In April 2000 Bradley took Young and a few Princeton teammates to Philadelphia when the Diamondbacks were playing the Phillies so they could meet Johnson. "Randy knew Chris pitched, saw his size and took him aside and talked to him about how important it was to understand his mechanics," Bradley says. "When you're as tall as they are, any tiny variation—in the angle of the arm, the release point, the tempo—leads to a big variation 60 feet away. Randy wasn't the pitcher he is today when he came to Seattle [in 1989]. It took him a long time to understand his delivery. Everything he does now is more controlled and at a slower tempo."
After five years in the majors Johnson's record was 49-48, largely because of seasons like the one he had in 1991, when he walked 152 batters in 201 innings. "Once in a while, when he was 3 and 0 on a hitter, he'd let loose a 98 mile per hour fastball [so wild] I couldn't catch it," says Bradley. "I'd go out and ask if he did it on purpose, and he'd sort of smile and say it slipped. But it was important for hitters to see that pitch every so often. If you're a lefthanded batter facing Randy [whose delivery is either three quarters or sidearm], it can't be a comfortable feeling. The ball always starts behind you. There's a lot of trust involved that he knows where it's going."
"Most taller pitchers were not successful at a young age," says Toronto Blue Jays vice president Tim Wilken. " Johnson, Richard, Nelson, Steve Carlton [6'3"]. They take longer learning to control their delivery because they have more room for error."
"How many 6'7" professional golfers are there?" asks House. "The taller you are, the harder it is to master the biomechanics of pitching. A small person is more coordinated with his extremities than a big guy."
So goes the thinking, though some of those theories may have to be recast in light of the stunning success Sabathia has enjoyed this season in Cleveland. Sabathia, a 260-pound former tight end from Vallejo, Calif., who also played youth soccer, rejects the suggestion that he's less coordinated than a smaller pitcher—in his extremities or anywhere else. "He's learning at the major league level," says Brown, the Indians' pitching coordinator, "but he has the athleticism that allows him to make fundamental adjustments."
After putting up mediocre numbers last year in the minors, Sabathia changed his delivery during Cleveland's winter development program, and he has been on a roll ever since. Dick Pole, the Indians' pitching coach, suggested Sabathia abbreviate his windup, so instead of lifting his hands over his head, Sabathia leaves his hands at his chest and takes a little rocker step to trigger his delivery, as Johnson does. "It's short and compact and felt comfortable the first time I tried it," says Sabathia, who believes one reason tall pitchers take longer to develop is that they're so overpowering in their youth that they don't have to master the nuances of the craft. "In high school I threw 95 percent fastballs and was blowing guys away. I used to wind up like Kevin Brown, twisting around so my back was to the plate. I didn't know where the ball was going. Then last year, when I pitched in A and AA, guys were sitting on my fastball. I had to learn how to pitch."
Sabathia mixes a changeup and slurve with a fastball that reaches 97 mph to keep hitters off balance and has shown impressive control for a young power pitcher by averaging only 2.86 walks per start. "I have more control of my body since I don't have to move around too much," he says. "The key is to stay tall during the delivery. If I collapse the back leg and dip down, the ball goes up, and that's when I get into trouble." He has also worked hard at holding runners on, which is a challenge for outsized pitchers. "There's no way a guy who's 6'7" is as quick to the plate as a guy who's 5'11"," says Mike Brown, "and if he is, he's giving up his best stuff."
"In high school I never developed a pickoff move because very few runners got on," Sabathia says. "Teams are trying to run on me, but they try to run on Johnson, too."
As in other areas, Sabathia has proved to be a quick study. He's mastered the slide step from the stretch, and in the July 18 game against the Chicago White Sox in which Sabathia got his ninth win, both Chicago runners who tried to steal on him were thrown out. "Every time C.C. goes out, he gets smoother," says Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel. "He reminds me of Jim Kaat, a big guy [6'4"] with a very compact delivery. He's got good balance and rhythm. For someone who throws 97 miles per hour, he's not a maximum effort guy."
That is the beauty of leverage: maximizing force while minimizing strain and effort. Which is why many baseball people think that tall pitchers will prove more durable over time than smaller ones. Certainly the 37-year-old Johnson (a major-league-high 259 strikeouts) shows no signs of slowing down. "You're looking for good, clean, efficient arm action," says Brown. "That's the predictor of long-term durability."