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Nolan Ryan, organizational power, and minor league pitching

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So we have the quote out there from Tommy Hunter, talking to Jason Cole, about how Nolan Ryan came in and "laid down the law" in regards to the minor league pitchers being expected to throw more pitches in games.

And that dovetails with the comments in the media about how Ryan has decreed that minor league pitchers are going to pitch farther into games.

Pitch counts for young pitchers -- particularly your upper-level pitching prospects -- is a controversial topic, and I don't know that there is one right answer on that subject.

However...this sort of renews one of the concerns I've had about Nolan Ryan coming in and being given the keys to the franchise by Tom Hicks. much power should someone with no real experience in terms of developing players and overseeing on-the-field baseball management be given?

This is a touchy topic with folks, because inevitably, whenever someone questions Nolan's credentials as a baseball man, there is a barrage of "I think a HOFer like Nolan knows something about winning baseball" type responses, tautologies that assume that, because Nolan was a great pitcher, he must know what he's doing in terms of building a winning organization.  And that's particularly true when it comes to dealing with and developing pitching.

If that's the case, though, then it seems like the Rangers should go ahead and clean house and bring in Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds -- the best pitcher and hitter of the last 40 years or so -- and let them run the team.  Or, if you want to identify folks who aren't tainted by the steroid scandal, maybe you could bring in Tom Seaver and George Brett and let them take over.  And I still haven't heard a good explanation as to why Ryan is more qualified to build a winning team than someone like Seaver or Brett -- or, say, Bert Blyleven, who was a great pitcher and who has been watching a ton of major league ball by virtue of announcing Twins games.

Now, on the business side?  There, I think Nolan is more qualified, by virtue of his having run a couple of minor league franchises.  But running a minor league team -- particularly a high-level affiliate of a major league team -- is about marketing and business, not identifying talent, since you roster is going to be determined by the major league team anyway.

So that gets us to the recent edict that has gotten some mention, where Ryan is dictating that pitchers are going to throw more pitches and go deeper into games.  And it is hard for me to comment too much on this issue, because there really hasn't been much discussion of this in the media, beyond the surface info.

But it makes me wonder what is going on behind the scenes on this issue, and how we went from Nolan being introduced as the team president in February, 2008, to pretty major changes in player development being implemented at his initiative when the minor league season started two months later.

Is this something that the organization had been contemplating, had in the works before now?  Is this something where Nolan's feedback was sort of the final push?  Surely this isn't a matter of Nolan coming in and saying, "We're babying these pitchers...when I was playing, we threw 110 pitches every start, and there's no reason we shouldn't be doing that now," and the organization jumping to accommodate that desire. 

I think it is the lack of a significant time lag that alarms me about this.  One would like to think (or at least I would like to think) that Nolan isn't coming in and immediately decreeing how things are going to be done, in terms of the nuts and bolts of player development.  Ryan has no background in player development, and one would think that the folks the Rangers already have in place should have reasons and rationales behind what the best way to develop pitchers is and what an appropriate workload is.

And one can argue that, well, the Rangers haven't been doing a great job of developing pitchers, so maybe these folks don't know what they are doing.  But if that's the case, then get rid of them and let Ryan bring new folks in.  Having the team president -- who is responsible for overseeing both the business side and the baseball side of the Rangers, and who has other business interests he is involved in as well -- come in to micromanage how the player development folks are bringing players along seems fraught with peril, along with generating chain of command issues.

And I have to wonder what the basis is for this change -- why, exactly, does Nolan Ryan believe that having pitchers in the minors log heavier workloads is going to be better for the organization.  This is a significant philosophical change that is being implemented, almost immediately upon Ryan's arrival, at, by all accounts, Ryan's directive, and it is being implemented by someone without a background in player development. 

Which I find troubling.

Nolan Ryan, the pitcher, was a physical freak.  He could handle a workload that virtually no other pitcher of his generation was able to handle.  He was truly unique.

And it worries me that Ryan's developmental philosophy is going to be overly derived from what worked for him and how he was able to succeed, without regard to the fact that what worked for him doesn't seem likely to work for most other pitchers. 

And if Ryan's philosophy is going to be derived from his own experiences, it is going to mean a 180 degree change from what the Rangers have been striving for, in terms of developing their own pitchers.  The Rangers have, as I discussed on Monday in the Hank Blalock/defense post, been oriented towards a groundball, low-walk, pitch-to-contact philosophy. 

Ryan, as a pitcher, was the exact opposite...high K, high walks, pitch to avoid contact and blow hitters away.  And if that is what Ryan is going to want, it is going to mean going in a whole nother direction.

And this may all be moot.  As I said before, this may be something that was in the works anyway, something that the organization is using Ryan's name and endorsement to sell, as compared to being a top-down instruction from the new president.

But it worries me, some.  Because I don't want to see Beavan, Main and Feliz become the Isringhausen, Pulsipher and Wilson of the aughts.

And it also worries me because I don't think I like what it says about the organization's command structure or overall philosophy if someone with no real background in player development (and who is supposedly also overseeing the business side of the organization, a pretty major task in and of itself) is allowed to come in and immediately alter pretty significant aspects of player development policy.  

Or, put another way...from time to time here in Texas you see the "God said it, I believe it, that settles it" bumper stickers.  Among some Rangers fans (and some media members), there seems to be a mentality of "Nolan said it, I believe it, that settles it," and I'd hope that that mindset doesn't take over the organization.