Speier: Disagreements led to pitching coach change

JBJ_HOF

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Change felt inevitable as the year progressed not necessarily because of the results but perhaps more because of the tension that existed between LeVangie’s traditional approach to game-planning – he drew upon his advance scouting background by consuming video tirelessly in search of holes in opposing hitters’ swings – and the team’s desire to embrace the data-driven model used by teams such as the Dodgers, Astros, Yankees, Indians, Rays, and Twins.

Behind the scenes, there was a sense of an oil-and-water dynamic that never got resolved. Members of the coaching staff experienced a yearlong tension between the way the Red Sox had prepared their pitchers – quite successfully, it should be noted, as recently as 2018 – and how the team now wanted to game-plan for opponents.

There were disagreements about how to attack opposing lineups, arguments that sometimes consumed the coaching staff and led to less actual time being spent coaching the players. While those disagreements were largely walled off from the players – and the failure of the pitching staff was caused foremost by failures of pitch execution – some around the Red Sox felt that the absence of a sustained winning streak reflected the disjointed communication and headbutting that was occurring.
On occasion, LeVangie and other members of the staff found their views running counter to the recommendations of the team’s analytics department. Those disagreements at times consumed the energy of the coaches. According to multiple team sources, the staff spent more time this year hashing out disputes amongst themselves than they did in 2018, with the result that there was less time spent working with players.

Meanwhile, in a year where the pitchers executed poorly – a problem that dwarfed any others related to the team’s pitching performance – and where results were worse than in 2018, tension mounted. What was meant to be a collaboration between the analytics department and the staff sometimes felt adversarial.
 

Savin Hillbilly

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Typically excellent Speier. I love the way he tells a story about conflict with the focus on understanding what happened and why, rather than picking good guys and bad guys like so many boyfriends, uh, I mean sportswriters, would.
 

DeadlySplitter

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last year, was LeVangie behind all the high fastballs righty on righty neutralizing the Yankees & Astros in the playoffs?

I understand wanting to modernize every part of baseball operations, but a touch of old school sometimes works and really shouldn't cause so many arguments
 

mauidano

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At the end of the day you still have to make pitches and our pitchers were routinely missing and got hammered. Seems like the team played from behind early in games and just couldn't overcome that. Lots of health issues with the Big Three and suspensions didn't help. All in all, it was a lost season and heads roll when expectations are so high. Bound to happen and it did. No surprises at tall. At least these guys were "reassigned" and still have paying jobs.
 

bosox79

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last year, was LeVangie behind all the high fastballs righty on righty neutralizing the Yankees & Astros in the playoffs?

I understand wanting to modernize every part of baseball operations, but a touch of old school sometimes works and really shouldn't cause so many arguments
They kept (or want to keep) La Russa so I'm pretty sure they agree with you.
 

CoffeeNerdness

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Typically excellent Speier. I love the way he tells a story about conflict with the focus on understanding what happened and why, rather than picking good guys and bad guys like so many boyfriends, uh, I mean sportswriters, would.
One thing I'd like to have read was more specifics regarding the disagreements between Lavangie and the analytics side. The tidbit about the shape of curveballs was super interesting, and it would be really intriguing to hear where exactly the heads butted.
 

JBJ_HOF

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Pardon my lurking but do you need an analytics guy to tell the pitchers to throw strikes?
When the Sox pitchers threw it over the plate this year they were crushed, when they threw the ball where it was supposed to be, i.e. high fastballs, they were the best in baseball.
 

trs

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And the analytics people control the pitchers' control?
Fun snark. I think perhaps the control issues might be linked to the quotation concerning less time being spent with players. Feedback on mechanics, pitcher observation, etc. tend to "control pitchers' control," and it seems that some of the time that used to be spent on that was instead spent on ideological arguments within the coaching staff.

I'm sure we've all been in somewhat similar situations where seemingly ceaseless debates over goals and methodology get in the way of getting something done.

That being said, I do hope that whatever combination of coaches the Sox end up with allows for some criticism and debate between them.
 

Savin Hillbilly

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Pardon my lurking but do you need an analytics guy to tell the pitchers to throw strikes?
No. You need an analytics guy to tell the pitchers which strikes to throw to whom, when.

If pitching were as simple as throwing strikes, Rick Porcello would have been the best starting pitcher on the Sox this past year, and Rodriguez the worst.
 

Red(s)HawksFan

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No. You need an analytics guy to tell the pitchers which strikes to throw to whom, when.

If pitching were as simple as throwing strikes, Rick Porcello would have been the best starting pitcher on the Sox this past year, and Rodriguez the worst.
Exactly. I think Matt Barnes put it best in an interview with Rob Bradford:
"There's no 2-0 fastball I'm trying to get over. Even an 0-0 fastball. Even a 3-0 fastball. You'll be asking for a new ball," said Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes when appearing on the Bradfo Sho podcast. "We're trying to make things look like a strike and not be a strike which is incredibly hard to do."
 

joe dokes

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Typically excellent Speier. I love the way he tells a story about conflict with the focus on understanding what happened and why, rather than picking good guys and bad guys like so many boyfriends, uh, I mean sportswriters, would.
I came to say the same thing. I suppose it fals into the category of not talking down to readers, or not trying to compete with "sports" (rarely) "talk" (shout) radio, but he's the exception that exposes what is, unfortunately, the rule these days.
 

shaggydog2000

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last year, was LeVangie behind all the high fastballs righty on righty neutralizing the Yankees & Astros in the playoffs?

I understand wanting to modernize every part of baseball operations, but a touch of old school sometimes works and really shouldn't cause so many arguments
High fastballs are an analytics favorite. Especially with high spin-rate fastballs. So it may have been the nerds who came up with that idea, not LeVangie. But there is no real way to know.
 

nvalvo

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Power pitchers have been trying to get batters to chase high fastballs for over a 100 years. It's not a new concept.
The new concept part might be in identifying which pitchers should try to pitch that way; or specifically, that spin rate on the four seam fastball, rather than velocity, is the important metric.
 
Jul 5, 2018
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The new concept part might be in identifying which pitchers should try to pitch that way; or specifically, that spin rate on the four seam fastball, rather than velocity, is the important metric.
I've been mocked for not buying into analytics, but these guys have been pitching for 10+ years and should know what their strengths are. I've read that a rising fastball is myth but spin will result in a flatter plane.
The new concept part might be in identifying which pitchers should try to pitch that way; or specifically, that spin rate on the four seam fastball, rather than velocity, is the important metric.
Yeah, according to this article, high spin rate is effective for top of the strike zone and slower is better for the bottom. I would still think that 95 mph+ is needed to be successful at the top of the zone.

These guys have all been pitching for 10+ years so it seems they should already have a pretty good idea what works for them.
 
Aug 11, 2019
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High fastballs are an analytics favorite. Especially with high spin-rate fastballs. So it may have been the nerds who came up with that idea, not LeVangie. But there is no real way to know.
Getting a full swing on a high fastball is not as easy as it is with lower pitches; it's easier to get your hips into the swing when the ball is down (for most people, anyway). Also, the higher the pitch, I think it is harder to get a good launch angle on it.

On the other hand, the top of the strike zone is probably lower in today's game than it was some years ago.
 

pantsparty

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I would still think that 95 mph+ is needed to be successful at the top of the zone.
Koji Uehara rarely broke 90 on his fastball but had an extremely high spin rate and pinpoint control at the top of the zone. 95+ just gives you more leeway on pitches you screw up and catch too much of the strike zone with.
 

DanoooME

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I've been mocked for not buying into analytics, but these guys have been pitching for 10+ years and should know what their strengths are. I've read that a rising fastball is myth but spin will result in a flatter plane.

Yeah, according to this article, high spin rate is effective for top of the strike zone and slower is better for the bottom. I would still think that 95 mph+ is needed to be successful at the top of the zone.

These guys have all been pitching for 10+ years so it seems they should already have a pretty good idea what works for them.
So they shouldn't open their minds to new ideas?
 

SirPsychoSquints

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I've been mocked for not buying into analytics, but these guys have been pitching for 10+ years and should know what their strengths are. I've read that a rising fastball is myth but spin will result in a flatter plane.

Yeah, according to this article, high spin rate is effective for top of the strike zone and slower is better for the bottom. I would still think that 95 mph+ is needed to be successful at the top of the zone.

These guys have all been pitching for 10+ years so it seems they should already have a pretty good idea what works for them.
They don't.

Read this excerpt:

No more than fifteen minutes after he finished unpacking in the clubhouse, Pressly was summoned into a meeting. In attendance were Astros pitching coach Brent Strom, bullpen coach Doug White, and multiple analysts from the front office. The Astros, Pressly learned, had a plan for him to be better, and the analysts launched into the details. “They sat me down and they put up all these x, y charts and all this other stuff,” Pressly says. “It almost sounded like they were speaking in a different language. I just raised my hand and said, ‘Guys, just tell me what to throw and not to throw.’” They told him his two-seam fastball to lefties was ineffective but that they loved his curve and hoped he’d throw it more. They also suggested he elevate his four-seam fastball and throw his slider slightly more to make his fastball more effective.
 

Rovin Romine

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It's a symbiotic thing.

Data drives decisions on strategy, but that needs to be grounded in coaches working with individual pitchers in a way that produces results for that pitcher. Meaning, it's all well and good to decide on strategy X as informed by analytics or video or advance scouting or Jimy Williams' tummy, and yes, sometimes individual pitchers put in the most optimal situations for them will still "fail to execute."

But past a certain point obvious collective crapitude you have to revisit strategy X. In the grand scheme of things it doesn't seem like they did that. And in so doing they pissed away an excellent offensive season as key players inch closer to free agency. Adios Dude-whose-job-was-to-make-pitchers-effective.
 

wade boggs chicken dinner

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Yeah, according to this article, high spin rate is effective for top of the strike zone and slower is better for the bottom. I would still think that 95 mph+ is needed to be successful at the top of the zone.
May want to read this: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/baseballs-top-staffs-have-come-around-on-the-high-spin-fastball/

That article links to this more data-driven article: https://baseballwithr.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/spin-rate-and-swinging-strike-probabilities/, which has this table:

26222
 
Jul 5, 2018
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Koji Uehara rarely broke 90 on his fastball but had an extremely high spin rate and pinpoint control at the top of the zone. 95+ just gives you more leeway on pitches you screw up and catch too much of the strike zone with.
It's interesting to discuss different styles. My recollection of Koji is that he had great command of his fastball, but that it wasn't a swing and miss pitch at the top of the strike zone. Most of his strikeouts, of course, were split-fingers down and out of the zone.

Most pitchers don't have pinpoint control so a 90 mph fastball that is a foot too low could get crushed. It's a small sample, but I remember Eckersley, as a starter,giving up some long home runs on high fastballs -Tony Armas in particular in a game in Oakland- but as a reliever he could consistently throw just a few inches above the strike zone.
 
Jul 5, 2018
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The stats on Kershaw are the most interesting. His velocity since 2015 has decreased from 94 to 90 but his spin rate has increased significantly even though there is correlation between velocity and spin. The article implies that spin rate is an innate ability so he must be, as Bauer recommends, using some type if substance on his fingertips.
 

SirPsychoSquints

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It's interesting to discuss different styles. My recollection of Koji is that he had great command of his fastball, but that it wasn't a swing and miss pitch at the top of the strike zone. Most of his strikeouts, of course, were split-fingers down and out of the zone.

Most pitchers don't have pinpoint control so a 90 mph fastball that is a foot too low could get crushed. It's a small sample, but I remember Eckersley, as a starter,giving up some long home runs on high fastballs -Tony Armas in particular in a game in Oakland- but as a reliever he could consistently throw just a few inches above the strike zone.

If I'm reading this correctly, career, Koji got 23.8% swinging strikes on his splitter, 11.2% on his 4 seamer, and 9% on his cutter. That's pretty similar to his 2013 results.
 

absintheofmalaise

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The stats on Kershaw are the most interesting. His velocity since 2015 has decreased from 94 to 90 but his spin rate has increased significantly even though there is correlation between velocity and spin. The article implies that spin rate is an innate ability so he must be, as Bauer recommends, using some type if substance on his fingertips.
There's a reason that many pitchers have a dark spot on the brim of their cap or rub their fingers on their forearm. Buchholz was (in)famous for using Bullfrog sunscreen and rosin to get a better grip on the ball. There was an article back in 2013 that about 90% of pitchers used sunscreen to get a better grip. Teams don't complain about it, unless it's so obvious like with Pineda a few years ago, because pitchers on every team does it. And hitters don't really object because they want that 95mph pitch to go where the pitcher wants it to and not at their head.
 

joe dokes

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It's a symbiotic thing.

Data drives decisions on strategy, but that needs to be grounded in coaches working with individual pitchers in a way that produces results for that pitcher. Meaning, it's all well and good to decide on strategy X as informed by analytics or video or advance scouting or Jimy Williams' tummy, and yes, sometimes individual pitchers put in the most optimal situations for them will still "fail to execute."

But past a certain point obvious collective crapitude you have to revisit strategy X. In the grand scheme of things it doesn't seem like they did that. And in so doing they pissed away an excellent offensive season as key players inch closer to free agency. Adios Dude-whose-job-was-to-make-pitchers-effective.
Related to this is that coaching has become different in that getting players to buy in to new concepts is probably a different coaching skill than getting them to do "what they've always done, but do it better."
 

jon abbey

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Ken Tremendous with an even better line on Twitter:

“Yeah...I think that U-Boat has sailed, bud.”
 

BoSox Rule

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Nightengale is a joke that is wrong 99% of the time and Schilling really can’t have even one close friend so it’s a really confusing thing to read.
 

MakeMineMoxie

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Curt, thanks for 2 WS but please, no. Too much baggage but mainly, Schill is a guy who can't stay away from the camera. I just don't see him staying in the background. More likely on camera throwing guys under the bus when things don't go well.
 

ZMart100

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Isn't he still running for political office somewhere?
He was considering running for a US House seat from Arizona (I don't think the district was specified, but AZ- 2, 1 or 9 in that order make the most sense). He doesn't appear to have filed, so I don't think he is pursuing that notion.
 
Jul 5, 2018
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Curt, thanks for 2 WS but please, no. Too much baggage but mainly, Schill is a guy who can't stay away from the camera. I just don't see him staying in the background. More likely on camera throwing guys under the bus when things don't go well.
The problem with Schilling is that he is a bad guy and always will be. He's a far-right agitator like Coulter and Milo with the difference being that he isn't clever or charismatic enough to make a decent living at it. His Transgender MTF bathroom meme was an FU to the LGBTQ community. No company, including the Sox, that sells a retail product, is going to hire Schilling.
 

threecy

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I highly doubt he'd ever be hired with John Henry as owner, but there is something to be said about Schilling's analytical skills as a pitcher. Whether or not that translates to being a pitching coach, who knows, but there could be some value in having him in a front office with a specifically defined role.
 

Green Monster

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I highly doubt he'd ever be hired with John Henry as owner, but there is something to be said about Schilling's analytical skills as a pitcher. Whether or not that translates to being a pitching coach, who knows, but there could be some value in having him in a front office with a specifically defined role.
Agree 100%....He was practicing analytics before anyone even knew what that was. I think he would have some good insight on how to implement
 
Jun 12, 2019
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The problem with Schilling is that he is a bad guy and always will be. He's a far-right agitator like Coulter and Milo with the difference being that he isn't clever or charismatic enough to make a decent living at it. His Transgender MTF bathroom meme was an FU to the LGBTQ community. No company, including the Sox, that sells a retail product, is going to hire Schilling.
So if he espoused in public at length on the benefits of universal healthcare, raising taxes on big businesses, and joining pro-choice rallies he's be a "good guy" and a "good product" and therefore would be a good pitching coach? Solid logic there.
 
Jul 5, 2018
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So if he espoused in public at length on the benefits of universal healthcare, raising taxes on big businesses, and joining pro-choice rallies he's be a "good guy" and a "good product" and therefore would be a good pitching coach? Solid logic there.
It has nothing to do with politics. Many of the players and coaches in baseball are conservative. Schilling has chosen to be divisive and controversial to an extreme which makes him unemployable for companies that care about public image. He wasn't fired from ESPN for being a conservative.
 

Green Monster

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It has nothing to do with politics. Many of the players and coaches in baseball are conservative. Schilling has chosen to be divisive and controversial to an extreme which makes him unemployable for companies that care about public image. He wasn't fired from ESPN for being a conservative.
If it has nothing to do with politics please explain your reference to far-right....
 

absintheofmalaise

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I realize that Schilling is a divisive person and that many here, including myself, find his politics abhorrent. We really don't need to have another discussion about them on the main board. We're all aware of what they are.
 

The Gray Eagle

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Curt Schilling for Red Sox pitching coach? That's a great idea. But I thought Schilling was running for Governor of Rhode Island. People must love him there, he really gave them the business.

I'm sure he would bring a calming, positive influence to the Red Sox locker room, he seems great at getting along with people. He wouldn't be a distraction at all.
 
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