Tag: dan warthen

Maine Will Revert to Old Ways

Believe it or not, the Mets had a communications breakdown prior to last night’s ballgame.

To get the full story, listen to Rich Coutinho’s report on 1050ESPNRadio’s “Baseball Tonight” (Coutinho comes on at the tail end, during the last 10 minutes or so).

The gist of it was this: When asked if Maine would remain in the rotation (during the postgame press conference on Tuesday night), Manuel told the world he’d “have to sleep on it”. Somehow, Maine didn’t hear about this, so when Coutinho told him on Wednesday afternoon that he heard Manuel was keeping him in the rotation, Maine was stunned — he had no idea removal was being considered. Maine then spoke with Manuel behind closed doors for about 45 minutes.

In the end, it turns out that Maine is on a very short leash, and his next start could be his last. Maine doesn’t have access to the internet and couldn’t read MetsToday for tips, so instead he spent time with Dan Warthen looking at video of himself from 2007. Apparently the two of them discovered some differences in his delivery then compared to now, and John will spend the next few days trying to fix his mechanics prior to Saturday’s start. Maine had this to say (courtesy of MetsBlog):

“I wanted to tell (Manuel) was that I’m fine, my shoulders fine. I know the No. 1 priority is to get back and throw my fastball. That’s what I’m going to do in my bullpen. That’s what I’m going to do in my next start I’m going to get back to where I was… There’s a big difference (in my delivery). I don’t want to get into why that it is, but there’s a difference. I’m going to scratch everything I’ve been doing this Spring, and get back to what I was doing two years ago… I’m just going to go back to that delivery, going back to throwing the fastball. Hopefully it turns out fine. I may get hit, but, you know, at least I know I’m going out there, getting beat with my best pitch and not my second and third pitch.”

Sooo …. Maine’s going to address the “big difference” in his delivery, but he doesn’t “want to get into why that is”. But John, inquiring minds want to know!

I haven’t yet had a chance to look at any of Maine’s outings from 2007 to compare to his current delivery so I can’t yet guess on what exactly is the “big difference”. (I do vaguely remember thinking something looked “different” about Maine while seeing him live in Jupiter and Port St. Lucie during ST ’08, with his follow-through toward 1B being an indicator of an issue.) But, if I were a gambling man, I’d bet that the change he made had something to do with avoidance of pain. Perhaps he had a mild injury of some sort — not necessarily with his arm — that he learned to deal with by changing something in his mechanics. My next-best guess was he changed something about his delivery with the goal of being more effective, and the change simply didn’t work. For example, maybe he thought he could get a few more ticks of velocity by using his hips and over-rotating — thinking that the extra hip swing would result in more MPH. Again, I haven’t yet looked at the old videos so can’t say for sure.

Assuming there is in fact a mechanical issue, the biggest questions are:

1. Why did it take this long for Maine, Warthen, and the Mets to realize something was wrong with Maine’s mechanics?

2. Why wasn’t this addressed when Maine looked bad in the spring?

3. Is it possible to “fix” the mechanical problem in three days?

4. If the issue is fixable, will it result in Maine rediscovering his 94-95+ velocity?

5. Why does it make sense for Maine to make these tweaks at the Major League level, against a Cardinal lineup that includes, among others, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Ryan Ludwick?

Oh … and is anyone else concerned that Maine is going to try to throw more high fastballs — likely to be in the 88-90 MPH range — to those three sluggers? Yikes!

I’m a bit skeptical that Maine can transform himself so quickly without the aid of a telephone booth and red cape. But we can assume that if things don’t go well this weekend, Maine will find himself either in the bullpen or in the minors — a la Steve Trachsel — to work things out. Part of the problem is Maine may not have an option remaining, in which case a minor league trek would be difficult to navigate.

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2009 Analysis: Oliver Perez

oliver-perez-sit
To say that Oliver Perez had a difficult 2009 season would be an understatement. Good thing for Ollie he married his wife prior to spring training, or the year could’ve been a total loss.

Perez spent most of the season on the disabled list, and pitched poorly during those brief stints off of it. his season-long malaise began before Opening Day, when he

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Alicea and Alomar Fired

luis-aliceaIn a stunning move that is certain to change the fortunes of the Mets and culture in the clubhouse, first-base coach Luis Alicea and bench coach Sandy Alomar, Sr. were relieved of their duties.

What percentage of Mets fans, do you think, actually knew the name of the team’s first-base coach?

Of the entire coaching staff, those were the last two people I thought would get the ax. But perhaps on further review of the video, we may see that the Mets hitters did a terrible job of rounding the first base bag and getting good leads. And it IS the little things that win and lose ballgames.

In related news, Razor Shines, Dan Warthen, Howard Johnson, and Randy Niemann will all be back in 2010 — though Shines will not return in the same role of third-base coach.

Shame about Alicea — he had finally earned himself a Wikipedia entry.

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Johan Santana is Fixed

According to Dan Warthen — by way of Adam Rubin and other media outlets — Johan Santana had a very good bullpen session, during which he addressed and fixed an issue with his pitching motion.

From Rubin’s blog:

Pitching coach Dan Warthen feels Johan Santana adequately addressed the mechanical flaw in his delivery during a between-starts bullpen session Wednesday at Camden Yards. To get Santana’s fastball to stop cutting unintentionally, they worked to get the ace’s left hand out of his glove quicker, so Santana’s arm acts less like a “catapult” during his motion.

From David Lennon:

“He was catapulting the ball instead of throwing it,” said Warthen, who demonstrated what he meant with a more overhand delivery. “He’s didn’t have that same deception he usually has.”

Neither Warthen nor Santana knows exactly why the Mets’ ace developed that subtle change, but they feel confident it was corrected today. Warthen said he could tell that Santana was throwing with more velocity and his location with the fastball was significantly better.

That is great news, assuming he can carry over the adjustment into a game — which is easier said than done.

And as MetsBlog pointed out, someone here at MetsToday had a theory about Johan’s pitching motion.

In case you forgot, after the Yankees series we stated this in “What’s Wrong with Johan Santana?”

Johan Santana’s velocity is down, as is his command. One thing I notice is his arm dragging behind slightly — it’s out of sync with his hips, and as a result the hips and legs are driving forward a hair too early, and therefore not helping to power the ball. The question is, why is his arm behind? Is it a timing issue, or is there something physically keeping him from firing his hand forward at its usual speed? For example, does he suffer from a mild shoulder injury?

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Burning the K-Rod at Both Ends

k-rod-mets

Francisco Rodriguez pitched two innings in last night’s loss, but Mets manager Jerry Manuel assured reporters after the game that his high-priced closer would be “ready to go” in the series finale tonight. After all, he’d thrown “less than 30 pitches”. Apparently, had Rodriguez thrown 30 or more, he’d have received a day off.

I’d love to have seen Manuel and Dan Warthen hunched over a calculator banging out that formula for bullpen success.

For those keeping score, K-Rod threw 16 pitches in a meaningless 7-0 victory on Sunday night vs. the Nationals, had a day off, threw 20 pitches on Tuesday, and 21 pitches last night, for a total of 57 pitches over four days. We can’t predict K-Rod’s pitch count if he goes tonight, but we know he’s averaging about 16 pitches per inning. Assuming he gets into the game and throws that many, Frankie will have expended 57 pitches in three straight days, and 73 over five days. We know he doesn’t “let up” on any pitch, so add in the high-stress factor of those tosses.

If indeed K-Rod pitches tonight, it would be the third time this season he threw three days in a row (not games, Jerry, days). Technically, it would be the fifth time, because he threw FOUR days in a row twice this year (May 4-7 & May 12-15 were the previous runs).

But K-Rod can handle it, right? Like fellow countryman Johan Santana, he’s a man, right?

Not sure. During last year’s record-breaking season, K-Rod threw in back-to-back-to-back days five times. April 13-15 (49 pitches); April 23-25 (32 pitches); June 2-4 (33 pitches); June 21-23 (41 pitches); August 28-30 (33 pitches). . He never threw for four days in a row in 2008, but he did do it once in 2007 — which was the only time that year he threw in as many as three consecutive days. That run was bookended by three days of rest prior, and four days’ rest afterward.

Which brings up a key note: whenever Angels manager Mike Scioscia rode K-Rod especially hard, he followed that up with 3-4 days’ rest. Jerry Manuel has thus far followed that pattern, as K-Rod was rested four days after each of his two four-game-straight marathons.

But, on Friday the Mets begin a three-game series with the Yankees. Do you think K-Rod is going to be held out all weekend?

The forecast calls for rain this afternoon, and thunderstorms through the evening, so the point may be moot. Still, the handling of Rodriguez is something that should be monitored, if we expect him to be at full strength later in the season.

For a comparison of how the top teams use their bullpens, Download The Bullpen Blueprint (it’s free!).

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Prediction: Dan Warthen Will Be the First to Go

The Mets are 8-10. They’re in fourth place, but only 3 games behind the struggling first-place Marlins.

This week, the Mets take on the Marlins and the Phillies. A strong showing can put them back into first place. But if they struggle, the Mets could end the week 5 or 6 games back. If that happens, heads could start rolling.

The Unusual Suspects

Who gets fired? Let’s first look at who will NOT be fired:

  • Jeff Wilpon will not be fired. He’s the boss’s kid, after all.
  • Omar Minaya will not be fired. Jeff Wilpon has too much invested in Omar to cut him loose.
  • Jerry Manuel will not be fired this early. At worst, Jerry will get the Willie Randolph treatment – he’ll dangle for a few more weeks while ownership insists he is their guy. Then they’ll cut him loose, but only if the Mets continue to scuffle at or below the .500 mark.
  • Howard Johnson is a likely candidate for firing. The Mets have been miserable with RISP. However, the team batting average is .283 and they have five regulars hitting over .300. Besides, the Mets may be reluctant to fire a coach with such strong ties to the team’s past – especially with recent fan reactions to the Wilpon’s lack of respect for the organization’s history.

Dan’s the Man

That leaves pitching coach Dan Warthen. Warthen replaced Rick Petersen last season and his old-school approach to pitching has been praised by ownership, fans and the media. Keep in mind, though, that Petersen was generally considered to be a pitching guru by ownership, fans and the media – until he was fired. The point is, Dan Warthen is not untouchable.

Pitching is the Problem

We’re all well aware of the Mets pitching problems. Johan Santana has been dominant, but the other four starters have been inconsistent at best and downright awful at times. Santana is 3-1 with a 0.70 ERA, while Pelfrey, Perez, Maine, Hernandez and Nelson Figueroa are 3-5 with a 7.32 ERA.

What are the Options?

When a team is struggling, the easiest move is to do nothing. The second easiest move is to fire a pitching or a hitting coach – the GM and manager save their jobs and no players are traded. At best, the move could shake things up enough to ignite a team. At worst, nothing really changes. It’s a fairly clean process and there is only one victim. Just ask Bob Apodaca or Rick Down.

Target: Warthen

So how does an organization go about firing a pitching coach? If you’re the Mets, you lay the seeds early. From today’s NY Times Blog:

“The Mets are high on Buffalo’s pitching coach, Ricky Bones. Should they decide to demote Perez, it would be interesting to see whether Bones could correct Perez’s flaws while also easing his psyche. No one enjoys being sent to the minors, especially those who have had success at the major-league level. Myers was humbled by the demotion. The Mets hope Perez would be, too. But that happens — the Mets’ worst-case scenario — Perez will get one more start to prove he belongs in the big leagues.”

Geez, Ricky Bones may be a great pitching coach, but this reeks of a leak from somewhere within the Mets front office.

To recap, here’s what the Mets have done:

  • Announce an isolated problem (Perez)
  • Create a worst-cast scenario (Perez gets sent to the minors)
  • Create a potential savior (Ricky Bones)

The Worst Case Scenario

If Perez gets sent down, you can assume the Mets will still be struggling. Fans will be calling WFAN and demanding that SOMETHING be done.

Let’s say Perez has a few dazzling starts in AAA. It’s not hard to imagine that Perez could fan 15 batters in AAA – he really only has to stay in the strike zone and he should dominate down there.  When that happens, word will start to circulate that Perez is back on track. Ricky Bones’ name will be mentioned in the papers, on SNY and on WFAN.

The Endgame

Oliver Perez will return from AAA with Ricky Bones. Dan Warthen will be out. And ownership can say they gave the fans what they asked for.

Of course, Warthen’s job is safe if the Mets go on a winning streak. But it’s nice to know the front office is ready to make him a scapegoat, just in case.

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Oliver Perez: Pitch Now, Talk Later

The big news from Port St. Lucie is that Oliver Perez received a “stern talking to” from ace pitcher Johan Santana, presumably to motivate the erstwhile and enigmatic lefthander. This comes only a day after pitching coach Dan Warthen publicly lambasted Perez for being “out of shape”. From Steve Popper’s blog:

Warthen said that Perez got out of shape and underworked while pitching for the Mexican squad in the World Baseball Classic, not even mentioning that when he did pitch he posted a 9.45 ERA in his two games. The real problem is that Warthen said he came back to camp out of shape.

“Even though the weight is about the same as the end of last year he is still not the same guy we saw, the energetic guy,” Warthen said. “Even the life around the clubhouse is not the same.”

Huh … when was the last time you heard an MLB pitching coach — from any team — calling out one of his players in the media? Kind of a strange, if you ask me. (Though, right in line with the Jerry Manuel course “Motivating Men Through the Media 101”, which grew tired in Chicago.)

This most recent report about Santana speaking to Perez is equally strange. Why was it made public? Is it the Mets’ answer to criticism that their clubhouse is leaderless?

In any case, I find the timing incorrect. Opening Day is nine days away, and I don’t know how Oliver Perez is going to “get in shape” so quickly. But more importantly, the Mets — and Santana — are missing the mark by kicking Ollie when he’s down. Oliver Perez is most vulnerable not when he’s doing poorly, but when he’s successful.

Ollie is a unique talent, to say the least. His mechanics have too many moving parts and can quickly fall out of sync, often to disastrous results. If we’ve learned anything from three years of his rollercoaster ride, it’s that he can, and will, eventually get going, but can just as quickly fall. In fact, his biggest problem is that when he is pitching well, his confidence surges to the point where he thinks he can do things he shouldn’t be doing (I believe Rick Peterson called it “freelancing” or something similar).

That understood, the time for a pep talk is not now, but when he’s doing well. When Ollie strings together two or three great outings, THAT’s when Johan Santana should sit Perez down and remind him stay focused, and to continue to do all things that are making him successful — and not be a “cowboy”.

After seeing Perez throw in the most recently televised spring training game, I actually thought he did well. The results were not good, but the process was — and in the spring, it is the process that matters. Ollie returned to the step-straight-back movement behind the rubber, which initiated a straight movement toward home plate. His momentum was gathered nicely and directed in a straight line at his target. Rarely did he fall off toward third base on his follow-through. Those are good signs. His velocity wasn’t great, but I believe that was more the result of concentrating on keeping his mechanics in line than anything else — thought slows you down. His command was off, and that was due to an inconsistent release point, which was due to the mechanical changes — for the last three weeks he’s been throwing in a way that his body is falling away from that straight line, and as a result, his release point is in a different spot. It takes time and repetition (not outside criticism and pep talks) to “get back” what was lost.

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Maine’s Stride Length Explained

We mentioned yesterday that Dan Warthen finally did some tinkering with John Maine’s mechanics, as we’ve been suggesting since last June.

One of the adjustments Warthen is making to Maine’s motion is lengthening the stride:

“He’s cutting himself off, landing too soon,” Warthen said. “In the back of his mind, he was afraid to let go.”

So Maine threw about 50 pitches Monday under Warthen’s intense observation. Maine lengthened the stride his front foot took by eight inches. Warthen seemed pleased with the results. “The ball was coming out of his hand very well,” he said. “Still a golden arm.”

Inquiring minds may want to know what that eight inches can really accomplish. In a nutshell, by lengthening a pitcher’s stride, you accomplish three thing:

1. Allow the arm to “catch up” to the body, and time the release closer to the hip rotation / explosion.
A pitcher who strides too short can end up opening his hips too soon, putting the brunt of the pitch’s velocity on the upper body / arm. Kinesiologists suggest that the the length of the stride should be about equal to the total arc of the throwing arm’s motion, starting from the break of the hands to the release point.

2. Increase the amount of force applied to the ball.
This could be partially explained by Newton’s Second Law of Motion (interestingly, if pitching coaches paid even slight attention to Newton, we’d have less pitching injuries). In short, by lengthening the stride you are also generating momentum and increasing the time that force is applied to the baseball. Think about it this way: if you were going to punch someone, would you start your jab at a few inches in front of your chest, or would you rear your fist back to your armpit before punching forward? The latter, of course, because the increased distance of your fist’s path results in more power generated to your opponent’s jaw (try this at your next bar fight). The same principle works when hurling a baseball.

3. Shorten the distance between the release point and home plate.

This is a no-brainer: by lengthening the stride, you also release the ball further away from the rubber, and decrease the distance the ball needs to go. Again, this is simple physics — by decreasing the distance, the batter has less time to react to the pitch — even if the velocity stays the same. This is why Randy Johnson has been so devastating on hitters — because of his height and long arms, his release point is about foot closer to the batter than any other pitcher; his 93 MPH may be perceived as closer to 96 MPH because he’s decreased the time (maybe some math nut can give me the correct numbers, but you get what I mean).

Now the million-dollar question: why doesn’t every pitcher increase his stride?

First of all, a pitching coach worth his salt will indeed lengthen a pitcher’s stride as long as possible, because of the three points above. However, there is a point where pushing more length will hinder rather than help — particularly with pitchers at the MLB level who have been throwing one way their entire lives. Everyone is unique, and everyone throws differently, and I believe biomechanics and kinesiology play a major role in determining the perfect stride length — but I’m not expert enough on either subject to speak intelligently.

In Maine’s case, Warthen apparently saw a shorter stride than Johnny had used prior to his shoulder injury, and it makes sense. As a pitching coach, the stride is one of the first indicators I implore my pitchers to check when they’re having issues — they need to stride the same distance and land in about the same spot every time to pitch consistently. I’d be interested to know if Maine was not only striding shorter, but if he’s striding straight. But that’s for another day.

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