CB, I think you or I are as likely to be the pitching coach as Don Sutton.
Don likes cash too much. As a broadcaster, I think he makes at least double what the Braves pay pitching coaches, for less than half as many hours on the job. He and the Time Warner honchos reportedly had a spat over his broadcasting contract, and he almost didn’t re-up for the 2005 season. And some of his on-air rhapsodizing about the Dodgers during games against them this season sounded almost like an application for a seat in the Chavez Ravine broadcast booth.
The guy does Carpets of Dalton commercials! You don’t do that for artistic fulfillment. Don knows pitching, and I love his TV work. But I’m guessing there’s zero chance he’s coaching next season.
Regardless of who the new guy is, I’m not ready to declare the Braves the Pirates just because Leo is leaving.
I think columnist Jeff Schultz of the AJC – yes, I’m giving them some credit – makes some good points in today’s paper
. Schultz argues that Leo is not a miracle worker and is not nearly as vital to the team’s success as Bobby or JS. He contends that if we’re going to credit Leo for Jorge Sosa and Jaret Wright, then we have to remember Dan Kolb and this year’s bullpen.
Fair enough. I would contend he is overstating it, but on the whole, Shultz is right. Leo’s departure doesn’t mean Turner Field becomes Coors Field overnight. That said, below is an intriguing story about research that seems to show definitively that Leo does make a significant difference. Apologies for the length, but you’d have to pay to access this. So here ‘tis.
-- CDThe Mazzone Touch Is More Than Just Perception
New York Times
May 22, 2005
Author: ALAN SCHWARZ
The cardinal precept of statisticians, at least within the foul lines of baseball, is that one must not accept any declaration on simple faith. Never let anything breathe the air of blithe acceptance when it can be smothered in ream upon ream of data-driven analysis.
Numbers buffs strive to examine any part of the game in which the traditionalists show unflanked confidence, even if it's just some pitching coach. Then again, this isn't just some pitching coach. This is Leo Mazzone, baseball's pitching Midas, who year after year keeps the Atlanta Braves' ever-changing pitching staff the class of the National League.
J.C. Bradbury, an assistant professor of economics at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., has spent much of his life tuned into Braves games, watching Mazzone consistently thrive with staffs annually reworked like a map of Eastern Europe. It's happening again this year. After yet another round of major turnover, Atlanta entered the weekend with a 3.45 team earned run average, second best in the National League.
More strikingly, Mazzone has turned so many struggling starters (Jaret Wright and John Burkett, for example) and relievers (Mike Remlinger and Chris Hammond) into coveted commodities who didn't continue their success elsewhere that Bradbury decided to peer inside the numbers.
"Maybe we're just remembering the success stories," Bradbury said, noting that he began his study suspecting that Mazzone was overrated. "I needed to know."
Mazzone has had 98 Braves pitch at least 30 innings in a season during his 15 years in Atlanta. Bradbury examined the performance of each before, during and after his time with the Braves, always compensating for league, home park, age and defense so those factors did not cloud the data.
Using multiple regression techniques, he isolated the effect of pitching under Mazzone and not. The change turned out to be even more than Bradbury expected: a decrease of 0.62 in E.R.A., essentially turning a mediocre pitcher with a 4.10 E.R.A. into a quite valuable one at 3.48. Or, as Bradbury put it, "about the same as the Coors Field effect in the opposite direction."
A perfect illustration of the Mazzone Effect is Remlinger, a middle reliever with a 4.63 career E.R.A. before he pitched for the Braves from 1999 to 2002. He posted a 2.65 E.R.A. in his four Atlanta seasons, and with the Cubs it has since risen to 3.73. Even after Bradbury considered factors like Remlinger's ages as a Brave (33 to 36) and how he left a park that favors pitchers (Turner Field) for the opposite (Wrigley Field), his adjusted E.R.A. was 3.82 before Mazzone, 3.35 during and 4.23 after.
Starters generally benefited, too. After adjusting for the fact that they spent their prime years under Mazzone, Denny Neagle, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux still pitched considerably better with him than without him.
Mazzone, a self-deprecating West Virginian who likes to say, "I may get stupid real fast," is known for having his pitchers throw twice between starts, rather than the now conventional once. He also preaches working the outside of the plate, preferably with a changeup and a controlled fastball. The left-hander Mike Hampton, one of Mazzone's current success stories, said, "Everyone knows it: Leo's the best."
That brings up the next question: How does Mazzone compare with other pitching coaches? Two students in a Tufts University experimental American studies course, the Analysis of Baseball: Statistics and Sabermetrics, pursued that matter last fall. (Such classes, usually in the applied mathematics vein, have recently cropped up at several colleges.) For their final paper, the students analyzed Mazzone's record much as Bradbury had -- with similar results -- but did not stop there.
Peter Bendix, a freshman from Cleveland, and Matt Gallagher, a sophomore from Winchester, Mass., also examined the Yankees' Mel Stottlemyre, whose effectiveness was questioned this season by the team's principal owner, George Steinbrenner. Stottlemyre has coached for the Mets, the Astros and the Yankees since 1984. All together, Bendix and Gallagher estimated, pitchers posted E.R.A.'s 0.30 lower under Stottlemyre; with the Yankees it was 0.19.
"I wanted to look at pitchers' injury rates," Gallagher said with a sigh, "but I had five other classes in the spring semester that weren't about baseball, unfortunately."
All three researchers agree that separating Mazzone's skill from that of General Manager John Schuerholz and Manager Bobby Cox is difficult; the three have formed Atlanta's brain trust since 1990. Schuerholz is surely good at identifying pitchers who will succeed under Mazzone's system, and Cox deploys them deftly during games. But given how Schuerholz and Cox defer to Mazzone on many pitching matters and credit his system with their persistent mound dominance, his impact is undeniable.
And not unquantifiable, thanks to the number crunchers.
"We already knew Leo was a good pitching coach," Bradbury said. "But now we really know it."