Today’s Required Reading
In March, friend of the blog Jonah Keri traveled to Arizona to work on an epic story about how the Texas Rangers are developing their pitchers. The result was an 8,000 word treatise on pitching and history. Today, Jonah has published the article on his blog, and so when you have a good block of time, you need to sit down and read it. It’s really good stuff, even if I’m not completely convinced of the effectiveness of some of Nolan Ryan’s philosophies.
Here are a few of the highlights, for me:
Barry Raziano threw just 21.1 innings in his career and would make just eight more appearances after this game before tearing his rotator cuff and ending his career. On this night, Raziano came on in relief of Ryan, threw two scoreless innings, and collected the only win of his major league career. It wasn’t quite Moonlight Graham, but the night should have been memorable. But the win itself didn’t resonate. Raziano was young, pitched in a lousy bullpen that needed him, and figured there’d be plenty more chances down the road. No, what he remembered most clearly was Cecil Cooper striking out three times against Ryan that night, an outcome he found amusing because Raziano had done the same to Cooper once in Triple-A.
Only Raziano’s memory was faulty. Cooper struck out six times against Ryan. He went 0-for-8 for the game. When contacted for this story, Cooper issued the most understandable “no comment” of all-time.
Ryan’s own ironman history would seem to make him the perfect spokesman for pushing pitchers to go deeper into games. His 235-pitch slog back in ’74 marked the third time in three years he’d pitched 12 innings or more in a game. These weren’t what you’d call efficient efforts either. Ryan threw 332.2 innings, struck out 367 batters, and walked 202 in ’74, the season that produced his biggest workload. He threw harder than anyone, trained harder than anyone, struck out more batters than anyone and walked more batters than anyone in the game’s history, started in the big leagues as a teenager, and finished as a 46-year-old.
But Ryan also acknowledges that he was the biggest of outliers. Though he owed much of his success to hard work, he also knows he won a genetic lottery that helped make him one of the most successful and most durable pitchers of all-time. Having Nolan Ryan preach about the value of pitching deep into games is a little like listening to Yao Ming encouraging people to get taller. Easy for you to say, buddy.
Jaeger made some inroads with his approach. Top Arizona Diamondbacks starter Dan Haren, former Cy Young winner Barry Zito and 2009 AL Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey rank among the big league pitchers that use some version of the Jaeger program as part of their training. Hundreds of amateurs have followed suit. Even a few progressive major league pitching coaches have taken interest. For the most part, though, Jaeger hasn’t had much luck convincing teams to overhaul their old training methods.
“Baseball has always been the good old boys sport,” said Zito, whose father Joe was such a big believer in long-toss that he insisted on a clause in Barry’s first contract guaranteeing that the A’s wouldn’t interfere with his son’s regimen. “You’ve got a lot of old-school guys with old-school methods. It seems other sports will adjust and change with technology, whereas baseball has always been slow to adjust to the times, and to new technologies.”