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Kevin Towers used to mess with Brad Penny by altering the radar gun readings in San Diego

Apr 29, 2011, 12:45 PM EDT

radar gun

Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic has an interesting article about the questionable accuracy of the radar gun readings used on various ballpark scoreboards, which is something I’ve noted in the past regarding people citing velocity figures well beyond a pitcher’s usual range.

It turns out not all of the inaccurate scoreboard readings are on the high side, as current Diamondbacks general manager and former Padres general manager Kevin Towers told Piecoro:

We used to dial it down. I know for a fact that every time Brad Penny pitched for the Dodgers in San Diego it was probably the lowest velocities he ever had. He liked velocity. He’d stare at the board. He was throwing 95-96, but we’d have it at 91 and he’d get pissed off and throw harder and harder and start elevating.

Sure enough, I checked the numbers and Brad Penny is 1-5 with a 6.47 ERA in 10 career games pitched in San Diego. Towers also admitted that the Padres “would bump it up on a couple of our pitchers” because “we felt it gave us an edge.”

Towers is no longer able to mess with the radar gun readings in Arizona because Chase Field utilizes MLB’s pitch-fx technology for scoreboard readings rather than relying on people to record and relay the data. Some teams still rely on those mischievous humans, though, which is why I always trust technology when it comes to miles per hour.

  1. shaunri - Apr 29, 2011 at 1:07 PM

    From the NBC Sports Archives on Kevin Towers:

    NBCSports.com news services
    updated 12:52 p.m. ET March 1, 2005

    San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers said he strongly suspected late star Ken Caminiti was using steroids but kept quiet about it because the team was doing well at the box office partly because of Caminiti’s hitting, ESPN reported.

    I feel somewhat guilty, because I felt like I knew,” Towers told ESPN. “I still don’t know for sure, but Cammy came out and said that he used steroids, and I suspected. Selfishly, the guy was putting up numbers, and I didn’t do anything about it. That’s just the truth.”

    Kevin seems to have a problem with cheating. Good thing he’s not at BYU.

    • paperlions - Apr 29, 2011 at 2:45 PM

      Towers wasn’t the only GM that suspected his players of using steroids, every single one did (or knew for a fact they were)…he was just the most honest about what he knew or suspected and when he knew/suspected it.

  2. Jonny 5 - Apr 29, 2011 at 1:09 PM

    That’s pretty effed up. And it’s kind of funny how easy Penny was to control that way. Wow.

    • heyblueyoustink - Apr 29, 2011 at 1:28 PM

      Towers manipulating the numbers? Maybe he should be working for the Venezuelan government’s elections bureau?

      • professor59 - Apr 29, 2011 at 2:24 PM

        Or Florida’s, or Ohio’s, or Chicago’s, etc…

  3. kcroyal - Apr 29, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    I’m not sure about this season, but the last couple the gun at the “K” was a couple MPH faster.

  4. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Apr 29, 2011 at 1:24 PM

    “Hey, how fast was that last fastball?”

    “Uh…82. Hehe!”

    “DAMMIT!!! Why are my pitches so much slower in San Diego? Stupid sea level.”

  5. oikosjeremy - Apr 29, 2011 at 1:49 PM

    This is funny. But I’m a little surprised a major league pitcher could be manipulated like this. I’d have thought these guys are pretty tuned in to how good their stuff is on a given day. I mean, why wouldn’t Penny just think “Man, the gun in San Diego is always slow”?

    And as for bumping up the readings on your own pitchers, do you really want to be fooling your own guys into thinking they throw harder than they actually do? Do you really want one of your pitchers thinking, “Boy, my heater’s really hopping today! To hell with my breaking ball, I’m just going to give Pujols the gas and make him prove he can hit it!”

    • nyyankeefanforever - May 3, 2011 at 3:02 AM

      He said raising the gun readings for his own pitchers gave them an “edge” — meaning it screwed with the heads of opposing batters, not by fooling his own pitchers.

  6. Chris Fiorentino - Apr 29, 2011 at 1:59 PM

    Maybe I am overreacting a little bit, but I think this is pretty reprehensible behavior by the Padres GM. It’s one thing to not show close replays that went your team’s way at games. Or it would be one thing to just say the gun is broken whenever Penny pitched, so he wouldn’t know how fast he was throwing. It’s a whole different thing to actually put wrong information on the scoreboard. I mean, doesn’t that open up a can of worms, where the pitching coach of the Dodgers could be like “Wow, Penny’s throwing slow tonight. Wonder if he has a dead arm”. Or maybe Penny throws more breaking balls because he sees the speed and thinks his fastball is off. I understand that it’s all gamesmanship, but to out-and-out lie is just wrong in my opinion, and I would think that is something that MLB should punish very harshly or at the very least, make sure doesn’t happen again.

    Or maybe I am just overreacting here.

    • clydeserra - Apr 29, 2011 at 2:09 PM

      Bob Gibson never looked as the scoreboard radar reading.

    • spindervish - Apr 29, 2011 at 2:24 PM

      I’m kind of with you on this. I don’t see how it’s quite cheating, exactly, but it definitely seems wrong. I would like it if there were some way MLB could tell teams to cut this kind of shit out and actually enforce it, though I don’t know that the offense really even rises to the level of warranting a fine. Basically it just seems like some bush league BS.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Apr 29, 2011 at 2:25 PM

        Yeah, I think bush league is definitely the right word to describe it. Makes me kinda glad that the Padres choked the way they did last year…Karma is a bitch.

    • mofoe56 - Apr 29, 2011 at 2:27 PM

      lighten up chrissy….if they’re all stupid enough to gage his performance on a speed gun, they get what they deserve….actually it’s pretty clever….”if you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’…..

  7. notdumb - Apr 29, 2011 at 8:21 PM

    im surprised hes not being punished for this , it increases injury risk the guy sees the low number starts throwing harder and maybe tears something. its also just a cheesy lowlife way of gaining an advantage but steroids are wrong right

  8. nyyankeefanforever - May 3, 2011 at 3:14 AM

    This is really old news common knowledge type stuff — anybody who ever sat behind the backstop has seen the guns and the lack of correlation with with what flashes on the scoreboard. It’s no different than how all stadiums doctor the opposing teams’ bullpen mounds so they’re too high, low or steep and install rubbers that are narrow, crooked, protrude or are buried. Or how teams will replay errors by the opposing team over and over on their scoreboard but never those of their their own; or the way the home public address system suddenly plays a funny song much louder than normal levels when the opposing team has a conference on the mound. That’s just baseball, the only sport with no clock and different ground rules for virtually every stadium.

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