Turning Quarterbacks Into Pitchers

Why don’t teams ever sign former quarterbacks to try and turn them into pitchers?

This thought stems from watching Patrick Mahomes and his pre-draft NFL tape and discovering that his father was a former major league pitcher. Can a quarterback’s arm strength transfer to pitching? What can be learned from football velocity to uncover a future successful pitcher?

ESPN was ramping up their coverage in the weeks leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft, and Mahomes was gaining momentum. A SportsCenter interview with the future MVP explored his multi-sport background, which caught my attention.

I was vaguely familiar with the story about Mahomes’ father reaching MLB as a pitcher. Apparently there was a time when Mahomes considered following in his father’s baseball footsteps. The interview spilled over into the prospect’s appearance in the Gruden QB Camp. He mentioned then that he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in high school, but due to a strong desire to play quarterback at Texas Tech, he went in the 37th round. If his football passion wasn’t as strong, scouts told him that the top three rounds were a likely landing spot.

As the video continued, it featured highlights of in-game play and practices where Mahomes showed a dynamic skill set. He had special throwing abilities, and his baseball background and natural talent was obvious in just a few of his tosses. There were impressive clips of him throwing a football from his knees about 50 or so yards, and another highlighting a final pregame warmup toss and ritual: throwing the ball about 75-80 yards in the air.

Here is a video of Mahomes speaking to Gruden.

One last clip of interest was an appearance on NFL Network where he dueled with David Carr in a competition of who could throw the ball the hardest. Here he is firing a football 62 mph.

To see his highlights and then discover just how hard he was throwing the football was satisfying. Since he mentioned hitting 96 mph with a baseball in high school in a separate interview, I began to wonder if there was a number to correlate between the two balls.

While I’m assuming Mahomes, a quarterback who can throw the ball the furthest and hardest, likely could have played pro baseball at some level, how far would he have gone as a pitcher? What we can likely assume is that he would have been a nice prospect to have in the organization with significant natural raw talent and potential to shape and develop.

Let’s assume his estimate of 96 mph for a baseball thrown is accurate (or at least close). Can we say that a quarterback throwing a football around 60 mph can maybe bump 90+ mph fastballs?

At the NFL combine, quarterbacks who agree to throw in front of scouts commonly record throwing velocities around 50-60 mph. I’ve compiled a list of the players and their velocities from 2008-18 who participated in the throwing portions of the combine. The list is missing a few recognizable names due to some of them skipping on throwing. My goal was to find a relative number to compare the throwing velocity from a football to that of a baseball.

While researching I found that in 2006, Carl Bialak wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal after watching a football game on TV that gave comparative velocities.

“ESPN uses the Pass Track system to calculate the path and speed of the football, and then compares its kinetic energy with that of a baseball, which is lighter. Kinetic energy is the energy a moving object contains as a result of its motion, and it is calculated by multiplying one-half the object’s mass by the square of its velocity. A football weighs almost a pound, nearly three times the weight of a baseball. It turns out, then, that to find the equivalent speed of a football in baseball terms, you’d multiply its actual speed by 1.68.”

Those numbers are thrown in translation from 2008-18 in this Google document as perceived baseball velocity.

Reading further into the combine, a football velocity of 55 mph is looked at as a threshold. While this number doesn’t necessarily mean a better player, it does serve as a red flag if someone is below that mark.

C:\Users\Tucker Stobbe\Documents\Dane Brugler - 55 MPH Threshold.PNG
C:\Users\Tucker Stobbe\Documents\Benjamin Albright - Velocity Importance.PNG
C:\Users\Tucker Stobbe\Documents\Benjamin Albright - 55 MPH Threshold.PNG

This is similar to baseball scouting and player analysis, as pitch velocity can’t be deemed as everything but it provides great assistance as an indication of future success.

If we hypothetically say that the 55 mph number is a threshold and follow Bialak’s approach to convert it into baseball velocity, we have the average of 92.4 mph for a baseball thrown. That number is notable because the average major league fastball is 92.8 mph, quite close to the threshold in football velocity described above.

Baseball front offices could then put this insight to work by seeking out quarterbacks from the combine in the past who may not be on an NFL roster, CFL roster, or playing football in general. Target players who have a 55 mph or higher velocity on their football. Dig deeper and look at player biography pages from their college playing days, which often reveal whether the QB played baseball in high school, as well which would be a plus.

Baseball teams are currently developing velocity programs or have them in place to help their pitchers gain strength and work towards maximizing their velocity. By taking an already developed skill set for throwing, as well as an elite athlete such as near-NFL-level quarterbacks, baseball executives may uncover a new pipeline for pitchers who could play professional baseball for their organizations.

In fact, here is a list of quarterbacks with a football velocity over 55 mph (who are not in the NFL, CFL, AAF, or affiliated football).

Kevin O’Connell (2008), Paul Smith (2008), Rhett Bomar (2009), Curtis Painter (2009), Josh Freeman (2009), Drew Willy (2009), John Wilson (2009), Scott Tolzien (2010), Patrick Devlin (2011), Colin Kaepernick (2011), Jordan Jefferson (2012), Chandler Harnish (2012), Austin Davis (2012), Tyler Wilson (2013), Bradley Sorensen (2013), James Vandenberg (2013), Zac Dysert (2013), Tyler Bray (2013), Jordan Lynch (2014), Keith Wenning (2014), Jeff Mathews (2014), Stephen Morris (2014) Anthony Boone (2015), Joel Stave (2016), Nic Shimonek (2018).

We hoped you liked reading Turning Quarterbacks Into Pitchers by Tucker Stobbe!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs

newest oldest most voted

Would be interesting to see how many of them played baseball in high school or traveling teams had scholarship offers or even if they were drafted in baseball


I thought this was wrong and it is. A major league baseball is 5 ounces, not 9. Its 9 inches in diameter though. you need to fix this.