As Chuck Finder reported this morning, Joe Kerrigan has yet to decide whether he will return as the Pirates’ pitching coach in 2010. While it is nearly impossible to measure a coach’s effect on a team, I thought this would be a good time to compare the 2008 pitching staff to the one we have seen thus far in 2009. Let’s jump right into a whole mess of team stats.
|Infield Fly Ball%||7.60%||8.90%|
Starting at the top, we see that the team ERA has dropped pretty significantly this year. While much of that improvement can be attributed to a better defense, the pitching staff deserves just as much credit. The team’s FIP has decreased, mainly due to an improved walk rate. While the Pirates’ strikeout rate has dropped slightly, the improved control has led to fewer base runners. The Pirates have also allowed fewer line drives this year, which likely assisted in the improved opponent’s batting average.
Looking a little deeper, the Pirates have thrown more first pitch strikes this year, although that number remains below the league average of 58.2%. The team increase in overall strike percentage has been less dramatic. That indicates to me that the team has attempted to get ahead early in counts, but nibbled more as the at-bat continued. Opponent hitters have chased pitches out of the zone at a more frequent rate, which generally suggests better stuff from the pitcher. This may be the cause of the increased number of strikes, as Pirate pitches have been inside the zone less often in 2009. Batters have also made contact at a slightly lower rate.
As for the approach under Kerrigan, it is clear that the pitchers have relied far less on the fastball this year. Virtually every pitcher has increased the usage of their off-speed stuff, making it pretty likely that Kerrigan is preaching this philosophy.
Once again, it is difficult to measure Kerrigan’s worth simply by looking at these numbers. Much of the credit should probably go to Neal Huntington for improving the pitching depth. Don’t forget that Yoslan Herrera (9.82 ERA) and John Van Benschoten (10.48 ERA) made a combined ten starts for the Pirates last year. Simply replacing them with replacement level pitchers has made a huge difference.
Whatever the cause, the Pirates’ pitching has clearly improved from last year’s disaster.