Pitching Coach Pep Boys

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How much of what a pitching coach says to his bosses when analyzing a potential trade target is legitimate and how much is said for their validation and consumption?

Is it accurate when a coach says, as Rick Peterson reportedly did when the Mets were considering trading Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano, that he could fix Zambrano “in ten minutes”?

Is it the arrogance inherent in so many coaches, managers, executives and players?

Or is it bluster based on reputation?

Needless to say, Peterson did not fix Zambrano in ten minutes. Nor did he fix him in ten months. And he wouldn’t have fixed him in ten years.

On Thursday, the Nationals completed a trade for Athletics lefty Gio Gonzalez.

Gonzalez’s wildness has been well documented and is in black and white for all to see. 183 walks in two years speak for themselves.

Did the Nationals hierarchy discuss Gonzalez with big league pitching coach Steve McCatty? And did he tell them the truth as he saw it or was he influenced by the club’s clear desire to get their hands on Gonzalez at whatever cost?

McCatty famously slammed his hand into the dugout wall when Stephen Strasburg threw that fateful pitch in 2010 in which he tore his elbow in an injury that required Tommy John surgery. I’ve long said that because Strasburg was injured while the Nationals were following organizational edicts and stringent limitations on his innings and pitch counts, no one could be held responsible for the injury; this made it something of a relief when he did get hurt. There was no documented evidence of abuse; no outrageous pitch counts; no “arm-shredding” reputation for anyone.

This in spite of the fact that then-Nats manager Jim Riggleman was the manager in charge when Kerry Wood was overused and abused during the Cubs run toward the playoffs in 1998.

Somehow the onus for Wood and Mark Prior fell two Cubs managers later and Dusty Baker.

It’s about perception.

Will altering Gonzalez’s mechanics give him better control?

Perhaps.

But will doing so make him easier to hit?

Sometimes when a pitcher has funky mechanics and doesn’t know where the ball is going, it contributes to him getting hitters out. Not only does Gonzalez walk a lot of hitters, but he strikes out a lot of hitters as well; and he doesn’t allow many hits or homers.

The funky motion and wildness could be a large portion of that, so making a change that the pitching coach sees as “fixing” him could damage him.

Such was the case with the Pirates when the fired Joe Kerrigan.

Kerrigan was fired, in part, because of the mechanical adjustments he made to former Pirates number 1 draft choice Brad Lincoln.

The main transgressions on the part of Kerrigan were: A) that he was a quirky personality who made his presence felt and imposed on his already weak manager, John Russell; and B) the changes didn’t work.

What did they hire a name pitching coach for if they didn’t want him to do what a name pitching coach does in trying to address issues he may see in a pitcher’s mechanics and approach?

If he didn’t do anything and the pitchers didn’t improve, would he have been fired for that?

Of course.

Anyone can stand there and do nothing.

For years, Leo Mazzone was seen as the “brains” behind the Braves brilliant starting rotation. Then he went to the Orioles and couldn’t repair their pitchers; he hasn’t been able to get a coaching job since.

Why?

Maybe it’s because you can’t make an Astrovan into a Ferrari; you can’t make Kris Benson and Daniel Cabrera into Greg Maddux and John Smoltz.

Peterson and Tom House have theories, stats, stick figures, computer simulations and innovative techniques to help their charges, but they’re also selling stuff.

It’s hard to take people selling stuff at face value.

In spite of his documented and long history of success, Dave Duncan has never auctioned his services to the highest bidder; he’s never sought a managerial job; he’s shooed away anyone who even approached him with the idea that he manage.

He’s a voice you can trust because he’s not hawking a load of junk.

The others? I have my doubts.

I wouldn’t want a yes-man overseeing any part of my organization; nor would I want someone whose main interest is maintaining a reputation at the expense of doing his job. The attitude I prefer is “don’t ask me a question you don’t want the answer to” and with today’s pitching coaches, I wonder whether they’re of the same mind and working to make their charges better or hiding behind a curtain of agreeable self-protection by interpreting what the front office wants to hear and tailoring their responses to that in order to save themselves.

And that’s not how a team should be run.

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Beane Goes Back to Basics and the Worshippers Rejoice

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In trading Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill for packages of prospects, Billy Beane returns to his roots in accumulating pitchers who rack up strikeouts and hitters who have power and get on base.

History has shown that it works…sometimes.

And it doesn’t work….sometimes.

So the lustful Beane demagoguery starts again as he is somehow shielded from blame for anything that’s gone wrong with the team he put together.

Moneyball is over and it’s been shown to be a farce in theory and practice, yet still survives the eager anticipation (it’s almost Christmas morning—an appropriate time of year) for such indulgences as Beane executes another housecleaning.

The up-and-down results of the prior flurries of deals he made can be glossed over; the reasons as to why he’s doing what he’s currently doing can be formulated and chanted like a mantra—there’s an inability to compete in a loaded division; the A’s have limited attendance due to an antiquated and uninviting stadium; they have to tear it down due the uncertainty of a planned new stadium in San Jose—all make some semblance of sense.

Or they’re convenient excuses for him to be absolved for whatever goes wrong while maintaining the credit for being, as J.P. Ricciardi said in Moneyball, “smarter than the average bear”.

Is he smarter than the average bear?

No.

He’s an average bear.

No more, no less.

The Gonzalez trade might have been made even if the A’s were a good team with realistic aspirations of contention. He has trouble throwing strikes and, as I said in an earlier post, is walking the fine line between being a star and turning into Oliver Perez; he’s about to get a big raise in arbitration; his mechanics are clunky; and his style isn’t conducive to consistency.

The trade of Cahill also yielded an impressive cast of young, cheap players; but what’s the point of even trying anymore when you have a consistent, innings-eating winner who’s signed to a reasonably long-term contract and he’s traded away just “because”?

Beane’s list of floating excuses is vast and overused.

Excuses.

For someone who was portrayed as the master of the bottom-line and cutting through the clutter and nonsense, excuses have become the hallmark of Billy Beane and his tenure as the A’s GM.

While he was on top of the world winning with a minimalist payroll, the annual loss in the playoffs was chalked up to the post-season being a “crapshoot”.

His drafts—said to be the dawn of a new era in which card-counting based on verifiable statistics was going to reinvent the game—were as pedestrian as everyone else’s regardless of the methods they were using to find players.

His treatment of his managers has been capricious and occasionally cruel.

And his reputation among the casual fans or curious onlookers who read the creative non-fiction of the book Moneyball and saw the dramatic license (and utter lies) in the movie has been rejuvenated to again give rise to the concept that he’s a transformative figure in baseball.

All he did was have the nerve to implement the statistical analysis that had been around for years yet hadn’t been utilized to the degree that Beane used them; he did it out of sheer necessity and it worked.

But once the rest of baseball caught up to him, he slithered like a snake into his new role: that of the shrugging and hapless everyman wearing a resigned grin; the poor individual who can’t hope to compete due to the untenable circumstances in every conceivable sense.

It’s a vicious circle.

The same things that are being said now were said when he traded Dan Haren, Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. Some of those trades worked well for the A’s and some didn’t; but to take this latest array of veteran disposal as a return to the days of yore and glory—when Beane had the Midas touch and his mere gaze caused mountains to crumble at his sheer will—is partaking in a fantasy that his worshippers refuse to let go even if reality casts its ugly shadow again and again.

You can find analysis of the prospects he received from the Nationals and Diamondbacks anywhere, but know the truth before buying into it because it’s been said before.

Repeatedly and inaccurately.

And will be so again.

I guarantee it.

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