Tuesday, June 02, 2009

St. Claire the Thaumaturge

You could argue that in the history of the Washington Nationals, Randy St. Claire was the only member of the non-playing part of the team that ever did a damn bit of good for anyone. We've had terrible hitting coaches, bad managers, and worse GMs. We always had a good pitching coach, though.

St. Claire did two remarkable things, remarkable both for their on-field impact and how easy they are to pin down, which is unusual when you're talking about coaches. 2002's Livan Hernandez was a fat failure of a pitcher. He could eat food and he could eat innings, but you didn't want him doing either. In 2003 he joined the Expos, and St. Claire laid hands upon him. By which I mean he messed with his arm angle until Livan became ¡Livan!, a legitimate Cy Young-quality pitcher. As I've lamented before, this amazing transformation and inspirational three year run got less press than that little hobbit Japanese girl pitching a third of an inning in a semi-pro league. That doesn't make it any less awesome.

Later, he fixed Hector Carrasco, the very definition of a journeyman. By teaching him some sort of magical changeup, Carrasco briefly became a really, really good pitcher, bailing the Nats out when they had their annual "We're out of pitchers!" crisis in 2005. Hector very directly credited St. Claire with his turnaround before signed with the Angels.

And . . . that's it. And I guess that's the problem. Two miracles, the thinking probably goes, don't make up for years of lousy pitching, especially this terrible one we're in now, so they fired him. Obviously, it's not all St. Claire's fault. Or even mostly his fault. Maybe it's not his fault at all. I'm guessing, though, that the Nats made some personnel decisions based on the hope that St. Claire could get that third elusive miracle. Daniel Cabrera had lost his fastball - Randy can fix his mechanics! Scott Olsen, after years of violently resisting arrest, can't strike anyone out anymore - Randy will take care of it! Neither happened. They emphatically didn't happen, and that combined with the bullpen's incredible ineptitude combined with the fact that Mike Rizzo needs to get in some firin' practice before he trains his guns on Acta mean that St. Claire's gone. He won't be the last.

As summer follows spring and a blown Nationals lead follows a Nationals lead, so the new pitching coach follows the old. I don't know anything about Steve McCatty, the former AAA coach who's stepping into this thankless role, but what Mike Rizzo is saying about him isn't making me sanguine.
He goes back to the days where pitchers pitched a lot of innings and they were really tough burly guys on the mound, and I think he's gonna bring an edge to the pitching staff, a toughness, and kind of a really tough-minded mindset not only to the starting rotation but to the bullpen guys, too.
This is meaningless to the extent that it makes any damn sense at all. Burly? That's what we're after? If only we had more huskiness, things would be fine. It's those portly pitching staffs that get it done. You need gentlemen of a certain carriage.
Randy, as we all know, is a diligent film-worker and a mechanics-oriented pitching coach. Steve is more of a gut-feel [guy], more of a mental aspect kind of the game, and he's a much more old school pitching coach than I think Randy was. He was kind of the modern guy who worked diligently with films, how to attack hitters and that type of thing.
I fear that this is faulty reasoning. Allow me to summarize: science and hard work didn't do it, so we're going with some witch doctor oogy-boogy bullshit. Well, I guess it can't get any worse.

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