One year after leading the Padres to 89 wins, the highest total for the franchise since their winning the National League pennant 1998, Bud Black is finding his second season as a big-league manager far more challenging. Cellar dwellers in the NL West, San Diego is 15th in the league in runs scored and last in OBP, while the pitching staff is 10th in both ERA and runs allowed. Anaheim’s pitching coach from 2000-2006, Black spent 15 years as a major league southpaw (1981-1995), winning a career-best 17 games in 1984 and a World Series title with the Royals in 1985.
David Laurila: When I spoke to you a few days ago, you came across as pretty thoughtful in your responses. Is that indicative of your personality, and would it be fair to characterize you as an analytical thinker?
Bud Black: Yes, I think that I’m thoughtful. My responses are pretty well thought out; that’s how I am naturally. I am analytical, yet I think that my instincts, in general, are part of what I do in life.
DL: To what extent do you utilize statistical analysis on a game-by-game basis?
BB: I look at analytical information daily. If I feel as though there’s a large enough sample size in certain situations, I will definitely use the data. It’s absolutely part of my decision-making process.
DL: What is your opinion on the value of giving up outs with the sacrifice bunt?
BB: I think that the bunt does come into play late in the game. There’s a time for getting a guy from first to second, and also from second to third. I think that who you have coming up after the bunter is important, and not bunting depends on who the hitter is; there are certain hitters you will bunt with, and certain hitters you won’t bunt with. There are also certain pitchers you’ll bunt against and certain hitter-pitcher combinations where you’ll let a guy swing. There are so many variables, and each game, and each situation, is unique unto itself. But, generally speaking, I think there is a place for the sacrifice bunt, both moving a guy from first to second and from second to third.
DL: The running game is far less prevalent now than it was in the 1980s when you played. What are your thoughts on that?
BB: I know from playing that the pressure one feels when a basestealer is on base can be disconcerting. The pressure it puts on the defense, the pressure it puts on the catcher, the pitcher, the middle infielders-you feel speed. And it does affect certain pitch selection, it affects your delivery; it affects a lot of different things that you might not think it does. It does have an impact. I think that the stolen-base threat, and the stolen base itself, is a weapon.
DL: This has obviously been a disappointing season for the San Diego Padres. What have you learned as a manager this year?
BB: It’s imperative to have good pitching to win, especially when your offense is not generating enough runs consistently during the season. We haven’t pitched as well as we have the last few years. I’m speaking of the Padres. Last year-my first year-and even 2005 and 2006 when I wasn’t here, just looking at this ballclub, pitching wins. You have to have good pitching. The only time you might not have to be average, or better than average, would be if you just have an unbelievable offensive club, and those kinds of clubs are hard to build in this day and age unless you have unlimited resources.
DL: A lot of managers are former catchers, while you’re a former pitcher. What impact, if any, do you feel that has on how you think in the dugout?
BB: I would say that pitchers and catchers probably think more alike than if you had an ex-infielder or ex-outfielder as a manager. That’s my opinion, because the pitcher-catcher relationship is pretty much one; it’s along the same thought lines. I know from my experience with Mike (Scioscia) in Anaheim that we thought alike a great deal of the time. There’s a dynamic where pitchers and catchers are similar thinkers.
DL: Is the relationship you have with your players any different because of your background as a pitcher?
BB: No. The position that I played gives me insight as to what pitchers are going through, their daily routine, their process, how they think. I feel as though my ability to interact and engage all players, regardless of position, is a strength of mine. I don’t get involved in the mechanical side of hitting, but I do talk to the hitters about approach and philosophy. I talk to the hitters from a pitcher’s standpoint-I have a pretty good idea of what the pitcher is thinking. I will talk to the hitters from a strategic standpoint pregame and during the game.
DL: What do you see as the primary role of a pitching coach at the big-league level?
BB: I don’t think that there’s any one primary role; I think that it encompasses a lot of different responsibilities. For one, you need to have a good basic understanding of pitching mechanics, including the throwing motion and the delivery. I think that you have to be a strategist who can take a scouting report, and a video of the opposition, and use that in your game planning. I also think that there times when you need to be like an older brother, or an uncle, where you can put your arm around a player and support him. Because of your position, you are in an authoritative position, so good coaches must possess leadership qualities. All coaches should be teachers, motivators, and leaders.
DL: Does that differ, in any way, from what you want from a pitching coach at the Double- or Triple-A level?
BB: No, I think that you need the same qualities in the minor leagues that you do in the big leagues. It is nice to have more experience in the big leagues, and I think that coaches who come into pro ball have to start in the minors; they need to learn how to coach. It’s hard to go from not coaching directly to the major leagues unless you’re a special individual, which, admittedly, can definitely happen. But, for the most part, the same qualities apply in both the minor leagues and the big leagues.
DL: Does an ideal pitching staff include both a diversity of pitching styles and a mix of younger and older veterans?
BB: Talent wins out over both of those. And talent means more than just the arm and stuff. You also have to have it in the head and in the heart, and that can be a 20-year-old or a 40-year-old. As far as a mix of styles, I don’t think that any two pitchers are alike, so there will never be five guys who pitch the same. It would be great to have five guys who throw 95 miles per hour with an 86 mph slider, a 75 mph curveball and a 75-80 mph changeup, but it’s not going to happen. Give me guys who can pitch, who know how to win and compete, and guys who have good heads. In reality, there’s no perfect staff, just like there’s no perfect player. Would it be nice to build a perfect staff? Sure, but in reality it’s not possible to do that.
DL: You told me that one of the Padres’ beatwriters will often ask you what the hardest decision was that you made in a given game. How much thought do you put into that particular subject each day?
BB: Making in-game decisions is what I do. My thought process is thorough, and often starts early in the day by playing out scenarios and hypothetical situations that might occur during the game. Each game is unique to itself, so for every decision I make there is a basis for reasoning behind it. I love talking about it after the fact with anyone who wants to talk baseball.