Carl Willis Will Remain M’s Pitching Coach
Ken Davidoff tweeted the news, and there are stories throughout the M’s blogosphere. Willis was Eric Wedge’s pitching coach in Cleveland from 2003-2009, and served as the M’s minor league pitching coordinator until the firing of Rick Adair pushed him to Seattle as the interim PC.
With the hiring of Wedge, this move became all but inevitable. What it means is a bit more elusive. It’s always difficult to disentangle a pitching coach’s contribution from the pitchers themselves. Does Rick Adair get ‘credit’ for Felix’s growth the past few years? How about Jason Vargas? Does he lose ‘points’ for Brandon League’s pitch mix or Ryan Rowland-Smith’s…everything?
After taking over from Adair, the M’s seemed to throw fewer fastballs. Perhaps that’s to be expected after Adair’s fastball-first philosophy, but while the M’s led the league in FB% in 2010 at 63.6%, they dropped a bit in August, then dropped out of the top 10 in FB% in September. The sample’s tiny, it’s affected by the pitchers on the staff (David Aardsma’s not going to turn into a junkballer because he gets a new pitching coach), but it shows he may not be quite as FB-centric as Adair.
Willis drew complaints from some Indians fans after several young pitchers failed to develop under his tutelage. Fausto Carmona is the most-cited piece of evidence for this charge, though pitchers from one-time Mariner Rule 5 pick Jason Davis to Jeremies Sowers and Guthrie failed to impress. Of course, if having pitching prospects fail to develop (or get hurt) was enough to disqualify a pitching coach, there’d be no one would be left to hire. Again, it’s impossible to know how to assign credit. Did Willis help CC Sabathia develop, or was he simply nearby when a 6’8″ freak of nature with great stuff from the left side showed up? Can he be blamed for Jeremy Sowers’ failings, or should we focus more on his abysmal stuff?
In the end, there’s very little evidence that pitching coaches can help improve a staff’s performance. They may exert tremendous influence over one or two pitchers, but it’s basically impossible to say if Willis will have any impact on the M’s in 2011. That won’t keep people from trying, but beware of pundits claiming that this move is ‘proof’ of anything.