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Monday, September 26, 2005

Leo Mazzone Rocks

As usual on my bike ride into work on Monday morning I listen to the archived Baseball Prospectus Radio and Will Carroll recorded over the weekend. On Saturday's show Will had Jeff Merron of on to discuss his article on Leo Mazzone.

It was a great interview as Jeff discussed the secrets to Leo's success which he attributed to:

1. His throwing program inherited from his mentor Johnny Sain where Braves pitchers throw off the mound twice between starts whereas other teams have them throw once. The program was also adopted organization-wide by Bobby Cox when Mazzone first joined the Braves. I liked this quote from the original article.

"The throwing program is based on common sense. I don't think it's that big a deal, but you'd be amazed how people can't understand. Somebody told me one time that you can't do that because pitchers would break down late in the year. I asked him what he did. And he said that his pitchers played catch in the outfield. And I said, 'Well, explain the difference between playing catch in the outfield and playing catch on a mound when you're only 60 feet, six inches from your target.' He said, 'Well, they had a tendency to throw too hard.' I told him, 'That's what the hell they pay you for, to regulate the effort.'"

2. Stability. The fact that Cox, GM John Schuerholz, and Mazzone have been together for so long that it makes for a very stable environment. Mazzone also plans the rotation 40 days in advance and so a pitcher being taken out of the rotation is not typically based on a single start. I often wonder why teams don't make it a point to introduce stability. They seem to change managers and coaches often based only on won-loss record when their real problem is bad players. Change for the sake of change. Perhaps some commitment to a coaching staff's philosophy (or a coaching staff that implements the organizational philosophy per the A's and Red Sox) for an extended period of time might pay dividends. Seems to work for the teams that have tried it.

3. The fact that Mazzone is great at understanding a pitcher's mechanics when he's going well and getting back to that when he's not. Although Mazzone wasn't discussed in any detail in Bill Shanks book Scout's Honor (which I reviewed here), the need to have a coach who understands that every pitcher is not him was brought out in the book in the section where Shanks profiled Ken Dayley. The Braves pitching coach at the time was Bob Gibson who was trying to make every pitcher into a Gibson clone rather than helping them do what they do better. Gibson didn't last long and Dayley I think attributed some of his struggles to Gibson's "teaching".

He also mentions J.C. Bradbury analysis (of Sabernomics fame) of Mazzone, the links to which you can find here. As quoted in the article Bradbury has concluded that "working with Leo shaves off between .55 and .85 points of a pitcher's ERA." Great stuff.

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