Was Mike Piazza one of the best defensive catchers ever? How does catcher defense age? What effect do managers have on their pitching staffs, and do former catchers really make the best skippers? And how good was Leo Mazzone, really?
The best pitcher handlers since 1948
As I promised a couple of weeks ago, I’m going to take a look at the catchers who were best at handling their pitching staffs going back to 1948, the first year for which sufficient Retrosheet data is available.
I won’t describe my methods again here, since you can look at my previous article if you need a refresher. Suffice it to say that a With-Or-Without-You approach has been used here, and that the effect of the pitcher, batter, ballpark, and defense has been removed in order to evaluate that of the catcher.
A disastrous sweep at the hands of the Red Sox has the Braves just about dead in the NL East.
I mention this because Louie and I got to talking about the Braves, about whether this was finally going to be the year that their streak of division titles comes to a close. You might recall that I picked the Braves to win the NL East, with no rationale better than, "I'm tired of picking against them while they win." Oh, there was some analysis behind that, most notably preferring the management team in Atlanta to its counterparts in New York and Philadelphia, but by and large, it was a throwing-up-my-hands selection.
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The Astros defeat the Cardinals, Ozzie Guillen's still at it, Journey's a manly band, and a classy outfielder hangs 'em up.
"I thought about Craig more than anything, all the time we've spent together, working, trying to get to this moment. Running out there, that's for the kids. Young guys jump around. Us old guys would just get hurt." --Houston first baseman Jeff Bagwell, on finally making it to the World Series after 15 seasons (Houston Chronicle)
Enough debate. Let's just go ahead and put Leo Mazzone in the Hall of Fame. Coaches of all sorts are criminally unrepresented in Cooperstown, so Mazzone's decade of instruction in Atlanta is as good a start as any. While Mazzone may only be teaching what he learned from his coach, Johnny Sain, I don't think Sain would mind. Each year, the question is asked how the Braves will overcome the loss of this pitcher or that pitcher. We look at a bunch of no-names and retreads in the bullpen and through his alchemical abilities, Mazzone and manager Bobby Cox end up in the playoffs again. This year, let's not debate--Leo Mazzone is the best pitching coach inside the game, bar none.
What will Mazzone work with this year? Once again, he's asked to overcome the loss of talent as Greg Maddux has moved on. Only John Smoltz is left from the core of the Braves dynasty. Instead of Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Smoltz terrorizing hitters, the Braves will send out Hampton, Ortiz, and...Jaret Wright?
To wrap up our series on the merits of the four-man rotation, let's look at some of the ancillary benefits of making the switch:
The four-man rotation simplifies a starter's between-start schedule. Most teams have their starters throw on the side once between starts, but no one really knows whether it's better to throw on the second day after a start, or the third. It's not even clear whether starters should throw only once. In Atlanta, Leo Mazzone has had continued success doing things his way: he has his starters throw twice on the side between starts instead of once. (He does this because he feels it gives the starter the same increased sharpness that comes from working on three days' rest.)