Well, that didn’t take long.
Henry Schulman ponders the possibility of the Giants hiring recently fired Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson to work personally with Barry Zito.
Rick Peterson was Barry Zito’s pitching coach through the pitcher’s best years in Oakland. Now that Peterson is unemployed, would it not make sense for the Giants to hire him as a special instructor to work with Zito and help right him?
There were indications Tuesday that some in the front office have reached the same conclusion and are considering Peterson, who was canned as Mets pitching coach early Tuesday morning. New York manager Willie Randolph and first-base coach Tom Nieto also were let go.
If you rub your temples fast enough, while standing on one foot and chanting “Zitooooo” in a low, and monotonous voice, it almost makes sense. When Peterson coached Zito he was good. It’s as simple as that, Zito + Peterson = fixed.
I’m not sure that this is the same Zito that Peterson worked with 4 years ago. He’s obviously lost a good bit of velocity and his control has moved from just kinda-bad to where-is-home-plate-bad. And Shulman warns as much. Peterson is no safe bet to fix whatever is ailing Zito.
For kicks, I decided to use some of Josh Kalk’s awesome PFX data and compare Zito’s pitch-types from 2007 to this year. Since control has been such a big problem with Zito — he’s even started to say it in the the press — I wanted to compare the percentage of balls thrown for each of his pitch-types.
Pitch 2007 2008 Fastball 42.7 36.6 Curveball 35.5 32.3 Slider 48.5 22.3 Change 29.3 31.9
These are the percentages of balls thrown on each pitch-type. So, in ’07 42.7% of fastballs that Zito threw went for a ball. To my surprise, Zito’s control on his pitches of: fastball, curveball, and slider, appears to have gotten better this year. His control of the changeup has gotten slightly worse. But, a couple of caveats. I’m looking at not even a half season worth of data from Zito and it could be even less when you consider that PFX might not be tracking all of his starts. Also, don’t get overly excited about his slider percetnage, it’s a really small sample size in both years of something like 70 sliders thrown. Zito’s control has slipped this year even if it’s not showing up in his actual pitch-types. But it is indeed odd to see the percentage of balls on his pitch-types go down mostly across the board. Are hitters becoming more patient against Zito? Making him work to throw strikes? I’ll have to think about this one more and consider doing a comparison PFX article of Zito from ’07 to ’08.
Back to Peterson. I think wherever you might fall on this issue might be how you view coaching as a whole. Can coaches help a player get out of a funk? Find that something they’ve been missing? Notice some mechanical flaw, teach a new pitch or technique, or change positioning to produce better results? Because we don’t actually know where Zito’s talent stopped and Peterson’s coaching started, I have a really hard time quantifying how much help a good coach is actually worth. I could probably coach Johan Santana pretty easily and if he had success, who would be responsible?
Thats why coaching can be so cloudy. You just don’t know where the talent stops and the coaching begins. We can’t know, and that makes it hard to judge. Are coaches worthless? Certainly not. But they could be given more credit than they deserve, or not enough credit. We just don’t know. The question of coaching is almost a philosophical one. Does a tree make a sound in the forest if it falls and nobody is around to hear it? Can Rick Peterson really help Barry Zito? I dunno.
I do know that if I’m the Giants, I hire Peterson. I’m going to exhaust every option I have to fix Barry Zito. They’ve paid too much money not to exhaust every thinkable option. Let him work with Peterson, let him surf, let him burn incense on the pitchers mound, let him do yoga in the dugout, let him play guitar in the bullpen, let him do whatever wacky new fangled new age thing he wants to do. But we don’t know if any of those things are ever actually going to help. And thats what makes this situation tricky.
Bringing in Peterson to work with Zito is a drop in the bucket compared to what they’ve invested in Zito. This is just another option to take but ultimately, it could be futile, you have to take that chance.
Comment Starter: Can coaches really fix a player? Yes, no, or indifferent?