Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Coop & Dunc

It has been an unseasonably long break between posts because I have been forced to leave the country. I am in Spain for a covert scouting mission that is still covert, since only about five (5) people read this blog. In the meantime, I wanted to get some thoughts out there about pitching coaches.

The most revered pitching coaches in recent history have been Leo Mazzone, and more recently Dave Duncan. Other recent success stories include Rick Peterson, Larry Rothschild, John Farrell, and Mike Butcher, but we are going to color within the lines of the works of Dave Duncan and the White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper.

Duncan is known as someone who is maybe a smidgen lower than a miracle worker by taking average-to-mediocre pitchers and making them extremely successful. His reclamation projects have helped his teams win world championships, while surprising many. Here's a list of pitchers off the top of my head that I think he has done wonders for...

Dennis Eckersley
Chris Carpenter
Jeff Suppan
Joel Pineiro
Todd Wellemeyer

Against my better judgement, I am absolutely cherry picking examples to make my argument sound stronger. At least I'm taking the names off the top of my head, though. What did you expect? Until someone like the Worldwide Leader pay me for these words, I will continue to make my cases stronger with cherry picked examples for support. To show that I recognize some examples where Duncan has not been the best pitching coach for some players, just look at Jose Rijo. He was below average for Duncan in Oakland and became a super star in Cincinnati.

Okay, now forget that. To make my point stronger, let's look at ERA+ numbers for my cherry-picked pitchers with Duncan and without Duncan...

Dennis Eckersley
Indians (without): 116
Cubs (without): 109
Red Sox (without): 109
Athletics (with): 144
Cardinals (with):117

Forget for a minute that relievers' ERA+ are usually much higher than starters', and he was a started everywhere without Duncan. Okay, I'm sorry, let's not forget that and just try to move on. This was a bad example, and I am dangerously getting to the point where this is a really bad post.

Chris Carpenter
Blue Jays (without): 98
Cardinals (with): 147

Ok, that'll work. Sure, Carpenter had some injuries in Toronto that affected his success, but still Duncan helped him after those injuries and after an injuries in St. Louis basically wiped out his '07 and '08 seasons, he shined in 2009 with a league-leading 183 ERA+.

Jeff Suppan
Red Sox (without): 80
D'backs (without): 63
Royals (without): 105
Pirates (without): 122 (only 141 innings, compared with 2,410 for his career)
Cardinals (with): 109
Brewers (without): 86

I thought Suppan would be a better example because he was never fantastic, but he won a Championship in St. Louis, got overpaid by Milwaukee as a free agent, and proceeded to stink it up with an ERA+ in the 80's, while being paid like a big time pitcher. Here is an archaic stat that sadly helps me make my point... Jeff Suppan's Win-Loss record with Duncan: 44-26, without Duncan: 91-109.

Joel Pineiro
Mariners (without): 96
Boston (without): 94
Cardinals (with): 102

Again, this was not as good of an example as I had hoped. Still, there was improvement last year, and unless Mike Scioscia and Mike Butcher can keep him throwing strikes & ground balls, we could very well see him regress to below-average.

Todd Wellemeyer
Cubs (without): 71
Marlins (without): 79
Royals (without): 92
Cardinals (with): 98

Okay, so he improved but didn't even get to league average. Why is this a success story? Well, conversely from looking at Eckersley, his time with Duncan was the only time he was a starter. Since, relievers usually have much higher ERA+ than their starting counterparts, it iss rather impressive that Wellemeyer's best work seems to have come as a starter for Dave Duncan.

For all you remedial readers out there, the point of this exercise is to see how much better pitchers have been with Duncan than without. Of course, there are many factors outside of Duncan's control that can manipulate these numbers, but we at least can be proud that we are not using any fuzzy math.

From a not-so-quick glance through Baseball Reference, other pitchers who had more success with Dave Duncan than without him include Mike Moore, Woody Williams, Matt Morris, and Kyle Lohse.

How did we get here? What is the point of this (so far) booooooring post? Well, I first want to say that Rich Hill is a fantastic sleeper for deep-league fantasy players. He was signed by the Cardinals this offseason and could very well win 15 games and strike out 200 guys. Of course, due to his control problems the last two seasons, he could also not make the major league club and be done as a professional by March 21st.

The other reason I started this post was to consider the brilliance of White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper. He does not have the successful notoriety of Dave Duncan, but he does have some fantastic success stories of his own. I will simply mention that he was the pitching coach that can be largely, if not solely, responsible for the magnificent starting pitching that catapulted the White Sox to a world title a few years ago. Remember, they won the World Series with starting pitching that did not even have a bad inning against the NL champion Astros. Well, I guess "bad" is a relative term, but the White Sox never gave up more than two (2) runs in any inning during their four game sweep of Houston.

Anyway, why should we care about Don Cooper? We don't like the White Sox. Most people who like the White Sox have never read as many words as it has taken to even get to this point in our post. No, we are looking at this because the White Sox also signed a pitcher this season who is the sleepiest of sleepers. His name is Daniel Cabrera. This guy has shown no ability whatsoever to throw strikes. Sometimes, it is as if maybe he's left-handed and no-one told him. Regardless, I cannot help but be intrigued by the tools and velocity he shows off the mound. The guy is 6'10", and he routinely throws his fastball in the high 90's.

I don't think that Ricky Vaughn glasses will work. In fact, I one of his old teams already tried that. What the Cabrera fans have to hope for is for him to acquire the ability to throw strikes and ground balls. I wanted to say that D-Cab still has a chance to be a late bloomer, following in the footsteps of others like Nolan Ryan, Curt Schilling, and Randy Johnson. Unfortunately, I am a moron and none of those guys were as bad as Cabrera has ever been.

So after all this, I have to apologize. I wanted to find more evidence that my thinking was on the right track and found just remnants. The fact remains that I think Rich Hill and Daniel Cabrera have a chance to be useful next season, and beyond, for their real baseball teams and fantasy teams. Still, unless you are in a 33-team league, you probably don't need to draft either of these guys. Just keep an eye on them. If they have two or three solid starts in April, don't be afraid to pounce on them. You've been advised.

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