Are Pitching Coaches Doing Too Good of a Job?

I’ve been the brunt of many a complaint, hammered for not doing this or that, and even shown the parking lot via the back gate with my personal things stacked up in a milk crate. Come to think of it, I’m not alone in this life style either.

The life expectancy of a pitching coach is short lived. I’m sure Steve has seen his share come and go, some more deserving then others.

But now it seems that the business end of professional baseball is crying in their ever-love’n stats book because pitchers are doing such a bang-up job, or so it’s reported by the sport’s writers who think so. Take for instance:

Also, the May 2014 issue of Sports Illustrated devoted some ink to the honorable mention of my craft. (not me)

So look, when advice is given here about dedicated training, hard work, sacrifice and attention to the little things - read and comprehend. When you’re told that what you’re doing now is good for where you are now remember that you’re wanting to get better for the beyond - not just now.

Post Scripts to the above:
There is no other endeavor in life that expects so much from a young man and with so little room for error, of any kind. There is no other endeavor in life that judges one on all those that came before him. And there is no other endeavor in life that is both cruel and littered with hero worship, as this game is.

If you wish to make this sport your life’s work, address priorities as they come your way. Do not depend on this business to fill the gaps in your single minded focus, but focus on the priorities at each stage in your life. Rookie prospects who neglect their academics, family loyalty and such, are easy pickens at money table, and even weaker when baseball passes them over.

Or not doing their job at all?
A few years ago I did a presentation for the Jack Graney chapter of SABR in Cleveland—about pitching coaches. I divided Part Two into four segments—like characters in a zoo. They were as follows: 1) The ones who could not only pitch but also coach and teach; 2) the ones who couldn’t pitch their way out of a paper bag but could coach and teach; 3) the ones who could pitch but couldn’t coach and teach; and 4) the lost causes who just couldn’t do either. And a few oddballs as well. We’ve all seen some sterling examples of all of these. And now, to add to this stew, there are some pitchers who have done very well without any coaching at all.
I was one of the fortunate ones. Because of my burning curiosity about a pitch called the slider, I met and got to work with one of the finest pitching coaches anyone could ever hope to work with: a prime example in Category One. Eddie Lopat was not only one of the aces of the Yankee pitching staff in the Golden Age of the game but a guy who could also coach and teach, and it started when I asked him about the slider and he responded by taking me aside and showing me how to throw a good one. What I learned from him in the almost four years we worked together was nothing short of priceless; I became a better pitcher as a result.
I would think that a lot depends on the individual pitcher, his/her strengths and capabilities, what s/he can accomplish with or without the help of a good pitching coach.

During my career I’ve been guilty of every “type” of pitching coach that you described Zita. I got jobs because of who I knew more that what I knew, and I was just “there” because somebody else left and out of pure convenience - “Baker, congrats on your promotion to Pitching Coach.” In fact my very first paying job as a pitching coach was because of just that - right place, right time. And I must admit, over the course of time I learned a lot more from those I so-called coached, then they did from me. Fair? No. But much of life is like that, which is easy for me to say.

I honestly think though, somewhere along the line, things “click.” In the pitching circles that I was in, it did, and without sounding like “I’m full of myself,” I got pretty good at my trade. The numbers showed it, along with the careers of those I coached. Unfortunately, the line of those that didn’t benefit from my presence was a long one, and not because of my lack of sincerity, but because of my lack of experience.

Now before I take all this in the chin without going down swinging, let me take the time to make some observations. Professional pitchers are a strange lot. Their very moody, “if-ee” most of the time, and really full of themselves, and last but not least, some are as dumb as a fence post. The only exception being that of Steven Ellis, who is a real gentleman, a credit to the game, and an outstanding ambassador of Professional Baseball. For the rest of the vast majority of professional pitchers, when these guys step onto a pitcher’s mound, they’re like a Jekyll-n-Hide. I’ve walked out to more mounds that I can recount, to settle a man down, only to be told… " I got this, get the @#$! away from me," which by way was exactly what I wanted to hear.

The farm systems of many, not all, MLB clubs are really fine tuned to be progressive enough to weed out those that aren’t really cut out for life in the Majors. The Professional Independent Leagues have no such design, so I can’t make comparisons here. However, the farm system is designed to groom a man by not only what he brings to the table in a “as is” state, but to study his “as is” state and run it through a metering systems and either make it better, or, break it. I know that last one - break it, sounds rather extreme, but that’s what the farm system is for, for everyone. Better to put a man through his paces at that time and place then send him up only to crash and burn in the show. So, in the final analysis, the system works - not for everyone, but then again the pace and tempo of farm life is not designed for everyone.

And last but not least, it SHOULD COME AS NO SURPIRSE that the pitcher WILL come out on top of his confrontation with ANY batter, simply because of the numbers… batting average I mean. Tell me anywhere in any job where a man can show up and produce only 30% of time, and still keep his job, and I’ll show you a man and his job that’s a joke. Yet, in baseball a 300 batting average is great - go figure. Now I know that number is subject to a lot of things that have to do with more that just pitching, but still.

I also think that the crop of professionals today understand more about the complexities of the pitcher’s role and his ability to study his job, batter after batter, pitch after pitch. A pitcher gets to practice his craft during real time in a game over and over again, whereas a batter only gets his shot just so many times. Add to the fact that a pitcher’s repertoire can change with just the slightest adjustment, and no wonder the numbers are showing what they are.

All in all, todays pitching coaches are mostly a crafty lot, well versed in what has to be done to get the most out of what they have. If not, no paycheck. By the way, that last part - no paycheck, was an incentive enough for me, especially when a man knows nothing else.