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July 29, 2007

Every Given Sunday

From the Mound to Managing

by John Perrotto

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Jake Peavy has heard the theory advanced dozens of times: Pitchers don't make good managers because they only understand one part of the game. However, the Padres ace doesn't buy that logic. In fact, he gets a little perturbed when the subject is brought up.

"It just makes no sense at all to me," Peavy said. "You're telling me that pitchers don't understand hitting. Well, we spend our whole careers trying to figure out what hitters are thinking and what pitches will get them out." Peavy then stopped and gave an example of why he thinks those who believe pitchers can't manage are wrong. The next time I pitch, I'll probably throw in the neighborhood of 100-115 pitches," Peavy said. "I'll probably shake off my catcher 15 times. Yet people say catchers make the best managers, because they understand the game better than guys that play other positions. If that's the case, then why do pitchers shake off catchers all the time?"

Peavy makes a good point and his manager, Bud Black, smiles when it is relayed to him. Black knows pitchers have their own sense of fraternity. They usually work out together before and after games, and hang out together away from the ballpark. Black can also smile because he is shooting a big hole through the theory that pitchers can't manage. Black pitched in the major leagues for 15 seasons from 1981-95 with Seattle, Kansas City, Cleveland, Toronto, and San Francisco, winning 121 games. He's skippering a Padres club in playoff contention; despite a 6-10 lull since the All-Star break, they are 55-48 and in third place in the NL West, just 1 games behind the first-place Dodgers. Black is the only one of 30 current major-league managers who was a pitcher.

"I've always heard the conventional wisdom about pitchers not being cut out to manage and, frankly, I never understood it," Black said. "I've always tried to understand the game of baseball in its entirety, just not the pitching aspect. I tried to do that as a player, and continued to do that in my post-playing career." Black spent three years with the Indians as a special assistant to general manager John Hart, and another season coaching Triple-A pitching before moving on to the Angels as their major league pitching coach for six seasons under manager Mike Scioscia. "In every situation, I've tried to absorb everything about the game that I could," Black said. "I would like to think that prepared me to manage. I certainly felt I was qualified when I interviewed for this job."

The proof of that has been reflected on the field. The Padres made the playoffs four times in 12 seasons under Bruce Bochy, who had become an institution in San Diego before leaving last winter to become San Francisco's manager. Yet the Padres have continued to be one of the NL's better teams with Black in charge. "This wasn't necessarily the easiest situation for a new manager," Peavy said. "We have a good team, but you had someone coming and replacing a manager who is one of the best of the game, and was extremely popular both with the players and the fans. But it has been an easy transition, which says a lot of Bud Black. He has that even-keeled temperament you are looking for and he certainly knows the game of baseball. There is no questioning that."

Playing in pitcher-friendly Petco Park, pitching has been the Padres' forte this season. They are first in the major leagues with 3.71 Fair Runs Allowed and a cumulative 17.1 SNLVAR from the rotation. Peavy has posted a major league-best 5.5 SNLVAR. Many insist that right-hander Chris Young may now be the NL's best pitcher; he has a 5.2 mark, and although he went on the Disabled List Saturday with a strained oblique muscle, the injury isn't considered serious. Venerable Greg Maddux clocks in at 2.9 SNLVAR as he continues his trek toward Cooperstown. In the pen, all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman leads by example as well as title by generating a 3.228 WXRL. The emergence of Heath Bell (2.835) enabled the Padres to move him into the set-up role and trade Scott Linebrink to Milwaukee for three pitching prospects this past week.

On the other side of the ledger, the Padres' offense is only 14th in the league with an average of 4.2 runs scored per game. That isn't all the ballpark, either-they rank 12th in the league in Equivalent Average. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez is the only Pads hitter to be found among the top 50 in the NL in VORP-his 16.1 ranks 46th. Providing some bit of promise, the Padres are fifth in the league in road scoring.

"The thing about Bud is he has really let the players and the coaches do their thing," Peavy said. "Even though his background is in pitching, he lets (Darren Balsley) operate just like any other pitching coach. Bud isn't looking over Bal's shoulder all time. At the same time, you know Bud is in charge. He has the respect of everybody in this clubhouse. We don't think about what position he played, just that he's the manager and a guy who knows a whole lot about the game."

  • New York Mets left-hander Tom Glavine will attempt to become the 23rd pitcher in baseball history to win 300 games when he takes the mound in Milwaukee on Tuesday night.

    How does he feel about it? "It's the same feeling I've felt all the way through this," Glavine told the Newark Star-Ledger. "I'm proud of the company I'm getting to join. These are the great players of the game, and you always want to be talked about and judged against the great players of the game. But by no means do I feel I'm there yet. I still need one more win, and then hopefully more beyond that."

    On some level, this might be his biggest start since Game Six of the 1995 World Series, when he pitched eight shutout innings against Cleveland to deliver the Braves' only world championship to Atlanta. "There's pressure that goes along with it, and you try to keep the pressure in check and do what you've got to do to win the game for your team," Glavine said.

  • The Cleveland Indians are becoming a team reliant on the home run, which is one of the reason they traded with Texas this past Friday to bring outfielder Kenny Lofton back to the place where he enjoyed his greatest career success. The Indians are second in the American League in home runs (125) and third in runs scored (5.3 a game), but 12th in hitting with runners in scoring position (.261).

    However, Indians manager Eric Wedge isn't upset about his club relying so much on the longball. "I'm not sure if that's good or bad," Wedge told the Lake County News-Herald. "I'd actually like to see more home runs. I'm OK with that. When you score runs, you score runs. It doesn't matter how you do it. If you score two runs in an inning, what does it matter if you get them on a home run or on three or four hits? We went through a stretch like this last year. I think in most years you don't see consistent trends on that. During the course of the season you see it go both ways."

  • The Kansas City Royals released right-hander Scott Elarton this past Wednesday, ending (at least for the time being) one of the worst pitching seasons in baseball history. The ax fell a day after he was rocked for seven runs in 1 2/3 innings by the New York Yankees. "I knew I would, at least, be having a discussion with the powers that be," Elarton told the Kansas City Star. "I think there were really very few options left. I took my release, and I've just got to move on from there."

    Elarton, 31, is still recovering from shoulder surgery performed last August. He seemingly has nowhere to move but up as he went 2-4 with a 10.46 ERA and -0.7 SNLVAR in nine starts this season. That is the third-worst ERA in baseball history for a pitcher with nine starts in a season, ahead of only Roy Halladay, who had a 10.64 ERA in 67 2/3 innings for Toronto in 2000 (including 13 starts), and Ryan Bowen, who had a 10.96 ERA in 33 2/3 innings in 1992 for Houston (with nine starts in his 11 games).

  • The Cubs' pitching staff of 2007 bears no resemblance to outfit they put on the mound a year ago. Cubs starters have a 3.82 ERA, which ranks second in the NL to San Diego (3.63). Last year, the rotation had a 5.19 ERA, which was 15th in the league, and included 79 starts by rookies.

    Despite the improvement, Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild isn't getting too excited yet. "It will matter at the end of the year, but right now we've got a pretty tough month in front of us, so we have to continue to pitch well," Rothschild told the Chicago Tribune. "Overall, we've done a nice job of battling our way through some tough situations. On days they've had good stuff, they've pitched well with it, which isn't always the case. On the other days, they've been able to battle through for the most part."

    The signing of left-hander Ted Lilly as a free agent has certainly bolstered the Cubs' rotation, though they were criticized over the winter for giving him a four-year, $40 million contract. Lilly has a 3.3 SNLVAR and his seven-game winning streak is the longest by a Cubs lefty since Ken Holtzman won eight in a row in 1969. Lilly is also the first Cubs lefty to win 11 games before the 100th game of the season since Holtzman in '69. "I'm not counting," Lilly said of his wins. "My first focus is to keep us in the game."

  • John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
    Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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