Pitching the Hall
There has been a movement afoot in the last decade to induct more
people into the Hall of Fame. No, not more players, or managers
or even GMs. People who have had less visible impacts on the game
- scouts and more recently, coaches.
One the whole, I'm in favor of inducting scouts and coaches.
These folks have been laboring far too long in obscurity while their
contributions to the game, too great to ignore. Induction would
be a much-deserved reward for people like Clyde Sukeforth (scout), Bill
Clark (scout), Johnny Sain (pitching coach) and George Bamberger
One of the current discussions posits that the Braves' Leo Mazzone
deserves enshrinement as the best pitching coach ever. Look at
the success the Braves have had; it's due in large part to the success
of their pitching staffs. They've had 7 Cy Young award winners,
more than a few 20 game winners and some historically effective
bullpens. And more importantly, the Braves have been the
healthiest pitching staff in baseball for more than a decade,
right? The credit has to go to Mazzone, yes?
First, I'm not sure Tom Glavine deserved the Cy Young the last time he
won it. Kevin Brown was better in just about every category in
1998 - more innings, more strikeouts, lower ERA, fewer baserunners,
more complete games... he was even a better fielder. Glavine had
2 more wins. That was pretty much his only advantage. An
argument could also be made for Trevor Hoffman that year as well, who
had a year similar to Gagne's last year - saving 53 of 54 opportunities
and posting a 1.48 ERA. A strong argument could be made for Greg
Maddux in 1998 as well, but the reason Glavine won was because he had
more wins than any of the others.
And as anyone who's followed baseball more than a year or two knows (or
at least should know), wins are one of the least representative stats
of a pitcher's effectiveness. To get a win, you not only need
enough offensive support to leave with the lead, but you also need the
bullpen to hold it for the rest of the game. Wins are a team
effort, not a measure of individual success, or of a coaches
effectiveness with a starting pitcher. Do we really want to
credit Mazzone for Russ Ortiz' 21-win season when he was the
beneficiary of the best run support in the NL? Was Leo's strategy
all along for Ortiz' to lead the league in walks?
Which is another reason why using winning pitchers as a primary measure
of a pitching coach's effectiveness seems kind of silly. Yes, he
plays a role in the effectiveness of his pitchers, but a better measure
would be using the pitcher's ERA. It does a much better job of
measuring how well a pitcher performed than his wins total.
Better yet, why not compare a pitcher's ERA before and after he worked
for a particular pitching coach? If a guy is much better with a
particular pitching coach than he was at any other time, then an
argument could be made that the coach made a difference.
Take Greg Maddux for example. Here's a guy who won 20 games,
posted an ERA of 2.18 and won the NL Cy Young award before he came to
Atlanta. And he was only 26 years old. With a reasonable
expectation that Maddux would get even better as he entered his peak
years, why would anyone credit Leo Mazzone for Maddux winning more Cy
Young awards? It's not like Mazzone had to tell him very
How about the guys who left the Braves (or at least the ones who were
healthy when they left)? How have they done? Kevin Millwood
as a Brave - 3.86 ERA; as a Phillie - 4.01 ERA, although it should be
noted that in only two of Millwood's six years as a Brave did he post
an ERA under 4.00. Odalis Perez as a Brave - 5.38; as a Dodger -
3.68. John Burkett's ERA in Atlanta - 3.74; elsewhere 4.39.
Mike Hampton's Atlanta ERA is 4.26, elsewhere it was 3.97. Park
effects even these numbers out a little: Perez benefits from pitching
in LA, Burkett took some extra beatings in Texas and Boston, Hampton
benefited from pitching in the Astrodome and Shea Stadium, but then was
mercilessly punished in Coors. The point is that there probably
isn't a great deal of difference in ERAs whether the guy was pitching
for Leo or not.
And what of the purported health of the Braves... what about
that? Well, to be sure they were healthier than the staffs of
Dallas Green, Bob Boone, Dusty Baker and other arm-wreckers. But
it's not like the Braves have been the picture of health and
vigor. John Smoltz has had at least 3 surgeries on his arm
including Tommy John surgery, Steve Avery was burned out before he was
24 years old, Odalis Perez lost a season to surgery, Pete Smith was
done by age 27, Kent Mercker was traded with arm problems at age 27
(although he has managed to come back and carve out a nice career as a
reliever) and Mark Wohlers has never recovered from a strained pectoral
muscle he suffered in Atlanta.
What most of Mazzone's reputation for healthy pitchers is based on is
what Maddux and Glavine have done. The rest of the staff has had
a pretty spotty record of health and endurance since 1991. It's
not at all clear that the Braves have been any healthier than
average. They've just been blessed with two workhorses (who also
happen to be two of the most efficient when it comes to pitch counts)
who make it look like they have.
One other issue that has not been addressed with Mazzone, is his
success rate with young pitchers. The Braves have had numerous
top pitching prospects come through their system, yet very few have
turned out well. Damian Moss, Jason Marquis, Jung Bong, Steve
Avery, Odalis Perez, Paul Byrd, Kent Mercker... there have been more
than a couple. And very few - Kevin Millwood is the only one I
can think of that Mazzone has had from the start - have turned out as
well as anticipated under Mazzone. The others have either been
injured, or enjoyed their first taste of success after leaving
This is not to say that Mazzone hasn't done a remarkable job with his
pitchers. Reviving the careers of John Burkett, Andy Ashby and
Hampton (although it's yet to be determined if he has really been
as well as his cobbling together good bullpens from other people's
chaff are both incredible achievements. But I thought in the
of truth that the whole picture should be painted.
So is he the best ever? I'm not sure he's even the best in the
game right now.
I have incredible respect for Don Gullett. Here's a guy who has
not had a decent starting pitching prospect since Jose Rijo (well OK,
one - Bret Tomko), yet has made a career of taking other people's
cast-offs (Pete Schourek, Dave Burba, Pete Harnisch, Ron Villone, Steve
Parris, Elmer Dessens) and turning them into serviceable, occasionally
very good starters. He may do it again with Paul Wilson this
year. No thoroughbreds in that group. And like Mazzone, he
has also put together some very effective bullpens, topping the NL in
bullpen ERA several times from 1994-2001.
While he doesn't have the string of Cy Young winners and 20-game
winners that Mazzone has, Gullett has had far less talent to work with.
So who has done the better job? Well, I would go with Gullett,
for two reasons. He's done a better job with retreads than
Pete Schourek with Gullett - 4.27 ERA, without - 4.77 ERA
Dave Burba with Gullett - 4.06 ERA, without - 4.69 ERA
Pete Harnisch with Gullett - 3.89 ERA, without - 3.89 ERA
Ron Villone with Gullett - 4.82 ERA, without - 4.96 ERA
Steve Parris with Gullett - 4.15 ERA, without - 5.51 ERA
Elmer Dessens with Gullett - 3.93 ERA, without - 5.46 ERA
And secondly, he has never allowed a pitcher under age 27 to throw more
than 120 pitches in a game. His own career was cut short in part
to overuse at a young age and he simply won't make the same mistake
with his charges. He's maintained this credo despite coaching under two
of the worst arm abusers in recent memory - Lou Pinella and Bob
Boone. And as a result, the only significant youngster who has
missed time to surgery is Scott Williamson.
Simply put, he's done very well with a whole lot less and doesn't get
credit for doing what everyone else says Mazzone does but really
doesn't: keeping his pitchers healthy.
So if we're going to start putting coaches in the Hall of Fame, let's
start with the guys who are most deserving before inducting the one who
is simply the most famous.