Note from Alex: apropos of our discussion of all the Tommy John surgeries lately, sansho1, JonathanF, and I started looking at some of the data and the recent history of the Braves’ staffs. We’ll publish a few pieces looking at how the Braves have handled their pitchers and how it compares to other clubs. Here’s part one. It’s also today’s game thread against IWOTM.
Roger McDowell was hired as Braves pitching coach on October 29, 2005, replacing the legendary Leo Mazzone, who had accepted a similar position with the Orioles. The Braves had just won what turned out to be the last of their 14 straight division titles, but ominous cracks in the foundation were clearly showing, particularly on the pitching staff.
The ’05 rotation was headed by stalwarts John Smoltz and Tim Hudson (in his initial Braves campaign), but behind them were the perpetually injured Mike Hampton, the sporadically baffling Horacio Ramirez, the putatively tantalizing prospect Kyle Davies, and also John Thomson. This was also the year that Dank Lob and Chris F%*#ing Reitsma took turns coughing up the closer role.
Injuries and ineffectiveness combined to force the team to employ 26 different pitchers. Honestly, if it weren’t for an out-of-the-blue season by Jorge Sosa along with late-season acquisition Kyle Farnsworth taking charge of ninth innings, the team would likely have missed the postseason altogether.
So the situation McDowell inherited was a far cry from the glory days of the previous decade. And in his first season, things…didn’t go well. Almost every holdover from ’05 pitched worse in ’06, and a few (chiefly Davies and Reitsma) flatlined completely. Jorge Sosa was so terrible that Mac decreed that his name from thenceforth would be Kim Jong-Il. The team ERA ballooned from 3.98 (6th in the NL) to 4.60 (10th). The future looked bleak, fans were despondent, and Mac resorted to filmmaking (thus proving beyond a doubt that from great pain comes great art). Former Richmond pitching coach Guy Hansen, who’d made at least one list as a candidate to replace Mazzone in the first place, was brought back in his former role, and the heat was at least a little bit on McDowell already.
But the staff managed a turnaround in 2007, posting a 4.11 ERA that was good for 3rd in the league. The pitching the following year was an unmitigated disaster, but most observers put the primary blame for that miserable 2008 assemblage of has-beens and never-weres on the front office. Still, if you’d posted a poll after ’08 asking to grade McDowell’s job performance, I believe the results would have settled around a C-. That is not, however, where his grade would stay.
To be continued…