-miss rate in 2023.

It has a velocity differential of exactly 10 mph from his fastball, averaging 86.8 mph. It has even stronger arm-side fade, breaking an average of 16.2 inches horizontally. And he's added over four inches of drop from last season to this season, when it's averaging 29.7 inches of vertical movement. That was intentional.

"Obviously the more drop, I feel like I can miss some more barrels and induce some more ground balls," McClanahan said. "But I'm just trying to create separation on four-seam carry with changeup [drop]."

With McClanahan leaping down the mound at the hitter, it can seem like big velocity is coming all the time. But then it's not the upper-90s, riding fastball at all, it's a mid-80s secondary pitch with movement that takes it far away from where a heater would land.

"If I give the same effort every single time, and really sell hand speed, arm speed, and sell the delivery, it's hard for a hitter to be on time for all four pitches," McClanahan said.

Visually, McClanahan's delivery looks nothing like Strider's. But he thinks about his extension in the same fundamental, if less technical, way.

"For me, it's funny, I don't even feel like I'm 'hopping' off the mound, per se. It almost just feels like I'm driving," McClanahan said. "My extension maybe creates a little more -- no, I wouldn't say 'creates,' that's the wrong word. I would say it definitely helps pitches grade up as opposed to normal." Braves beat reporter Mark Bowman contributed reporting to this story.