I know two things before I finish this column- half of you think Kranny is an awful pitching coach. The other half thinks he is an amazing pitching coach. Neither of these conclusions will change after reading this article. Why? Because baseball coaches are incredibly hard to qualify. How can you tell if a pitcher is improving because of his own development or because the coaching is good? Unless you know that the pitching coach taught him a cutter, if the player comes out with a new cutter you don’t give credit to the coach. Conversely, if a pitcher starts to lose it mentally like Jeremy Guthrie did last season, do you blame the player or the coach? Who fans choose to blame or absolve for failure and reward or discredit for success will determine their perceptions of a coach. And it is in this muddied context that I try to evaluate a pitching coach.
The only way, I suppose, to evaluate a coach is to find instances in which the coach took an extended personal interest in a particular player and see what happened to that player. Kranitz’s first year as a pitching coach, 2006, came in the last productive year of Dontrelle Willis’ career so far, before the wheels came off of the wild-throwing pitcher. In Willis’ second year under Kranitz his ERA ballooned from 3.87 to 5.17 and he hasn’t been the same since. However, the team’s ERA dropped from 4.22 to 4.02 overall despite Willis’ struggles, indicating that Dontrelle’s difficulty might be the breakdown of his unusual mechanics. I have to assume that the O’s brought in Kranitz in large part due to his 22 years in the minor leagues nurturing young talent. Kranitz also helped acclimate numerous prospects to the major while with the Marlins, including Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, Taylor Tankersley, and Renyel Pinto, all of whom made their major league debut in 2006. This guy clearly has experience in handling a young pitching staff.
In that sense he is a decided improvement over Leo Mazzone, who could not relate to the young, inexperienced pitchers he had to work with in Baltimore. He was frustrated after being used to working with a veteran staff in Atlanta throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s, and after two unsuccessful years he was fired and left coaching. He is one of the best pitching coaches in the history of the game, but even he couldn’t handle the mess of pitchers the O’s had accumulated.
As for Kranitz’s time with the Orioles, the massive turnover in pitchers doesn’t lend itself to evaluating his personal performance. However, the players have taken well to his advice and seem to have formed a good relationship with his young talent- even going so far as to suggesting that Chris Tillman learn to throw a cut fastball and helping him develop it. In the end the only way to evaluate Kranitz will be from last year forward, when we can track the cumulative performance of the top prospects the Orioles have brought to the majors. In 2008 and 2009 the Orioles team ERA was virtually unchanged despite the massive change in starting rotations.
April 2008 starting rotation? Guthrie, Daniel Cabrera, Steve Trachsel, Adam Leowen, and Brian Burres- only one is still with the club. April 2009? Guthrie, Uehara, Alfredo Simon, Adam Eaton, and Mark Henrickson. Aside from Guthrie, none of these players are starters in 2010. When the starting rotation in one year has even 3 of the same pitchers the next year, that’s when we can start tracking how Kranitz might be doing.
We don’t do this in football, mind you. No one ever blamed the lack of receiving talent on the Ravens on the wide receivers coach. Do any of you know who the wide receivers coach is on the Ravens? Not off the top of your head. However, when the pitching staff goes south or the hitters can’t make contact fans tend to look at the pitching and hitting coaches rather than the GM upstairs or the players themselves. The only people who know with any genuine insight whether someone is a good baseball coach are the players, fellow coaches, and baseball insiders. So when Kevin Millwood has a lousy outing or Brad Bergesen gets 10 Ks in a big win, try to reserve judgment on Kranny. Take a breath and wait until 2011 or 2012, when one can try to watch the progression of the young guns- and how their coach is developing them.