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1.26.2006

The Morris Effect 

I started to write this in the comments space of the previous post but soon exceeded the limit. In case you can't remember way back to a couple days ago, here's a recap:

In Bruce Jenkins' latest dingleberry, he approves of Matt Morris as a mystical 17th century samurai feng-shui expert who will make the Giants pitching staff better just by meditating in the corner of the clubhouse. Or something like that. This, as opposed to Jason Schmidt, whom Jenkins paints as a big whiner and malingerer, a terrible role model for the young impressionables.

Some of you defended the idea of Morris as staff leader whose intangibles can't help but rub off. Lyle made an interesting comparison:

Look at the Braves in the Maddux/Glavine era. Those guys schooled all the other pitchers. Yes, Leo Mazzone did a good job, too. But we haven't had anybody like that on the team in quite awhile. I'm not dissing Schmidt - I just think we need a guy like Morris.

The Braves teams of Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz definitely had great pitching. But look at the Braves since Mad/Glav left the team. Guys like Jorge Sosa, Kyle Farnsworth, Chris Hammond, and Jaret Wright have had career years. (Team ERA+ in the three years since Glavine left has been +101, +115, and +110; not as sky-high as the best years of the 1990s, such as +130 in 1998, but still above league-average.) I think this is strong anecdotal evidence that it's the Braves system and Leo Mazzone that made that team better.

Lyle's point begs these questions about the Giants: do they have a system in place to school their raw youngsters and turn around the careers of wayward veterans? And ifthe system is weak or flawed, does it require the presence of hard-working veteran leaders such as Morris to fill the educational gaps?

If you think the notion that veteran leadership improves the skills of young players is hogwash, the latter question is moot. But let's assume there's at least a grain of truth to it.

The problem is, I can make anecdotal observations both for and against the Giants' pitching pedagogy...

For: Noah Lowry was all FUBAR the first half of '05; with some mechanical adjustments and advice to throw more fastballs, he had a spectacular second half.

Against: Everyone knew Brett Tomko had the talent to bust out, but even in a home park that favors LH pitching, he couldn't put it together.

...but I have no idea how to tease out the performance of Giant pitching as it relates to
a) the inherent skills of the pitchers
b) the wisdom of Dave Righetti
c) the usage patterns of Felipe Alou
d) the TLC of the medical staff
e) the skill of the minor league instructors and/or scouts
f) dumb luck.

For every argument that, say, Felipe Alou abuses relief pitchers, there's a Scott Eyre, who says he needs to pitch every day, or nearly so.

As far as I know, there's no Mazzone-like system -- learn to spot your fastball down and away, throw more rather than less on the off-days -- in the Giant organization.

But I think it's safe to say that if a team grasps for the ethereal crutch of "veteran leadership" to get its pitching staff over the hump, someone among the teachers, trainers, and talent evaluators is coming up short.

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