(We decided to move these comments over from my comment in the earlier story regarding the firings)
The primary challenges that Texas faces in developing and fielding a good pitching staff are:
- acquiring and keeping the talent
- developing and improving them
- dealing with the challenges of the ballpark, heat, and the AL
Everyone deals with the first two, but the third complicates things here.
Unlike certain points in the past, the organization has brought in quality talent that has reached the majors and that hasn’t yet. In every case – Danks, Galarraga, Volquez, Young – where the organization let good, young pitching go, the player made a dramatic improvement quickly in his new organization. Some of this (and in Young’s case probably a lot of it) is due to the third factor. But the decision makers (Daniels and his front office) are always going to be made to look really bad if the coaching is so poor that everyone in Texas performs well below their ability. Likewise, pitchers that have been brought in – McCarthy, Millwood – have had problems that they haven’t elsewhere and young pitchers, including some of those who were traded, have had odd velocity and mechanical issues upon reaching the majors.
I don’t know exactly how Connor coaches. I don’t know exactly how Dom Chiti teaches. I’m not a pitching guy anyway. But I do know that several of these pitchers have been asked about why they have success in other spots, and the answer usually involves mentioning the pitching coach in the other spot. For Danks it is Cooper teaching him the new pitch. But for others, there is a theme of being allowed to pitch the way they always have. Notice the comment from Harrison on the DMN blog shared Sunday by Mike Heika. It sounds very similar to the comment from Volquez earlier this season regarding his success in Cincinnati.
Again, I don’t know that Connor takes every guy and tries to make him pitch a certain way, a way that the guy is not comfortable with, but we’ve seen those comments, and we’ve seen young guys like McCarthy and Hurley lose velocity mysteriously. And whether or not it’s Connor/Chiti forcing things on guys, there is a clear trend of guys underperforming here and not developing and not coping with their tough environment.
I know that Andy Hawkins has a good reputation, but this organization needs top flight pitching instruction and a top flight, seamless plan from bottom to top to overcome its challenges. If he can be that guy, great. If not, Ryan and Daniels need to stay serious about bringing that guy – and his guys – to this organization. It will likely take the best minds in the business to bring about pitching success in this environment, given the disadvantages present.
At any rate, if this change had not been made, my growing fear was what would happen to the next Volquezes and McCarthys. What if Connor had decided that he didn’t like Neftali Feliz's release point (which wouldn’t surprise me one bit, given what we’ve seen)? I think that Connor is a really good guy, and I think that he knows his stuff, possibly better than Hawkins or whoever else might come here to replace him. But I’m relieved that this move has been made. Knowing proper pitching approaches and mechanics does not equal being able to bring about the best results in your players, just as in any teaching or coaching situation. I just hope that, whether the right man for the job is Hawkins or not, leadership has the right understanding and vision for the pitching plan in the organization.