Well here we are, back again, for the second installment of my discussion with Brad Woodall, if you missed the first part, shame on you, and click here to read it. Currently, Brad is down in the Carolinas conducting clinics, and will be heading back to Wisconsin to hold both batting and pitching sessions.
Today we will tackle hard-hitting issues such as pitching coaches and the HOF pitchers they were responsible for, and weak-hitting issues like catchers who "call a good game" and Doug Davis (he just can't hit).
And we are off!
During your tenure with the Braves you had the opportunity to pitch under two very respected pitching coaches, Bill Fischer in the minors and Leo Mazzone in Atlanta. How did they impact your career?
Both coaches impacted me greatly in different ways. Bill was a great mentor for me. He kept things simple and taught all of us how to keep things in perspective. Leo was one of the best coaches ever in terms of understanding what makes each individual pitcher successful and keeping them out of big slumps. He taught us the importance of pitching to our strengths instead of chasing the hitters’ weaknesses. He knew Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz better than they knew themselves. He is part of the reason that they are all going to the Hall of Fame.
FtJ note: I always have felt that Bill Fischer (a northern Wisconsin native), has been one of the most successful, yet less heralded pitching coaches of the last 30-years. He has been in baseball longer than Don Zimmer, but unlike Zim, has successfully avoided getting hip-tossed by Pedro Martinez.
Bill Fischer pitched for 5 MLB teams from 1956-1964. In 1962 Fischer set the MLB record for pitching 84.3 consecutive innings without allowing a BB. After retiring as a player, Fischer worked with the Big Red Machine in Cincy, the Red Sox in the mid-80s, and the Braves farm in the early 90s. When pitchers like Tom Seaver, and Roger Clemens swear by you, you are probably are doing more good than bad.
The Brewers have just hired Rick Peterson. What expectations should the Brewer fans have for 2010 with regard to the new pitching coach?
Rick is a very well respected pitching coach and one that has worked with Ken Macha before so there is going to be a common philosophy throughout the coaching staff. That is a great thing to have going into the season. While I did not have the opportunity to be coached by him, I hear that he is a great coach and will work well with the relatively young pitching staff of the Brewers.
With regards to an established vet (Suppan)?
Jeff is one of those pitchers whose value is more than just on the field statistics. Behind every great pitcher at the major league level, there is an influential coach and a veteran pitcher that mentored them in their first few years in the big leagues. If you look back at Tom Glavine’s early career, I know that Charlie Leibrant had a big influence on his success. Every team with a young pitching staff needs a Jeff Suppan that is a serviceable pitcher and an on the field mentor. He is on the staff for more than just statistics.
A budding superstar (Gallardo)?
Gallardo is in a difficult position this year in that he is going to be counted upon to be the "stopper" of the starting 5 for the Brewers. For the Brewers to be successful this year, Gallardo will have to be a consistent, dominant starter that pitches deep into games. This is a huge responsibility for a young pitcher and Coach Peterson’s job is to help Gallardo manage the expectations and pressure during the course of the year.
Young struggling pitchers with potential (Bush/Parra)?
Coach Peterson has an opportunity to have a huge impact for the Brewers by helping Bush and Parra get over that hump that many talented pitchers face in the major leagues. There are flashes of brilliance and dominance during the course of the season, but for a pitcher to be successful in the big leagues, it is all about consistency. The great pitchers find a way to win games without their best stuff and to minimize the slumps during the year. Rick has the task of providing a new teaching perspective for these two pitchers and possibly guiding them over that hump to the next level of success in the big leagues.
In your experience, does a MLB pitching coach have any say as to how pitchers are developed in the organization?
Usually they do not have too much say in how pitchers are developed in the lower levels of the minor leagues. However, as a prospect reaches the point where there is a short time horizon to the big leagues, the big league pitching coach can provide some feedback to the pitcher and other coaches on what the pitcher can work on to ease the transition to the big leagues. This is usually pretty minimal as the pitching coach’s primary focus is on the current big league pitching staff.
Recently the Brewers signed catcher Gregg Zaun. The first thing that fans hear about Zaun is that he "calls a good game". I have been following baseball for over 30 years, and I have yet to hear about a catcher that doesn't "call a good game". Is "calls a good game" a meaningless cliche? If not, what does a catcher "calls a good game" mean to you?
As a former pitcher, I think there is great value in the "calls a good game" label. A good catcher is like a great assistant coach in basketball. He can think of things that the pitcher may not have thought of, remind the pitcher of the situation and the approach to take against a hitter in a situation, and call pitches along with the pitcher to stay in a rhythm during the game.
A good catcher can catch 5 consecutive games with 5 pitchers and handle each pitcher differently. I have worked with catchers that make me feel comfortable, confident, and relaxed during a game. I have also worked with catchers that are trying to call pitches based solely upon the hitters’ weaknesses with no regard to what I can do well. If I am constantly shaking a catcher off and out of rhythm, or the catcher calls pitches that I cannot execute with confidence, I will not be a good pitcher that day.
There is validity and tangible benefit to a catcher calling a good game. These catchers can make a pitcher better by managing the game effectively with the pitcher. If a catcher can do that well, the pitching staff improves performance and the team wins more games.
What catchers did you work with that "called a good game" better than their peers.
The best catchers that I have pitched to are Eddie Perez and Mike Matheny. I came up through the minor leagues with Eddie. He was amazing at being able to know every pitcher’s ideal pace and rhythm as well as understand the pitch sequences and strategy for that pitcher on that day. There were games in which he was thinking along with me and I did not shake him off the entire game. That did not happen with me very often with other catchers.
Mike Matheny was one of the best communicators that I have ever worked with in the game. He worked hard to make sure that he and the pitcher were on the same page and had a common strategy. He was also a great coach on the field. It was not about mechanics but he made sure that the pitchers maintained the right mental approach to each batter in each situation. He understood his role of being that coach on the field as well as anyone.
How much impact does a pitching coach have on "calling a good game".
While a pitching coach does not call pitches at the major league level, he will play a part in designing a strategy or seeing things in the course of a game that need to be addressed. Sometimes it is a mechanical adjustment, but other times he may see a need to throw inside more, or to stay out of a pattern during a game. The pitching coach may see things that the pitcher and catcher do not and relay these messages to the "battery" during the game. They are generally themes rather than specific pitch sequences or calling individual pitches.
How does a pitcher like Doug Davis, who always seems to allow baserunners, manage to succeed in MLB?
I had the opportunity to watch some of the best ever at this in Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux while I will with the Braves. Pitchers like these guys and Doug Davis are like professional gamblers in many ways. They are always making a calculated decision and playing their best odds for getting a hitter out at any given time.
It is not necessarily that these pitchers get better in these situations, it is that they are so good at continuing to execute their pitches in pressure situations. They are likely not throwing harder or getting better break on their curve balls or change ups, but they are masters at staying relaxed and executing their strategy with runners on base.
With no runners on base, pitchers often throw pitches willing to give up a single in exchange for quick outs. For example, Greg Maddux often chose to throw 1st pitch fastballs toward the outer 1/3 of the plate, relying on his movement to increase the odds of a quick ground ball. This may sometimes result in a ground ball in the hole for a base hit, but he knows if he gets a ground ball it is often an out. With a runner on second base, this strategy changes slightly. He will purposely be more precise with his pitches at the expense of throwing more pitches per batter and increasing his odds of getting a hitter out. It is the old "bend but do not break" cliché. If you take this strategy with every batter, your pitch count rises and a starting pitcher cannot pitch deep into the game. But if you pick your times to be more precise, you increase your odds of throwing pitches that are more difficult to hit.
Of course, this strategy works better for pitchers like Maddux and Glavine, Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia as they are able to execute under pressure better than most other pitchers in the game.
Part 3, dealing with teaching hitting and pitching strategies, will be published Monday evening.