The pitching coach. I used to wonder just how much this coach would or could affect a pitcher’s approach to his game. Of course, I knew there had to be someone who taught you how to grip the ball to get spin on it. But other than that, I never realized when I was younger, just how much this one person could totally affect one’s career.
When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, the pitching coach was Joe Becker. Becker, a former catcher who had a cup of coffee in the majors, 40 games with the Indians, was hired for the job in 1955. He replaced Ted Lyons, who was a Hall of Fame pitcher known for his 21 years with the White Sox.
Becker’s staff included some young guys, Koufax, Drysdale, McDevitt, Podres, a couple of vets, Erskine, Newcombe, Labine. Newcombe was traded to the Reds, Erskine was dealing with some arm issues, so his big 3 at the time was Podres, Drysdale, and Koufax.
58 was really a lost year as the team finished 7th out of 8 teams. More new blood began coming into the system. He had some veteran relievers, Klippstein, Fowler, and they were joined by young Larry Sherry. Craig came up from AAA to join the rotation. But in those days, teaching did not seem to be the coach’s biggest job. Letting the manager know who was ready and making sure the pitchers stuck to their schedule were the major duties.
In fact, it was a backup catcher who got Koufax to quit trying to strike everyone out and just throw to the glove. If not for Norm Sherry’s advice in a spring training game, we might never have witnessed Koufax as the dominant pitcher he was.
In the early days of baseball, coaches were merely around to keep players in line, or to let them know when they were on the basepaths where the throw was going and such and relay the signs. Not much in the way of teaching was going on.
Can you imagine a coach telling Babe Ruth to cut down his swing? Nope. Same thing with guys like Cobb. Rookies were seen as interlopers trying to take the veterans jobs. Seeing a vet helping a rookie was not something that happened back then.
Since moving to LA, the Dodgers have had 11 different pitching coaches/ Becker, Lefty Phillips, Red Adams, Ron Perranoski, Dave Wallace, Glenn Gregson, Charlie Hough, Claude Osteen, Jim Colborn, Rick Honeycutt and now Mark Prior. Wallace had two different stints with the team, 96-97 and 2000.
All of them are former pitchers except Becker. That alone says a lot about the philosophy of coaching the staff has changed. They have become teachers more than class monitors. And as the technology and tools used to evaluate them have changed, so have the methods of the coaches to help a pitcher make the physical and mental adjustments to be successful as a major league pitcher.
The Dodgers have become known over the last few years for being able to take a pitcher who has some issues, fix his mechanics or mental approach and get a very good return on their investment. Latest example is Tyler Anderson.
They have converted a catcher into one of the better relievers in the game over the last 12 years, Kenley Jansen. Drafting where they do, they do not always get the top rated prospects. They take chances with pitchers who have been injured in some way or another and have had surgery. i.e. Walker Buehler.
They are patient enough, some fans say too patient, to not rush their best prospects into the major leagues. They more or less let them nibble the process until they feel the pitcher is ready for everyday action in the bigs. Case in point, the career of one Julio Urias. His innings were carefully charted for over four years.
Surgery threw that time table off. But because of their patience, the kid is one of the top pitchers in either league. They have been extremely cautious with Dustin May. They do not move their pitchers through the system lightning fast. It is a process. Unlike the old days, there are roving pitching instructors and coaches at every level.
Video is a huge part of coaching these days. Hitters use it to see flaws or hitches in their swings. Pitching coaches and pitchers use it to help a pitcher repeat his delivery and adjust kinks in their mechanics.
Rube Walker was a Dodger catcher and Campy’s caddy for many years. When he retired as a player, he eventually became a bullpen coach. But when Gil Hodges took over as the Mets manager, he took Walker along as his pitching coach. Walker changed how pitchers prepared for their games.
He was quick to realize that a strong lower half contributed to the solid mechanics of the pitcher’s motion. So he had his pitchers running everyday. They griped about it, but you could not deny the results. His staff included Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and a kid named Ryan. And the Mets won a championship against a team that was on paper at least, much better.
Honeycutt had a reputation as somewhat of a miracle worker. He took mediocrity and turned it into productivity. He had an uncanny knack for spotting flaws in a pitcher’s mechanics. And he was very low key about the whole thing. With all the TV exposure now, very little info is off limits.
Mark Prior has made the job his own. His work with Anderson, Heaney and others was huge in the performance of the Dodger staff last season. Some might question my mention of Heaney in that line. But he improved enough to earn a two-year deal. Anderson, a middle of the road pitcher at best, cashed in with a three-year deal from the Angels.
This year’s candidate for redemption and resurrection is Noah Syndergaard. “Thor ” signed with LA for less money simply because he wanted to be part of an organization known for it’s handling of it’s pitchers. And for getting excellent results working with recuperating arms.
The tools and the job description have changed drastically since the first days in Los Angeles. And the Dodgers continue to be known for their excellent pitching. They have had 15 Cy Young Awards since they moved to Los Angeles. Koufax and Kershaw have 6 of those between them. Only one reliever, Mike Marshall, has won the Award as a Dodger.
The strength of the Dodgers staff lies in the depth of the pitching talent in the organization. Bullpens are built these days on young arms with lightning speed. No longer is the broken down vet coming out of the pen when the starter gets hammered. Pitches are charted and counted now.
You look in any dugout during a game and you can see the coach charting locations. Videos are taken from all angles. I saw a clip of pitchers throwing this spring, and there are cameras everywhere.
Yes, the pitching coach is an integral part of every team now. And they have several in the system. Pitching has become a science. And the pitching coaches are the tenured professors of the craft.
Yoda the wise. New Dodgers roving teacher of the force.
I wonder how much WAR pitching coaches are worth? Can you check that out for me Bear?
I looked it up once – Babe Ruth’s batting average and OPS were highest in innings 7-9, when he was batting against a starter that had already thrown over 100 pitches. That same pitcher had already thrown 150 pitches 4 days ago. The first three innings of the game Ruth only hit .250 and OPS’d .700.
OK, that last part isn’t true. Ruth hit .300 and OPS’d over 1.000 every inning. For 22 years. Bonds didn’t do that. But then, Bonds isn’t in the Hall of Fame.
There is no site on the web that measures that. But there was a post from 2012 where a guy rated pitching coaches by how much they increased K rates and reduced BB rates. According to that scale, Dave Stewart was a pretty bad coach.
Loved your Post Bear.
Speaking of arbitration…
…”Shapiro referenced the quote from Manfred, then said”
“Yet representatives of the commissioner (outside counsel and a league official) sat across the table from Kyle Tucker and said none of the tools you bring to the game, none of the athleticism, none of the base-running, none of the Gold Glove defense, none of that matters in salary arbitration. If you want to get paid at the top of the market, you need to hit home runs, and only home runs.”
So he did. And now he makes millions.
When you’re 6’3”, 200 pounds, athletic, and can make contact, home runs are easy. Parks are smaller than they ever were and players are bigger than they ever were. Also, nobody seems to care about strikeouts. Hit 30 over the fence a few times, you and your family are on easy street for the next hundred years. Unless of course you get Madoff’d or one of your grandkids blows it all on drugs gambling and women.
Great article and perspective.
Question for you or anyone who knows more than I.
How much of the pitching coaching is set by Prior, as opposed to executed by Prior?
Does Prior lay the groundwork for all of pitching development, or is he (given his background as a player) considered the best messenger for what the robust player dev team comes up with?
Am I delusional to think this kind of information would be made public?
Prior and bullpen coach, Josh Bard, work in conjunction. Bard works to spot possible problems during workout sessions in the pen. Prior will review a pitchers starts and they all use videos to spot problems with mechanics and things like positioning when releasing the ball, and pick-off moves and such.
Speaking of pitching 😀
I have always been impressed with the first 5 hitters the 70’s Big Red Machine put together and sometimes like to compare Dodger teams with them.
Rose vs Betts
Griffey Sr vs Lux
Morgan vs Freeman
Bench vs Martinez
Perez vs Smith
Muncy might get into the first 5 hitters because Roberts seems to love the guy but I think Smith better aligns with Perez based on clutch hitting. Muncy walks too much to be clutch for me.
I will take Betts over Rose.
Griffey always had a high batting average but I think Lux will have a higher OPS even with a lower OBP.
I hope Morgan and Freeman is a push.
Bench beats Martinez.
I think this year’s Dodger lineup looks good against that Reds team lineup.
Foster and Conception eventually replaced some of the players listed in the Reds first 5 but that wasn’t the 5 I liked the most.
Andy Pages reported to camp 25 pounds lighter than last year. Said there were times last year when he felt sluggish.
I love the commitment he’s made to furthering his career. I think that says something about how he approaches baseball and life in general.
Maybe his success last year in the AFL boosted his confidence and thus his commitment.
Or maybe whoever is cooking for him is a lousy cook.
While taking grounders, Vargas managed to fracture his pinkie. Can’t swing a bat for now. The don’t consider it serious, but it sure doesn’t help him get off to a good start.
The brain needs time to process training and practice. Maybe a good thing.
I want to publicly thank Bear for carrying me these last 10 days. As I previously wrote, I contacted COVID on Friday, February 10, went to the ER on Sunday, February 12, and came home. I thought I was getting better and worked on my Shredder post, but that set me back several days. I was able to get up and about for four-five hours on Monday. While I no longer have COVID, this is no way over for me, but I do see light at the end of the tunnel.
Hopefully the mending will continue up to ST Game 1. I have a couple of posts in progress.
Not a problem my friend, I was glad to do it.
Michael is a good guy and a great team player, as he’s frequently shown.
Keep the faith Jeff, it will pass. My best pal just had it for the second time, and really laid him
low. Funny how the media have moved on -,no mention of Covid at all here in the UK these days.
Seems like Heywood is gonna get a runway…
My hope is for Outman to win the CF job as he would be a long range solution there. It’s nice to have a good plan B although I admit I don’t have a clue which one is which.
Yes. No. Maybe.
We’re all glad to see Bear take the mound. He’s got made historical writing skills. I’d like to see to see him use those skills on a piece about why organizations no longer seem concerned about strikeouts.
Ardaya this morning talking about Betts and second base. Suggests Betts should finish his career there. Mookie is taking grounders at second now and you know he’s got to be better out there than anyone else the Dodgers have. If Vargas isn’t ready by Opening Day?
Or perhaps moving to third? Russell CF to SS. Lopes CF to 2B. Smith RF and 3B.
Betts has an accurate and strong arm that should play at 3B. If Vargas takes ownership at 2B and Lux takes ownership of SS, is it such a stretch that 3B is an option for Betts? Or is that where Cartaya is being penciled in?
How long of a leash will the Dodgers give Muncy especially if Outman claims CF?
I got questions.
Apparently they are comfortable with Muncy at third. Now that they signed Martinez, I guess we should all hope Muncy can stay at third all year.
The Vargas injury should heal relatively quickly, but it will put him behind maybe as much as a month. What does that mean for Opening Day? Beats me. Betts to third is certainly a possibility. But it’s second that needs to be covered. Taylor? Iontkno. Betts? He’s taking infield there now.