You and Your Pitching Coaches

A few days ago, while Kiley was dominating with his prospect coverage, I asked you about your favorite team’s pitching coach. I was a little fearful that no one would participate, since, who cares, you know, but many of you still found it in your hearts to throw a vote my direction. In all, there were thousands and thousands of votes, and while everything had to be split 30 ways to get material for each team and each coach, I was still left with sufficient sample sizes for all — even for the two new coaches who haven’t been coaches in a season yet. Bless the FanGraphs platform, and bless the FanGraphs readers. That means you!

I ran this project because I couldn’t recall seeing such a project run in the past. And also, I’m fascinated by crowd-sourcing and fan opinion, and while we all know this project won’t actually uncover the game’s best and worst pitching coaches, data has been generated, reflecting something, and now we’re in position to analyze the data. Let us do exactly that. Here are fruits of labors.

In the original post, each coach had a poll, with the following six options:

  • very good
  • pretty good
  • average
  • pretty bad
  • very bad
  • no opinion

I gave number scores to the first five options, descending from 5 to 1 (very good = 5). That allowed me to calculate, for each coach, an average fan rating. Here is a display of those fan ratings:

pitchingcoaches

In the lead, by one hundredth of one point: Ray Searage, over Don Cooper. Mickey Callaway is just barely behind. At the other end, Steve Foster brings up the rear, but he’s also new so we might elect to give him a break. There’s probably understandable skepticism that any pitching coach in Colorado can make a meaningful difference. Just barely ahead of Foster, Arizona’s Mike Harkey. Then there’s some separation before Bob McClure. The two new pitching coaches are Colorado’s Foster and Minnesota’s Neil Allen, and Allen scored better than Foster, albeit by basically a half-point. Interesting! Or not? If nothing else, it’s been noted.

An important point to make before we proceed any further: in theory, each poll was voted in only by fans of the given team, and while I’m sure there was some overlap and a little bit of casual trolling, this didn’t have equal participation. The people who voted in the Pittsburgh poll weren’t the same people who voted in the Atlanta poll, and different groups of people have different sets of feelings, even aside from feelings regarding pitching coaches. Some people might be more prone to enthusiasm than others. Some fans are happier than others, and, rising tides and everything. There’s a lot going on here, but because there’s not much I can do, I just have to manage with the numbers I’ve been provided.

Here’s a big honkin’ table. It should be sortable, and the default sort is by average rating (for some reason the usual sortable HTML is blowing this table up and I’m tired of trying to fix it). The percents don’t add up to 100% because while “no opinion” was taken over the total number of votes, the actual rating percentages were taken over just the total number of votes that expressed an opinion in some way.

Team Pitching Coach Very Good Pretty Good Average Pretty Bad Very Bad No Opinion Rating
Pirates Ray Searage 79% 12% 8% 1% 0% 4% 4.69
White Sox Don Cooper 80% 13% 5% 1% 1% 4% 4.68
Indians Mickey Callaway 75% 16% 6% 2% 1% 4% 4.62
Giants Dave Righetti 65% 27% 7% 1% 1% 2% 4.54
Rays Jim Hickey 57% 31% 10% 1% 1% 9% 4.43
Cubs Chris Bosio 60% 21% 12% 3% 3% 5% 4.33
Braves Roger McDowell 54% 24% 16% 3% 2% 5% 4.24
Athletics Curt Young 37% 47% 14% 1% 1% 8% 4.18
Rangers Mike Maddux 40% 38% 19% 3% 0% 4% 4.14
Padres Darren Balsley 44% 30% 20% 6% 1% 11% 4.09
Royals Dave Eiland 34% 42% 18% 5% 2% 7% 4.02
Yankees Larry Rothschild 35% 35% 21% 7% 2% 4% 3.94
Nationals Steve McCatty 30% 42% 20% 4% 3% 7% 3.92
Cardinals Derek Lilliquist 26% 48% 22% 1% 3% 3% 3.91
Dodgers Rick Honeycutt 28% 41% 24% 3% 4% 7% 3.87
Astros Brent Strom 33% 26% 26% 10% 4% 21% 3.75
Orioles Dave Wallace 24% 40% 21% 11% 4% 10% 3.69
Mets Dan Warthen 15% 34% 32% 9% 9% 10% 3.37
Mariners Rick Waits 6% 38% 45% 10% 2% 13% 3.36
Red Sox Juan Nieves 9% 35% 40% 13% 3% 13% 3.33
Tigers Jeff Jones 12% 34% 31% 18% 5% 7% 3.31
Reds Jeff Pico 4% 33% 47% 13% 3% 19% 3.23
Marlins Chuck Hernandez 10% 31% 31% 20% 7% 15% 3.18
Blue Jays Pete Walker 4% 17% 53% 20% 7% 15% 2.90
Brewers Rick Kranitz 0% 17% 53% 29% 1% 20% 2.87
Twins Neil Allen 8% 17% 38% 26% 12% 35% 2.83
Angels Mike Butcher 4% 18% 44% 23% 12% 9% 2.81
Phillies Bob McClure 4% 6% 44% 30% 16% 15% 2.51
Diamondbacks Mike Harkey 0% 5% 29% 52% 14% 18% 2.26
Rockies Steve Foster 6% 3% 34% 24% 33% 38% 2.25

Maybe the first thing that stands out to you: most fans are at least satisfied with their pitching coaches. It’s the first thing that stood out to me. On the one hand, we’ve come to expect fan projections and ratings to err toward the optimistic or positive. On the other hand, pitching coaches are coaches, and coaches are frequent targets of blame. I wonder if pitching coaches are thought of more favorably than managers, since it’s easier to observe managerial blunders. Anyway, if you set average at 3, then 23 teams are considered to have above-average pitching coaches. The overall average rating here: 3.64. That’s pretty significant inflation. If 23 pitching coaches are above average, then either seven pitching coaches are incredibly terrible, or, 23 pitching coaches aren’t above average. The observed numbers would put the average between Dave Wallace and Dan Warthen.

As an aside, it took until this project for me to learn of the existence of Jeff Pico. The fans are on the same page — Pico’s poll generated the lowest number of votes. Keep in mind that’s out of a pool containing two very new pitching coaches. Chuck Hernandez was second-lowest. At the top, Dave Righetti got the most votes, and then there was a decent gap between him and Chris Bosio and Larry Rothschild.

Let’s look at the “no opinion” results. Appropriately, the two highest rates belong to the two newest coaches. Among the holdovers, Brent Strom got the highest rate of non-votes. Maybe Strom just isn’t very visible. Maybe Astros fans have difficultly separating Strom’s influence from overall organizational influence. Right behind Strom, you get Rick Kranitz, and maybe this is partially because the Brewers don’t get a lot of pitching turnover, and in analytical circles it’s almost like the staff is run by Jonathan Lucroy.

Righetti got the lowest rate of non-votes — Giants fans know how they feel about Dave Righetti. Nine different coaches came in no higher than 5%, and all of them had high ratings. It seems there are a lot more strong positive opinions than strong negative opinions. This is unusual, on the internet.

Don Cooper got four-fifths “very good” votes. That put him just ahead of Searage and Callaway. Neither Kranitz nor Harkey got a single “very good” vote. Similarly or oppositely, neither Searage nor Mike Maddux got a single “very bad” vote. Searage and Righetti come in at just 1.2% dissatisfaction. That doesn’t even meet the usual minimum threshold of internet poll-trolling.

Why might the ratings, in general, be so high? For one thing, it’s easier to remember the successes than the failures. When a pitcher improves, credit goes to the coach, at least in part. When a pitcher fails to improve or gets worse, blame mostly goes to the pitcher. It’s an unbalanced equation. And then, while fans remember, say, successful reclamation projects, they might be relatively unaware of successful projects on other teams. The average per team isn’t zero pitching improvements. For however many pitchers Mickey Callaway has helped to make better, he isn’t that many pitchers better than the average pitching coach. I hope that makes sense.

As a last little thing, here’s a table of standard deviations, and relative standard deviations (now sortable):

Team Pitching Coach Rating StDev %RSD
Pirates Ray Searage 4.69 0.67 14%
Brewers Rick Kranitz 2.87 0.70 24%
Giants Dave Righetti 4.54 0.71 16%
White Sox Don Cooper 4.68 0.74 16%
Diamondbacks Mike Harkey 2.26 0.76 34%
Indians Mickey Callaway 4.62 0.76 17%
Rays Jim Hickey 4.43 0.78 18%
Athletics Curt Young 4.18 0.79 19%
Mariners Rick Waits 3.36 0.82 24%
Reds Jeff Pico 3.23 0.83 26%
Rangers Mike Maddux 4.14 0.84 20%
Blue Jays Pete Walker 2.90 0.88 30%
Cardinals Derek Lilliquist 3.91 0.92 23%
Red Sox Juan Nieves 3.33 0.92 28%
Royals Dave Eiland 4.02 0.93 23%
Phillies Bob McClure 2.51 0.96 38%
Nationals Steve McCatty 3.92 0.97 25%
Padres Darren Balsley 4.09 0.97 24%
Dodgers Rick Honeycutt 3.87 0.99 26%
Braves Roger McDowell 4.24 1.00 24%
Angels Mike Butcher 2.81 1.00 36%
Cubs Chris Bosio 4.33 1.01 23%
Yankees Larry Rothschild 3.94 1.02 26%
Tigers Jeff Jones 3.31 1.06 32%
Orioles Dave Wallace 3.69 1.08 29%
Marlins Chuck Hernandez 3.18 1.08 34%
Twins Neil Allen 2.83 1.09 38%
Mets Dan Warthen 3.37 1.13 34%
Rockies Steve Foster 2.25 1.13 50%
Astros Brent Strom 3.75 1.14 30%

The game’s least-polarizing pitching coach: none other than Pittsburgh’s Ray Searage. He received the most consistent votes, and then Righetti and Cooper were close. Pretty much every fan loves these guys, and it shows in the data. At the other end, again, the two newest coaches saw the broadest distributions, as there isn’t yet a sense of fan agreement. Among the rest, McClure and Butcher have the highest relative standard deviations; Strom and Warthen have the highest regular standard deviations. The fans know who they love, and they love them almost unanimously. When you move away from the consensus best, there’s more disagreement.

I think we’ve all learned something from this. How important is it? I don’t know. How long will it stick with us? I can’t say. But, mostly, you guys like your pitching coaches. It’s nice to see a little positivity in the world.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

newest oldest most voted
Dresch
Guest
Dresch

It’s interesting to me that Dave Eiland is 11th on the list when the Royals lead the league (or were near the top) in many pitching categories last year. Are we just not easy to please in KC?

KCDaveInLA
Guest
KCDaveInLA

Eiland might lose points from his pitchers pitching in front of a historically good defense…along with the starters’ generally low strikeout totals and Jeremy Guthrie’s scary FIP number.

jim fetterolf
Guest
jim fetterolf

As I recall, Fip didn’t like any Royals’ starter last season. Pitch to weak contact and hit spots in a big park with a great defense is something Fip can’t value. For the Royals, most important two things are pitch 6+ innings and give up 3 runs or less, then hand off to the ‘pen. Jeremy Guthrie fit that.

Twm
Guest
Twm

This was my thinking too. On one hand, Eiland seems to have done more with the young guys than previous coaches, and he apparently has some secret for maintaining a consistently amazing bullpen, and these maybe point to success where maybe past coaches failed. But that has to be tempered by the lack of a smoking gun-type Eiland product, a guy who came in broken and turned things around (which is, no doubt, why Pittsburgh’s guy gets so much love – I mean, I live in Minneapolis, and watching the difference between Worley and post-surgery Liriano with Peterson vs the same guys in Pittsburgh makes my blood pressure rise), plus, the defense is so good in KC, especially the outfielders backing up a crew of fly ball pitchers, that it must be mentioned whenever discussing the pitching staff and the pitching coach. Basically, it is maybe more difficult to separate Eiland from his environment than with other coaches.

Also, loads of us KC fans are cautious and circumspect and pessimistic.

Bill
Guest
Bill

I think it has to do with his low profile. Before reading this comment I didn’t even think about how successful he has been. He has consistently gotten excellent performance of pitchers pulled off the scrap heap. I’m thinking Guthrie and Bruce Chen. Furthermore, he has gotten decent pitchers to pitch better. I’m thinking of Escobar and Vargas. He helped turn Wade Davis from a mediocre starter into a shut down reliever and he has, so far, successfully transitioned a young fireballer in Ventura into a very good MLB starter. I didn’t vote on Eiland, but I should have and I agree that he should get an excellent rating.