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May 20, 2014 6:00 am

Baseball Therapy: Beware the Genius Tag for Coaches

7

Russell A. Carleton

Who are the best hitting and pitching coaches? Or is it impossible to tell?

How do you know whether your team’s hitting coach or pitching coach is doing a good job? Generally, the answer is “Well, how are his hitters/pitchers doing? Are they getting better?” That seems to be the justification given when he gets fired, after all.

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June 22, 2012 5:00 am

Raising Aces: A Slide Step in the Wrong Direction

15

Doug Thorburn

The slide step is intended to help pitchers, but would they be better off without it?

The classic Greek sabermetrician Plato said that necessity is the mother of invention.True to form, the slide step was borne from the need to suppress stolen bases at a time when the game was experiencing a record surge of thievery, but I submit that the strategy carries heavy costs that fail to outweigh the perceived benefits. The slide step invention is in dire need of an intervention.

The slide step is an artifact of the 1980s, a time when players such as Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman were surpassing 100 stolen bases with regularity, terrorizing pitchers with constant distractions on the base paths. Since the Dead Ball Era, there have been 18 player-seasons that surpassed the 80-steal threshold, and 15 of those performances occurred in the 10-year stretch from 1979—1988. Henderson and Coleman were the last players to accomplish the feat, having tallied 174 steals between them in the '88 season, and were responsible for 10 of the 80-steal seasons between them, but the base-swiping explosion was hardly a two-man show (see accompanying chart). Today's top rogues of the base paths typically top out around 60 to 70 steals, with Jose Reyes' 78-steal tally of 2007 sticking out like a hitchhiker's thumb on the decade's SB leaderboard. For example, Michael Bourn has led the National League in stolen bases for three straight seasons, though his career-high is “just” 61 steals (accomplished twice). As Henderson told Harold Reynolds after the Mariner second baseman stole 60 bags in the 1987 season, “Rickey stole 60 at the break!”

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October 28, 2010 8:00 am

Overthinking It: Ex-Pitching Coach Managers

9

Ben Lindbergh

Few pitching coaches ever get the opportunity to become major-league skippers.

The Blue Jays unquestionably chose wisely when they named Jay Jaffe GM, but the jury remains out on their signing of Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell to a three-year managerial contract. That’s not to say that Farrell doesn’t seem qualified; on the contrary, the newly minted manager’s resume makes for an impressive read. Farrell spent all or part of eight seasons pitching in the majors—giving him the apparently all-important cultural acclimation to major-league clubhouses that other first-time managers have lacked—before serving as the Indians’ player development director for five years, an experience which, at least in theory, should have imparted the rapport with rookies and appreciation for the bigger picture that some field generals lack.

More recently, he returned to the dugout, earning his first—but, his new employers hope, not his last—World Series ring in his inaugural season as Boston’s pitching coach. In three subsequent seasons spent in that capacity, he presided over the development of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, which made him an attractive candidate to oversee Toronto’s talented young rotation. In addition to his work experience, Farrell is well regarded on a personal level throughout the game, and considered media-savvy (a quality that should serve him well in the, um, bustling Canadian baseball media market), which earned him some serious buzz as a managerial candidate well before the Blue Jays’ extended hiring process got underway.

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A conversation about analysis and the game with the former skipper and present-day talking head.

Buck Showalter is in many ways an old-school baseball man, but that doesn’t mean the former Yankees, Diamondbacks, and Rangers skipper doesn‘t value data -- or that he hasn’t for more than three decades. He unmistakably understands the mechanics of the game. Currently an analyst for ESPN, Showalter offered his thoughts on a variety of subjects, including how the game has (and hasn’t) changed, why Paul O’Neill could hit southpaws, why switch-sliders make good switch-hitters, and what makes the Twins the Twins.

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March 30, 2010 4:14 am

Long Tossing

16

Gary Armida

Proponents saying throwing at long distances builds pitchers' arm strength and increases velocity.

Major League Baseball is more or less a standardized industry. Everything a player does can be quantified in some manner. Since the dawning of the information age, teams have trended toward statistical analysis as it gives more definite, calculated answers rather than general feelings that can often lead to overvaluing a player. Unfortunately, that precision hasn’t translated to on-field performance, as gut instincts still rule when it comes to pitcher conditioning. For pitchers, those gut instincts have led to an epidemic of pitching-related injuries. According to statistics compiled and confirmed by Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll, Major League Baseball has spent more than $500 million in salary on injured pitchers the last two seasons. It is apparent that the majority of teams are just following the herd rather than researching methods to keep pitchers healthy. The result of this lack of exploration has led to the epidemic that Carroll describes.

Allan Jaeger, of Jaeger Sports, believes he has the program that can save pitchers from injury while increasing their velocity. Jaeger’s program is rooted in a traditional baseball exercise, long tossing. Since the early days of baseball, players have been long tossing. Most performed long tossing because they believed it strengthened their arm. Jaeger agrees. "If muscles are inactive for a long enough period of time, or aren't used close to their desired capacities, the life is taken out of them. When muscles are given proper blood flow, oxygen, and range of motion, they are free to work at their optimum capacity. A good long-toss program is the key to giving life to a pitcher’s arm."

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A conversation with the Indians closer about his career and his transition from starting to the bullpen.

In the eyes of many, Kerry Wood has never lived up to expectations. The 32-year-old right-hander doesn't agree with that assessment, but there is no denying that the sky seemed to be the limit when Wood struck out 20 Houston Astros in just his fifth big-league start on May 6, 1998. His historic performance elicited comparisons to Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan, but despite ranking second all-time in K/9 with a mark of 10.382, Wood hasn't achieved the Hall of Fame-level brilliance that so many envisioned. Plagued far too often by injuries, the native of Irving, Texas has nonetheless had a successful career since being taken as the fourth overall pick in the 1995 draft. Now the closer in Cleveland, after 10 seasons with the Cubs, Wood has a career record of 80-64 with a 3.67 ERA, and 54 saves in 334 appearances. Wood sat down with BP when the Indians visited Fenway Park on the last weekend of the season.

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October 5, 2008 11:50 am

Prospectus Q&A: Paul Byrd

1

David Laurila

The veteran hurler on setting up the pieces, controlling what you can, and employing the wisdom of others.

Paul Byrd knows his craft. Seen by many as a future pitching coach, the veteran right-hander has become a student of the game over his 13 big-league seasons, adding more than a fair share of guile to his repertoire as he has aged. Acquired by the Red Sox from Cleveland in August, the 37-year-old Byrd has pitched for seven teams overall and has a lifetime record of 108-93, with a 4.38 ERA in 338 games. On the season, Byrd is 11-12 with a 4.60 ERA. David spoke with him after his last regular-season start.

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An in-depth discussion about mechanics with the motion analysis coordinator and coach of the National Pitching Association.

Pitching is both an art and a science, and from youth leagues to the big leagues, so is the challenge of keeping pitchers healthy. The National Pitching Association (NPA) is on the cutting edge of research and instruction on all three fronts, and many of their concepts are shared in their forthcoming book, Arm Action, Arm Path, and the Perfect Pitch: a Science-Based Guide to Pitching Health and Performance. David talked to the NPA's motion analysis coordinator and coach, Doug Thorburn.

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September 24, 2004 12:00 am

Prospectus Q&A: Tom House, Part II

0

Jonah Keri

Baseball Prospectus: You've worked with some interesting characters over the years. What lessons did you learn from Bobby Valentine when you worked with him in Texas? Tom House: He's a perfectionist. He helped me create a preparation base as a pitching coach. One time I'd planned the rotation out to a certain day. He'd say that's not enough, tell me out to this day; five presentations later he finally gave it his stamp of approval. It was never enough, he was never just satisfied with what he had. His search for perfection and a better way to do things are second to none. He made me a better pitching coach.

Baseball Prospectus: You've worked with some interesting characters over the years. What lessons did you learn from Bobby Valentine when you worked with him in Texas?

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September 21, 2004 12:00 am

Prospectus Q&A: Tom House, Part I

0

Jonah Keri

A former major league pitcher who gained a boost of fame by catching Hank Aaron's 715th home run ball, Tom House is now a performance analyst and co-owner of the National Pitching Association in San Diego. Under House's stewardship, NPA has produced graduates such as Barry Zito, Mark Prior and Cole Hamels. Its advisory board includes such luminaries as Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan, as well as medical experts such as Dr. Lewis Yocum and Dr. James Andrews. NPA counts about 125 graduates currently pitching in professional baseball, about three times that number in major U.S. colleges. House recently chatted with Baseball Prospectus about the huge advances in sports medicine and technology in the last two decades, the best pitching coaches in the game today, and more.

Baseball Prospectus: For those not familiar with the National Pitching Association, what does the organization do to help pitchers?

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