Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Mel Stottlemyre and Ron Guidry

Brent asks:

How do you assess Mel Stottlemyre's time as pitching coach as the Yankees?

It has been said that he works well with soft-throwing and breaking-ball pitchers than power powers. In assessment to the type of pitchers the Yankees are seemingly focusing on through the draft and trades (sinkerballs and developing pitchers with great breaking stuff), would he have been the better fit (now and in the future) than Guidry in the same spot?

Evaluating a pitching or hitting coach has to be the hardest job in baseball. We don't see all the decisions that they make - unlike a manager. All we see is the result on the mound. The problem is, the pitching coach can only do so much with what he has. We can't blame Mel for Donovan Osbourne, can we? At the same time, we can't give Leo Mazzone credit for John Smoltz?

It all really comes down to my opinion. My personal opinion? I think he did a bad job with the Yankees. It's often said that "The best players make the worst coaches". Mel was a very good player. If he hadn't retired at age 32, he would probably be in the Hall of Fame. However, he was an unconventional player. He was the 1960s version of Chien-Ming Wang. Stottlemyre was a bonafide innings eater who forced players to pound balls in to the ground, but not strike out.

Who succeeded under Stottlemyer? Pettitte did. Cone did. Wells did. Mussina has. Duque did. Lieber sort of did. Who got worse under Stottlemyer? Clemens, Johnson and Vazquez. I think we can dismiss Brown, Contreras, and Weaver for other reasons.

It seems pretty clear to me: Pitchers whose primary weapon is the ground ball did well under Stottlemyer. Of course, Cone, Wells, Pettitte, and Mussina are all near hall of fame level, so they Mel may have had little to do with it.

I think that Johnson's problems can be attributed a little bit to age. Still, he went from the best pitcher in the National League to a decent little pitcher in the American League under Mel. But hell, he was pretty good in 2005.

Let's look at Clemens and Vazquez. Clemens came to the Yankees in 1999, coming off two of the best seasons of his career. Entering the Yankees, his strikeout rates declined and his performance went with it. He may have won the Cy Young award, but he didn't deserve it. Nor was he his old self until he left the Yankees, and was a top-3 pitcher in baseball again.

Javy Vazquez looked like a great pickup for Cashman before 2004. I was singing his praises. Vazquez was the jewel of the National League in the prime of his career. He was coming off a 241 K season, with great control. He was never much of a ground ball pitcher. He lost a third of his strikeouts with the Yankees, leading to his poor season. Of course, since moving away from Stottlemyer, Vazquez hasn't gotten much better.

The verdict? I think that there is some truth to Stottlemyer's problem with power pitchers, but I don't think that he is to blame for the Yankee pitching demise after 2003. Let's be honest, the Yankee pitching staff from 1997 until 2003 was as good as it gets, and few teams could win 102 games the season after losing Andy Petttite, Roger Clemens, and David Wells. I think a lot of factors - injury, bad luck, defensive decline, coaching, and less talent - resulted in our post-2003 pitching decline.

I like what Guidry has done so far. Mussina was throwing his changeup more. Wang blossomed (in a Stottlemyre style). I can't fault him for Randy Johnson's bad back. Beyond that, he didn't have a whole lot to work with. 2007 will help to define what kind of coach he is. He neither has a large group of hall of fame talent nor does he have a bunch of scrubs. Igawa is going to be a challenge, and so will the potential group coming up from Scranton.

I'm working on the Ohlendorf profile now. It will either be up on Thursday or late this weekend.