A look at Leo

Dave · September 19, 2005 at 5:45 am · Filed Under Mariners 

ESPN did a nice piece on Leo Mazzone over the weekend. A lot of it has to deal with general pitching philosophy, and it’s worth reading. I find it somewhat amusing that, in nearly every other sport in the world, the rest of the league copies the champion and tries to recreate what they just did (the NFL especially, with teams going from the west coast offense to a 3-4 defense on the drop of a hat because it worked for San Francisco or New England or what have you), but in baseball, Leo Mazzone can institute a program that is so far and above what anyone else is even trying, and his methods are basically ignored.

Does that make any sense at all? There’s one guy saying something almost completely different than than everyone else, and he’s kicking the crap out of them every year, and no one ever decides to try his way?

Major League Baseball can be kinda screwy.


38 Responses to “A look at Leo”

  1. Alex on September 19th, 2005 6:40 am

    Hey Dave — I read that same article over the weekend. It’s a very good read. There are several things about Mazzone that stick out to me:

    1) His ability to the get the most of out of his pitchers. History shows that pitchers are better with him than without him.

    2) He believes that the pitcher should dictate the at-bat, not the hitter. (Startling concept eh?). He mentioned (as an example) that if his pitcher is good at throwing low and away, he wants him to throw low and away, even if that’s the “hot zone” of the hitter. He wants his pitchers to pitch to their strengths no matter what.

    3) His way of motivating his pitchers is adaptable. I recall an example from one former Braves pitcher (Kent Mercker I think) talking about how Mazzone was yelling at him and cursing at him. Mercker (or whoever it was) basically told Mazzone to knock it off and that it doesn’t work for him, and Mazzone laid off of him.

    4) Mazzone’s philosophy of finding something positive in a pitcher’s bad start and also to find something that needs improvement in a pitcher’s good start. I think this is essential in making sure a pitcher doesn’t get too high after a win or too low after a loss.

    All in all, a very good article. Highly recommended.

  2. dw on September 19th, 2005 8:09 am

    Does that make any sense at all? There’s one guy saying something almost completely different than than everyone else, and he’s kicking the crap out of them every year, and no one ever decides to try his way?

    I think there’s a lot more entrenchment of beliefs in baseball than in any other sport. In football, if you can innovate, you can win. In baseball, if you can innovate, you will be denigrated and declaimed by Joe Morgan every Sunday night.

    Time and again we’ve seen innovations in baseball — the increased use of the bullpen, the use of stats alongside scouting — take far longer to be accepted than they should be, and in the meantime “old school” players and commentators mouth off to writers on a deadline about how “wrong” these changes are. In football, though, it’s all about a competitive edge, so innovation is admired, accepted, and quickly integrated.

    The problem with the “old school” is that they believe there’s a “right way” and a “wrong way.” Unfortunately, they have no way of knowing if their “right way” might be the “wrong way” or not.

  3. Rusty on September 19th, 2005 8:37 am

    I liked the comment where another coach asks him how he teaches his pitchers to pitch inside, and he says… “I teach them down-and-away.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “They can dictate, then, when they want to go in.”

  4. Adam S on September 19th, 2005 9:15 am

    Baseball has more of a good old boys network going than other sports. Maybe this is just perception (I haven’t counted) but there seems to be an incredibly high rate of manager recycling. I read an article in this week’s Sports Weekly that suggests the most likely new managers include Davey Johnson and Jim Leyland as well as Lou Pinella and Ken Macha changing teams. How/why the Diamondbacks immediately hired “the idiot” that the Mariners got rid of, will never make sense to me. Not to harp on Mevlin, but there must have been 50 better choices.

    Again perception, but pro football and basketball have changed tremendously in the past 20 years (probably hockey too though I don’t watch enough to know). Passing and passing formations are more common and there’s an emphasis on basketball defense. Baseball has stuck to the same model, except perhaps for 11 man pitching staffs.

    I can’t help but wonder if you looked at what the A’s, Twins, Indians, and Braves are doing and applied it to a $90M+ payroll, how good a team might be.

  5. Bodhizefa on September 19th, 2005 9:32 am

    “I can’t help but wonder if you looked at what the A’s, Twins, Indians, and Braves are doing and applied it to a $90M+ payroll, how good a team might be.”

    Actually, the Red Sox have been doing the exact same thing on a $120M+ payroll. It’s pretty obvious that this methodology nets lots of Wins and championships to boot.

  6. goodbye baseball on September 19th, 2005 9:35 am

    1. The pitcher who told Mazzone to knock it off was Greg McMichael.

    An excellent, in-depth article on what makes Leo Mazzone so great. It’s always pained me to credit the guy because of the Mets-Braves rivalry, but let’s face facts: Tom Glavine leaves to go to New York, and he hasn’t had a winning record since. Mike Remlinger goes to the Cubs as a reliever, and eventually fell apart. John Rocker? Last time I checked he got lit up playing for the Long Island Ducks in a low-level minor league. Atlanta will keep winning the NL East until Mazzone leaves.

    It also underlies the sharp contrast in philosophies: pitch away from the hitter versus pitch to contact. To be honest, I’ve never taken the time to see who else besides Bryan Price believes in pitching to contact. I now understand why the former philosophy works and the latter doesn’t.

  7. Adam on September 19th, 2005 9:49 am

    Re: 6

    Age may be factors for both Glavine and Remlinger. As far as Glavine’s record, records can be overrated.

    Mike Stanton did well for himself outside of Atlanta, as has Jason Marquis. It’s hard to think of anyone else…

  8. Jeff Sullivan on September 19th, 2005 9:57 am

    Odalis Perez.

  9. Alex on September 19th, 2005 10:07 am

    Bruce Chen. LOL Just kidding.

  10. Rusty on September 19th, 2005 10:11 am

    Jason Schmidt

  11. Bodhizefa on September 19th, 2005 10:13 am

    I’d certainly take Chen over most everything else we’ve had this year, lol.

    By the way, if we’re going to talk about former Braves that have gone on to do well after Mazzone, doesn’t the conversation start with Jason Schmidt? Just asking. Odalis Perez obviously fits into that realm of discussion as well, as Jeff mentioned above.

  12. eponymous coward on September 19th, 2005 10:13 am

    Does that make any sense at all? There’s one guy saying something almost completely different than than everyone else, and he’s kicking the crap out of them every year, and no one ever decides to try his way?

    It makes complete sense if you look at the history of major league baseball. Branch Rickey’s front offices were doing statistical analysis 50+ years ago, as part of kicking the crap out of the league…but Pete Palmer and Bill James were still baseball iconoclasts in the 1970’s when they started looking at things like on-base percentages. Baseball is conservative and historical, and thus “We’ve always done it this way, it says so in the Book” is thus a valid argument in people’s minds to stay away from innovation and change.

  13. Bodhizefa on September 19th, 2005 10:13 am

    Damn you, #10. You beat me 😉

  14. Shoeless Jose on September 19th, 2005 10:17 am

    But Tim Hudson hasn’t really improved by moving to Atlanta. Compared to last year his ERA is slightly lower (but still above his good years in Oakland), his walks are up, and his opp-BA is higher than it has ever been. Maybe this reflects something outside the coach’s control, maybe he will show improvement next year, but it doesn’t appear Mazzone has had much of a positive impact on Hudson, at least not yet.

  15. Adam on September 19th, 2005 10:23 am

    …Jason Schmidt (although he’s hurt every other start)

    I’d say Kevin Millwood has his best days in Atlanta. If you review the pitching staffs for Atlanta over the last 15 years, they’ve run a lot of crap out there and gotten great results considering. Of course, next to all the crap were Hall of Fame caliber pitchers. That certainly doesn’t hurt the cause.

  16. goodbye baseball on September 19th, 2005 10:23 am

    7. I know records can be overrated, and to be fair, Glavine has been betrayed at times by some horrible defense and a lack of clutch hitting. But I have also seen games where he just didn’t adapt to the new strike zone and kept throwing balls or he would finally groove one over the plate and give up three runs on one swing. Yesterday, thankfully, was not one of those days. Maybe I’m just venting because of the fact that he hasn’t done as well in NY as he had in Atlanta, not to mention the contract he got to come to the Mets.

    As for pitchers who’ve done well outside of Atlanta, what about Jason Schmidt? All he needed was a chance, and he wasn’t going to get it on their big league club in the late 90s. Too bad injuries have been a problem for him, especially the last couple of years.

  17. Shoeless Jose on September 19th, 2005 10:28 am

    You have to wonder how much economics determines the differences between innovation in baseball and the other sports. With something close to economic parity, no team in the NFL or NBA can ignore common sense and just buy up the best available players every year. So you have to innovate. And since in any given year every team can go from laugher to contender, or back again, there’s a lot more attention paid to the non-economic factors like coaching.

    Then you also have to factor in the college versions of football and basketball which act as feeder tiers for the pro sports — not just of players, but also of ideas. There’s a lot of movement of coaches between the two tiers (especially in football). There are a lot of college teams, so there’s a lot of diversity in coaching styles and ideas, and college teams have a lot more freedom to innovate, so the new ideas that work actually get demonstrated rather than remaining an idea (and often get showcased on TV). That makes it a lot harder for other coaches to simply stick to what they’ve always done (if for no other reason than it will eventually leave them without a job).

    In baseball, the feeder tier is controlled by the pro teams, and gets little national attention, so any innovation can more easily be stifled or ignored.

  18. Rusty on September 19th, 2005 10:41 am

    The Braves certainly do have a number of good pitchers that came up through their organization and have went on to success elsewhere. And it’s probably highly likely that Mazzone, and to a greater extent the entire franchise, helped these pitchers prior to being traded away or released. But I contend that just about every team has its share of “the fish that got away.”

    I think looking at individual pitchers, anecdotally, is probably less useful than looking at the overall success of the team. Obviously Cox and Schuerholz work well with Mazzone and share in the credit for the success in pitching. If Bryan Price was given a manager and GM on the level with these guys, he would probably be more successful too. Mind you, I’m not equating BP with Mazzone, but it’s clear that Mazzone has been given a good environment within which to teach his fundamentals.

    To me, the “pitching to contact” is a red herring. People here are claiming this is the overall pitching philosophy of the M’s. I’d like to see some direct quotes by Price and the context. It could be that pitching to contact is nothing more than another way of saying “throwing strikes”, and that isn’t mutually exclusive with throwing low and away.

    I agree with Dave’s basic premise that many teams, including seemingly the Mariners, are resistive to adopting techniques that are proving to be correct. Not only has Mazzone been successful umpteen years in a row, but also the guys in charge of the A’s pitching have been very successful for 7 years in a row, now, on a much lower budget. I’d like to see the M’s be more progressive. But as the USSM authors pointed out in a post about a week ago, Bryan Price isn’t necessarily the reason why the M’s pitching sucks.

  19. Kirk on September 19th, 2005 10:43 am

    It sure didn’t surprise me to see that Mazzone learned his stuff from Johnny Sain, and it doesn’t surprise me that his methods aren’t widely copied. Anyone that’s read Ball Four knows what I’m talking about. The calender may say 2005, but for many of the attitudes about change and being different, it may as well say 1905.

  20. Paul B on September 19th, 2005 11:31 am

    [i]If Bryan Price was given a manager and GM on the level with these guys, he would probably be more successful too. [/i]

    Price came to the M’s and ran interference between the pitchers and Lou, which was exactly what the M’s needed at the time. So we was very successful and received a lot of credit.

    Well, Lou’s gone, and I’m not convinced that Price is a genius or a great pitching coach. But you may be right, and the real problem now is the manager and the GM.

  21. msb on September 19th, 2005 12:38 pm

    #18–To me, the “pitching to contact” is a red herring. People here are claiming this is the overall pitching philosophy of the M’s. I’d like to see some direct quotes by Price and the context. It could be that pitching to contact is nothing more than another way of saying “throwing strikes”, and that isn’t mutually exclusive with throwing low and away.

    well, if you google “bryan price” “pitch to contact”, what you get are hits for Mariner blogs 🙂

    “pitching to contact” gets you more blog hits, and an mlb.com article from June where Jim Street says “Pitching coach Bryan Price believes in “pitching to contact” and that’s exactly what Meche did”

    a literature search? 3 articles in 10 years.

    In the Times, 2004, Price on Clint Nageotte: “He has two plus-plus pitches, hard sinker and hard slider. His focus will be the development of a changeup. That will be the deciding factor in whether he’s a starting pitcher or we groom him as a setup pitcher for us. His pitch counts were somewhat high in the minors. You’d like to see him get some early-count outs, pitching to contact instead of away from contact.”

    2002 Oregonian:
    Moyer is a student of pitching. He learned the circle changeup from a St. Joseph’s graduate who had been drafted by the Yankees. He has played for five pro organizations and gleaned knowledge wherever he has been.

    “I’ve tried to learn to be receptive to everybody and listen,” he said. “Not everything that everybody has to say benefits me, but my feeling is the more you listen, the more you have a chance to learn.”
    He throws three kinds of fastballs, a straight four-seamer with his best velocity, a sinker and a cut fastball, that he drives in on the hands of right-handers. He also has a curveball and his great equalizer — the circle changeup. His philosophy is simple: pitch ahead, use both sides of the plate, keep the hitters off balance.

    Mariners pitching coach Bryan Price added another plank to the Moyer platform in the last two years.

    “Bryan has brought something else out the last couple years,” Moyer said. “Pitch to contact. You want them to hit the ball, but you want them to hit it under your terms. Try to force contact. That is why you have guys behind you to play defense.”

  22. JMB on September 19th, 2005 1:02 pm

    Odalis Perez, Bruce Chen, Jason Schmidt… if there’s one things the Braves didn’t do well a few years back, it’s break in a 5th starter to go along with Maddux-Glavine-Avery/Neagle/Millwood. Millwood I guess is the exception to that, though by the time he was there Neagle had replaced Avery. Ooh, I’d forgotten all about Terrell Wade.


  23. Mike L on September 19th, 2005 1:04 pm

    Ok so this is all speculative but….

    Is “pitching to contact” not progressive? I mean is Price the only guy using this philosophy? If that were the case, I might argue that, hey, at least he’s trying something different. But if it doesn’t work then it’s a stupid philosophy.

    I often hear things like “If (insert M’s pitcher here) wasn’t pitching in SafeCo and didn’t have the M’s defense behind him, he wouldn’t be so lucky.” If those are factors that are leading to pitching success, then this pitching to contact philosophy makes some sense.

    But then a few problems arise: Do you build a strong defensive team and sacrifice offense? This is an area where statisitcal analysis would be very important. Also, what happens when you’re playing in hitters parks? Hello Texas.

    Clearly the M’s need a lot of changes in the front office before any sort of progressive philosophy on the field is going to pay off. If Price’s philosophy makes no sense, a good front office would recognize this and get rid of him. If it did make sense, then the front office could use a number of resources to fully implement it. Right now the M’s pitchers are garbage no matter what philosophy you use.

  24. JMB on September 19th, 2005 1:10 pm

    Forgot to add — even outside their starters, Cox/Mazzone have always done a great job with their bullpens. For the most part they’ve never spent big bucks on their pen, using a rookie here and there (which the M’s are reluctant to do, preferring to bring in Jeff Nelson), a guy who throws hard but hasn’t ever thrown strikes before (Rudy Seanz), an Indy league guy like Kerry Ligtenberg, and maybe a retread or two like Darren Holmes or Chris Hammond.

    By and large, these guys weren’t successful before coming to Atlanta, and didn’t have success after leaving. The Braves turned over their bullpen like crazy year after year, and yet they always had a good one without spending big money. If teams saved money on their bullpens and benches, they’d have more to spend on All-Star starters and hitters.


  25. JMB on September 19th, 2005 1:17 pm

    But then a few problems arise: Do you build a strong defensive team and sacrifice offense?

    They’ve tried to do both. Beltre and Sexson were signed for their bats, but they’re not slugs defensively. If Lopez hits like he’s shown he can in the minors, I’m willing to take those three bats in the infield and sacrifice offense at shortstop with Betancourt (I’m sure this was their thinking this winter, except replace Lopez with Boone and Betancourt with Pokey Reese).

    In the outfield, Ichiro’s a “both” player. Reed looks pretty good with the glove, and I’d then be willing to sacrifice defense for a slugger in left field. C’mon, it’s left field.

    The bottom line for me is that in a low-scoring park like Safeco, each run is that much more important than in, say, Coors Field (which is so wild it’s basically an entirely different discussion, but I digress). Defense, offense, pitching… I’ll take/save these runs any way I can get them. On the whole I’d focus on developing hitting talen in the minors and signing FA pitchers (who’ve already passed their injury-prone years), but for the most part of the M’s have done the opposite with all their high school pitchers. This appears to be changing under the new regime, though.


  26. Colm on September 19th, 2005 1:46 pm

    Which begs the question I’ve been asking myself for years now: Why have the Mariners been so laggardly about drafting or signing LEFTHANDED POWER HITTERS? I suppose Raul is an exception, but he’s not a real homer hitter.

    If the pitchers are told to take advantage of the park, why can’t we construct a lineup to do the same?

  27. msb on September 19th, 2005 2:00 pm

    Colm said:”Which begs the question I’ve been asking myself for years now: Why have the Mariners been so laggardly about drafting or signing LEFTHANDED POWER HITTERS? I suppose Raul is an exception, but he’s not a real homer hitter.”

    it’s not because they don’t know they want/need one, hence the initial pursuit of Delgado this off-season. Heck, if the Marlins want to get rid of Carlos, there’s your DH 🙂

  28. Shoeless Jose on September 19th, 2005 2:10 pm

    Speaking of Coors Field, I remember reading/hearing an interview with the Colorado GM where he said they had pretty much given up on chasing FA pitchers, because no FA pitcher would come to Coors and risk destroying his numbers/career/psyche. So the Rockies had decided to try to develop pitching internally and use their FA budget to chase hitters.

    The Mariners with Safeco would seem suited for the opposite strategy (though not to the same degree, because Safeco isn’t as extreme a field and the M’s have the money to chase both) — try to develop hitting in the minors and acquire pitching. The problem is that quality pitchers are always in short supply, so that is expensive stragegy. But unless the M’s change their poor history of developing intact, uninjured arms, it may be the only one that could succeed.

  29. Murph on September 19th, 2005 2:26 pm

    Has everyone forgotten the ill-fated Nardi Contreras? You might remember he was the pitching coach/friend of Lou Pinella (attended the same church in Tampa if I remember correctly) that was eventually replaced midseason by Stan Williams. When he arived on the scene I read articles specifically detailing how he planned on implementing the same system that Leo Mazzone used in Atlanta. Granted he didn’t have the same quality of arms to work with, but I think its fair to say he didn’t deliver similar results. I just thought it important that this be brought up because others have tried to implement his system. Maybe it hasn’t been as widespread as one would think given his success, but then maybe there’s a lot more to Leo Mazzone as a coach than just his system.

  30. msb on September 19th, 2005 2:44 pm

    #29– why so he did. wonder how long it lasted? I have no sense of what the current routine is between starts:

    December 16, 1996
    JIM STREET P-I Reporter

    The Mariners will use a philosophy next season that has helped produce the most successful starting rotation in the major leagues during the 1990s.

    Starters will throw almost every day.

    It’s a program practiced by Atlanta Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone and endorsed by Nardi Contreras, the Mariners’ new pitching coach.

    “Hitters hit every day, infielders take grounders every day and outfielders catch fly balls every day,” Contreras said. “But what happens on a lot of teams, the pitchers will pitch a game and then get on the mound only once before their next start. How are they going to get better?”

    Getting better is the bottom line.

    The Mariners fired Bobby Cuellar in October after the Seattle pitching staff compiled a franchise-worst 5.21 ERA, the second-worst in the American League, and hired Contreras from Buck Showalter’s Arizona Diamondbacks staff.

    Contreras, 45 ((age)), is the third pitching coach in manager Lou Piniella’s four-year tenure and the first to use Mazzone’s philosophy. It is an approach designed to build arm endurance and stresses mechanics – specifically balance and release point.


    Contreras figures that if the system works in Atlanta, it also can work in Seattle.

    He inherits a rotation regarded as the best in Mariners history. Left-handers Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer and Jeff Fassero, along with recently-acquired right-hander Scott Sanders, gives Seattle a solid starting foundation. Right-handers Salomon Torres or Bob Wolcott probably will be the No. 5 starter.

    “I can’t wait to get started,” Contreras said yesterday.


    “We’re going to start with mechanics and stress a lot of delivery work,” Contreras said. “I want our pitchers to master three or four basic pitches.”

    This is the plan for a five-man rotation:
    — Day One: Pitcher will play catch in the outfield to remove any lingering stiffness.
    — Day Two: Throws 40-65 pitches off the mound, anywhere from 50 to 90 percent speed, while working on a game plan for his next start.
    — Day Three: So-called “soft day” when pitcher plays catch with Contreras from 50-55 feet at 60- to-65 percent speed, working on mechanics or on certain pitches. Throws 25 to 30 pitches, pretending to be facing a particular batter.
    — Day Four: The pitcher has his choice of working on any aspect of his game, or not throwing at all. He can do whatever he needs to prepare himself for the next start.

  31. Satori on September 19th, 2005 2:55 pm


    The problem with Delgado is his contract. Taken from the all-baseball blog:

    — quote —
    * 2005: $4.0M
    * 2006: $13.5M
    * 2007: $14.5M
    * 2008: $16M
    * 2009: $12M team option vs. $4m buyout

    — unquote —

    For $4M, it’d be a no brainer. For 2006 and beyond, ouch… 🙂

    But man, can he still hit…

  32. msb on September 19th, 2005 3:06 pm

    what, you don’t think the Marlins would pay some of that? 🙂

  33. jaketrash on September 19th, 2005 3:13 pm

    The problem with Contreras was that he seemed to ignore the relievers and lost control of his pen. The starters did fairly well under his watch.

  34. Rusty on September 19th, 2005 3:35 pm

    msb… thanks for the quotes about “pitching to contact”, and thanks for the article about Nardi Contreras.

  35. Goob on September 19th, 2005 4:40 pm

    Bruce Chen goes into the pile of pitchers who’ve been successful once leaving Atlanta? Really? I would hardly count his one decent year in 2005 as saying he’s been entirerly successful since leaving Atl.

  36. Satori on September 19th, 2005 5:04 pm


    Think they’d also take some of our extra parts? 🙂 We’ve got a pitcher that just needs a little run support and he’d be awesome. Plus, he’ll never ever ever do steroids again.

    Sorry, I haven’t been following all the other threads, but have we begun to speculate on possible off-season moves yet?

  37. Shoeless Jose on September 19th, 2005 9:55 pm

    In other news, since nobody else can stop Leo, one of his own guys almost took him out with the long ball (somebody has to ask Andruw Jones whether he thinks this will factor into the MVP voting).

    You also have to love Horacio Ramirez’ gut reaction, treating it as a drive-by shooting.

  38. Scraps on September 19th, 2005 11:46 pm

    Which begs the question I’ve been asking myself for years now:

    Please please please stop using “beg the question” to mean “raise the question”, at leats in this one forum! That’s not what it means (it means to reason circularly, to assume the conclusion in the question itself). Everyone has one common misused phrase that drives them nuts, and that one’s mine. It’s creeped into the press, too, where there ought to be people who know better.