Ask Gary: Is pitching still the key to success?

by Gary Shelton on February 18, 2017 · 6 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Rays

Rays hope Blake Snell can progress in his second season as a pitcher./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Rays hope Blake Snell can progress in his second season as a pitcher./JEFFREY S. KING

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

For years Rays officials have preached that their team is built around the starting pitchers and they are the key to the success of the team. All the TV announcers and majority of the media fall in line with that thinking. Now Chris Archer comes along and says it takes a well-rounded team that is good in every category. Good starting pitching isn’t enough without a top bullpen, a good offense, and so on. This makes perfect sense to me because how many starting pitchers go more than 6 innings on a regular basis these days? The best teams are able to score runs and have a shut down bullpen. So my question is do you think it’s foolish to think that the Rays can win with a very good starting pitching staff and good defense like we have heard for years, even though the rest of the team is average at best in the other categories like run producing, bullpen depth and so on? Is Archer a sage or just being whiny?

Larry Beller

Oh, I agree with Archer that a well-rounded team is best ... if it has great pitching. Great pitching will keep a team of average offense in the game, but the real teams can also bash you into next week. We saw it in 2008 (and the other Rays' playoff teams).

When the Rays made their turnaround in 2008, it was because the organization did it by collecting pitching arms. Those weren't great

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hitting teams (.260 on the year), if you'll remember. But they could hit enough, and they played great defense, and their pitching carried them to the World Series. If you'll remember, the entire Rays' starting rotation had only seven complete games in 2008.

Later, I remember walking into the Rays' clubhouse after a playoff loss to Texas, and the Rangers had just worn out the Rays with their power. One by one, a hard-hitting player had come up, and they were just too much for the Rays.

I thought the Cubs were a well-rounded team last year, and Kansas City the year before. The pitching was good, but it wasn't Koufax and Drysdale.

Look at the Red Sox. They've always been a complete team in the years they've won, but the last couple of years, they've tried to
turn it around with pitching. But the thing about pitching is that you have to have a lot of it. You have to have starters and a good closer and a reliable bullpen.

Eventually, though, someone has to drive in a run, and someone has to make a play on defense. So, sure, a team has to be well-rounded. You could have the best pitchers in the game, but you wouldn't win very much with eight guys like me in the field.

Hey, these are the major leagues. A lot of guys can make plays.

Still, if you give me a team that has either great pitching or great offense, I'll take pitching. If the other team is getting three runs, I'll take my chances. But sure, you want all kinds of talent. Same as in the other sports: In the NBA, you need a great point guard, but you better rebound. In the NFL, you want a tough defense. But you really need a great quarterback.

Now that starters don't pitch as deep into games, is pitching still the way to win. I think it is.

I don't think there is a manager in the game who wouldn't love to have all of the elements: Pitching and speed and power and defense and timely hitting.

Of that list, though, I think you start with pitching.

Do you like the Rays signing Nathan Eovaldi?  It makes sense for a rich team like the Yankees or Dodgers, but is it smart for a team that has to maximize every penny spent?

Jim Willson

I have my doubts. Oh, I think it makes sense from a financial standpoint. They weren't going to be able to sign Eovaldi unless he was hurt.

Here's my skepticism, though, Jim. In 2017, how healthy will Eovaldi be. Remember how long it took Matt Moore to get back from Tommy John surgery? Pretty much, he had a missing year from the surgery, and then a rebuilding year for his arm.

If you could promise me that Eovaldi will enter 2017 with his 97-mile-an-hour fastball, I'd say bravo. The Rays will have bullpen slots next year, too. But if he's still building his arm back up, how much can he help?

Hey, we all want to see the Rays' succeed. And I'll be the first to admit I'm wrong if Eovaldi is a force out of the bullpen for this team. It just seems like a longshot.

What is your favorite sport?

Scott Myers

I get asked that a lot. And I've always felt that the true beauty of being a sports writer is that the seasons change. By the Super Bowl, I'm worn out by football. And then hockey gets interesting. And basketball. And then baseball. And all of them are great in different ways.

Sports is cool. It doesn't matter how many James Bond movies you watch, he's going to win. And he's going to end up with the pretty girl in his arms. Every time.

But sports has these unscripted finishes. Think of the last year of championships: The NBA finals, and the Final Four, and Daytona. The World Series, and the college national title, and the Super Bowl. It was an amazing year.

I guess if I had to say one thing that i loved to cover, it was the Olympics. There has never been another event that gave us so many compelling stories. Again, it's a lot of different sports rolled into one and posed beneath a flag, but I've never covered anything that was better. I did 10 of them, and all of them were great. Even Atlanta.

A lot of people who know me would guess I would say football, I imagine, because I came up as a football beat guy (some writers I know came up as baseball guys, some as basketball guys. It's like coaching offense or defense).

But I love hockey. I love baseball. I love basketball. I love soccer. I love tennis.

Better yet, I like them all on the menu.

Do you think the Rays hitting will improve now that Derek Shelton has moved on?​

Robert McDowell

Maybe, but not for the reasons you think. I think the Rays hitting might get better because they have better hitters.

I've written this before. I don't think a hitting coach makes a lot of difference in the averages of his team. He's a feedback guy, a drill guy. But look around: who's the best batting coach in baseball these days? The answer is "no one."

You might know this, and you might not, but batting coaches haven't been around forever. Babe Ruth never had one. Ted Williams didn't.

I've always likened it to an NFL quarterback coach. Someone makes sure that Tom Brady does his drill work, but hey, he isn't telling Brady how to throw a down-and-out. That's just silly. He didn't tell Joe Montana how to bring a team from behind.

It's that way in baseball, too. Put it this way: If a batting coach could make as much as a five-point difference in a team's batting average, he'd get paid millions of dollars a year. And no one does.

Consider this: A year and a half ago, Kevin Cash wanted his hitters to be more aggressive, to not play the drive-the-count-deep game that so many teams play (to wear out thde starting pitcher). And so, organizationally, the team decided to go that way.

It wasn't Shelton's doing, no matter which approach you prefer. It was the entire front office and the entire coaching staff.

A good hitting coach isn't going to make it to where Steven Souza doesn't strike out too much. He isn't going to turn Tim Beckham into Rod Carew. By and large, I think .250 hitters are .250 hitters.

What was the old line by Pittsburgh manager Danny Murtaugh? "Only God can make a hitter."

It's true. Derek Jeter didn't owe any of his hits to his batting coach. Tony Gwynn didn't either. I always thought that Shelton was a convenient target; the problem is the Rays have employed too many bad hitters.

Will Shelton being gone help things? Maybe in little ways. Maybe Chad Mattola's voice will sound fresher. But I don't think anyone is turning a .225 hitter into a .300 hitter. Do you?

 

 

 

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller February 18, 2017 at 7:56 am

Going back to Archer’s argument for a moment I think the Rays in their winning years got by with below average hitting because they were so good in the other areas. They had great defense, speed and athleticism plus great pitching. Better pitching than they have today. Eventually their lack of hitting cost them in the playoffs and no championships were won. Now they may hit better but aren’t as athletic or have as much speed and the defense isn’t nearly as good. In additions to that, the bullpen without a manager who knows how to handle them has been shaky.

So you are right pitching may be the most important position but without the other elements it gets wasted. And in today’s game you have to have a reliable closer plus depth in the bullpen. One or even 2 top relievers is not enough. To me one of the Rays biggest failings in recent years is not building and maintaining a strong bullpen. Once guys start making a little money they are moved so a result there is no depth and their best relievers get worn out. But the main point is that Archer is right. Without a well rounded team the chances of winning are greatly reduced. So when the TV and radio people who cover the Rays tell us over and over that this team will go as far as their starting pitching takes them fans need to realize they are just mouthing the company line that is out of touch with reality.

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Gary Shelton February 18, 2017 at 10:32 am

I agree that without overall strength, the chances of winning are greatly reduced. Absolutely. As far as the radio and TV people in the team’s emplay, when have they done anything but mouth the company line.

I’m with you on this. The better the pitching, the greater your chance of winning. That’s proven. But to get over the top, you need balance. You have to be great on the mound to offset weaknesses in other areas.

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Larry Beller February 18, 2017 at 2:02 pm

That’s so true about the media guys that do the games. The radio guys don’t have a problem blasting the team now and then but it’s rare to hear the TV announcers do it. But I have to say they all are among the best. I try to watch the Marlins when I get fed up with the Rays but those announcers will put you to sleep.

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Gary Shelton February 18, 2017 at 5:34 pm

That’s good if you’re having trouble sleeping. Right?

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Rick Martin February 18, 2017 at 5:36 am

Ten Olympics! And all the other sports that you’ve covered. You’ve really had a remarkable career.

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Gary Shelton February 18, 2017 at 10:28 am

Had? lol

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