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A peek into Dave Righetti’s pitching philosophy

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Via FanGraphs, we have a look at how the pitching coach handled former and current Giants pitchers.

"Let's see ... have you considered doing a bunch of wacky crap with your delivery? I'm just spitballin' here."
"Let's see ... have you considered doing a bunch of wacky crap with your delivery? I'm just spitballin' here."
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Stop what you’re doing and read David Laurila’s interview with Dave Righetti at FanGraphs right now. It’s a quick, fascinating, and candid, jumping around and discussing players old and new. For example, Righetti ...

  • muses that Barry Zito didn’t throw his curve enough
  • reveals how Jason Schmidt came up with the pitch that turned his career around
  • talks about Madison Bumgarner’s slutter (it’s officially a cutter)
  • suggests that changing speeds is the most important skill a pitcher can master

It also gave me one of the better quotes to take out of context that I’ve ever seen.

Timmy got so high that he threw his slider and it would spin the other way

And one time I microwaved popcorn without taking the plastic wrapping off! Basically the same thing.

But the most fascinating part of the interview for me was here:

On data showing that Giants pitchers throw a lot of cutters and sliders, and not many changeups: "That’s not a philosophy, it’s about who our pitchers are. It’s changed over the years. We went from a high-strikeout team with a lot of walks to a team, the last three-four years, that has cut down the walks quite a bit.

You’ll see teams with philosophies, overarching philosophies that define how their pitchers throw (and whom they target in trades). The Rays, for example, thrived with the high fastball last year, and that was intentional. Because pitchers were taught to throw low in the zone, hitters who could handle that pitch thrived and advanced, which meant there was an opening for pitchers to evolve in a different way. Danny Darwin’s book explains it perfectly, I’m sure.

The unintended consequence is that when the baseball became livelier, the high pitches always led to more fly balls, but now the fly balls were hit harder and going farther. Suddenly, the Rays had a dinger problem. It’s one of the reasons Matt Moore is on the Giants.

That’s why I like the answer from Righetti, which suggests that the Giants are much more fluid than that. At least, more fluid than the Rays’ organizational philosophy I’m an expert on after two FanGraphs articles and 10 minutes because there’s no way it’s way more complicated than that. But more specifically, I was wondering if the Giants suddenly had a cutter-based philosophy that was going to be imposed regardless of their specific personnel.

Back in June, I wrote about the Giants and the cutter, and I assumed that Righetti was passively encouraging rather than actively. The more Jeff Samardzija started getting whomped with cutters in the middle of the zone, though, I started having my doubts.

Nope. Turns out Righetti wants his tuba players to play polka and his steel drum players to play calypso, and he’ll help them out any way he can. It’s nice to get a little clarification on that point.

Anyway, the larger point is that you should read that interview. Somehow, the pitching coach who’s been around since AT&T Park opened has become an underrated component of the Giants’ success. Not sure why or how that happened, but don’t forget that Dave Righetti is really, really good at what he does, and when you get a chance to read or hear why, you should probably take it.