A member of the Angels‘ front office for each of the past 15 seasons, Ken Forsch has played a big role in helping to make October baseball a regular occurrence in Anaheim. Currently working under general manager Tony Reagins, Forsch has been the team’s assistant GM since 1998 after serving as the organization’s director of player development from 1994-1997. A pitcher in his playing days, Forsch spent 16 seasons with the Astros (1970-1980) and Angels (1981-1986), logging a record of 114-113 with 51 saves, while making a pair of All-Star teams and throwing a no-hitter. Forsch shared his thoughts on pitching when the Angels visited Fenway Park during the ALDS.
David Laurila: What is your role in helping the organization to develop pitchers?
Ken Forsch: Absolutely nothing. I’m the assistant general manager, so I stay out of the pitching coaches’ and the coaches’ fields. I do go out to see our minor league clubs, though. Usually I go to Double-A and Triple-A; I don’t go any lower than that. That’s just because there aren’t really any deals that you can make, with any players you might have-some good players that may be mentioned in a deal you want to make at the major league level. So I make sure that I go down to see the young arms on our club, and I give my opinion on them.
DL: To some degree, it sounds like you’re scouting the pitchers within your own organization.
KF: Just within our organization, but it’s not really scouting, it’s just an opinion. I don’t fill out any reports, I just-if something logs in my mind, I’ve seen a lot of pitching in the years that I played, and the years that I’ve been in the organization, including being farm director, so I have a pretty good idea, when I see somebody, if he’s got a chance for the major leagues.
DL: What tells you that a young pitcher has big-league potential?
KF: I really can’t tell you. It’s a combination of a lot of things that I see; I’m not looking for a particular thing. There may be a pitcher who has really good arm action and a smooth delivery; the ball comes out of his hand real well. Or he has a good breaking ball, or his ball moves really well, sinking. Maybe the velocity isn’t there, but he’s got movement. So it’s a number of things that I look at collectively.
DL: How happy are you with the job the organization is doing in developing pitchers?
KF: I’m extremely happy. It all has to with the scouting, to begin with, the amateur scouting. We’ve got some young pitchers who have come through our organization, like Saunders, Lackey, Santana, and Frankie Rodriquez. If you’re going to get pitching, it’s really something you’re going to have to develop yourself, because if you’re going to trade for it, you’re going to have to give up a lot for it. So you have to be willing to spend money up front, to develop them as fast as you can to get them to the major leagues. That’s where you get your talent; that’s where it comes from. Pitching comes from the farm system.
DL: Who are some of the pitchers on the horizon-young arms you’re really high on?
KF: Well, we’ve got a young kid in Triple-A, [Anthony] Ortega, who looks like he’s really promising. There are a number of guys down there, but in my mind, he probably stands out the most. And you’ve got guys that are in the bullpen down there; [Jason] Bulger has a great arm. [Kevin] Jepsen, who [was] on our post-season roster, has a fantastic arm. Those are some of the guys we’re looking at.
DL: You pitched in the big leagues from 1970-1986. How different is pitching now than it was in your era?
KF: It’s much different now. In my era, you cranked it up and were expected to go nine, ten, eleven innings-whatever it took to finish a game. And the other thing that’s really different is the ability to pitch inside. You’re just not allowed to pitch inside any longer. You can’t come close to a hitter, and if you do, or if it’s even somewhat intentional, you’re thrown out of the game and suspended for three days. So it’s just extremely different. And the strike zone now is more defined, I would say. It used to be, when I played, that the umpires had their own particular strike zones. They worked within it, and after three or four pitches you could pretty well figure out what he was thinking, if he was giving the outside pitch, the inside pitch, was he up or down. Now, it’s pretty well defined with all the technical equipment that they’ve got for the strike zone, and for the umpires to review their work after the game.
DL: Very few pitchers throw complete games in today’s era. Why aren’t there more Roy Halladays in the game right now?
KF: The managers won’t let them. And the organization won’t really let them. I mean, there’s no reason for them not to be able to do the same thing now as we did then, other than it’s not the way they manage any longer. They go six innings, and then they have their guy who comes in for the seventh, they have their set-up guy, and they have their closer. It’s a situation, really, where the manager doesn’t really have to think that much; everything is set for him. When he gets to 100 pitches, the starter comes out, and he goes with his next guy. Then he fills in with his eighth-inning guy, and then his closer.
DL: Is it all on the manager, or do organizations not want their starting pitchers to work more innings?
KF: Here, Mike [Scioscia] has all the control. I think the managers have all the control on the field; it doesn’t have anything to do with the front office. The front office doesn’t dictate how the manager manages. And it’s the same thing that we develop in the minor league system. We limit those pitchers in the minor league system now to the same amount of pitches they do at the major league level, and when you do that, they’re never prepared to go more than six or seven innings, or over a 100-pitch count.
DL: Is that something that could, or should, be changed?
KF: It can change. It all starts within development in the organization, and which direction they want to go in. And that really comes from the manager. If he’s happy going with six innings and 100 pitches, and going in with the seventh and eighth guys, and not extending his starters-well, that’s up to the manager. The down side of it is that you might overextend a pitcher; he may throw 120 or 130 pitches and not be able to come back in five days. So you take the risk. Right now, I think that everyone is really conservative with the dollars that they’re spending on starting pitching. So you’re really trying to find a level for them, to where they’re not going to get hurt, to where they can go out every fifth day consistently throughout the whole year. And that may not happen. I know that in my situation, in one start I threw 13 innings against San Diego. So, what’s that going to do for the rest of the year? Is it going to hurt your arm? You take the chance of maybe not being able to continue to start every fifth day throughout the rest of the season. Those are the types of things you have to keep in mind. But I think the 100-pitch count, which is where the level is right now-I’m sure that it could be extended if we did it in the minor leagues.
DL: When you look at pitching coaches around the game, are they mostly the same animal?
KF: They’re pretty much the same animal. I think that there are some who are very technical in deliveries, and in pitches and movement on the ball, and then there are others who are not-guys who will see what they have and then try to improve here and there. But more than anything, I think that a pitching coach has to get inside the pitcher’s head and see where he’s coming from. He has to know when to tweak him as far as pushing him a little bit more, or backing off. Or maybe trying to boost him up-boost his confidence. This is a game where you can’t go out on that mound if you don’t feel comfortable, if you don’t feel confident, if you don’t feel that you can get anyone out. I think that the pitching coach is partly responsible for that, too-keeping the psyche of these pitchers in tune so that they can be up when they go out to the mound.
DL: To what extent should a pitching coach dictate a pitcher’s approach?
KF: For me, it’s up to the pitcher. The pitcher is the one who has his earned run average tied to his name; he’s the one who has his won-lost record tied to his name. If the manager or pitching coach dictates to him how he can pitch, where he can pitch in the zone, and even to certain hitters, then for me, it’s a detriment to the pitcher. He has to feel confident about what he’s doing out there. If he thinks that the right pitch is an inside fastball, and he’s very confident in that pitch and thinks he can get an out with it, to me it’s a lot better to have him going with that pitch rather than having the catcher shake his head and put down a slider away because that’s what the manager or pitching coach is dictating. To me, that sends a negative response to the pitcher. He’s not confident now, and he’s thinking, ‘Well, OK. I’m going to throw it, but am I really psychologically behind that pitch?’
DL: What was the right pitch for you-how did Ken Forsch get hitters out?
KF: For me, it was a combination, but I can’t really tell you, because it was a feel that you develop. I think that right now, with pitchers going 100 pitches, they can go out and pretty much blow for 100 pitches. By that I mean that every fastball is as hard as they can throw, and every breaking pitch is as hard as they can throw. And I think that when you go out there with the idea that you’re going to go out there and finish nine innings, you start off differently in the front of the game, you pitch differently in the middle of the game, and you pitch differently at the end of the game. You’re kind of saving your pitches with hitters. You know pretty much what a hitter likes, and where he likes it in the zone, after you’ve played for a long time and have seen the guys. For me, that’s when you’re starting to play with him. But the most important thing for me was to be able to change speeds. I don’t mean going from the fastball to a change, I mean changing speeds on your slider, changing speeds on your curveball, changing speeds on your fastball. If you can work the fastball in and out, up and down, say five, six, seven miles an hour, and turn it over a little bit, sink it a little bit, cut it a little bit, then you’re a pitcher. If you can control both sides of the plate, then you can pitch.
DL: Who does the best job of that on the Angels’ staff right now?
KF: It’s really hard to say, but I think Saunders probably has a really good feel for that type of mentality. He goes soft, he goes hard, he puts a little on, he takes a little off; he’ll get up to 95, he’ll pitch at 90, and he’ll change speeds with his breaking pitch. So he comes to mind; he’s a crafty left-hander. We have some good pitchers in the organization, and Joe Saunders is one of them.