Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Building Better Pitching

Tim Britton had an outstanding piece in The Athletic today about the Mets organization's efforts to create a state-of-the-art pitching development program. Under the Wilpons, the team had been notoriously reluctant to buy into the latest trends in player development. This likely reflected some skepticism towards new technologies on their part and a certain cheapness towards investing in something that didn't pay obvious and immediate benefits. That's probably a good reason why the Mets have historically lagged behind the top organizations in developing talent. Fortunately, new Mets owner Steve Cohen sees the benefits of investing in the future. That should pay dividends for the club and its fans going forward.

Britton quotes Mets pitching coach Jeremy Hefner on the ultimate goal:

"World-class, industry standard — that's what we're after. We've been tasked to develop a pitching powerhouse."

Even as baseball continues to evolve away from the game it was in my youth, pitching still is the most important aspect of the game. Teams that have the ability to create their own pitching depth have a tremendous competitive advantage. Just look at the Rays and Dodgers, the two teams that competed in last year's World Series.

Yet, for a team that has such a rich history of pitching, from Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack, and Dwight Gooden, up to Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Jacob deGrom more recently, the Mets have been very much hit and miss when it comes to developing young pitchers. From Generation K to Rafael Montero, there is a history of highly-regarded arms that the Mets couldn't convert into effective Major League pitchers. David Peterson was a nice surprise last year. Still, the best pitching prospects currently in the organization are Matt Allan and J.T. Ginn, both of whom have quite a few minor league innings to accumulate before they're ready to pitch in Citi Field.

Many pundits are still picking the Braves to finish ahead of the Mets this season. One of the arguments in Atlanta's favor is the young and talented pitching prospects that the club possesses close to Major League ready. The Mets had to trade this winter for Joey Lucchesi and Jordan Yamamoto to build some starting pitching depth. Much needs to be accomplished for the goal of the Mets becoming a "pitching powerhouse" to be a reality.

For all of his shortcomings as a Major League GM, Brodie Van Wagenen did a good job in bringing in some people who had an understanding of the new technologies and methods being used by the more advanced MLB clubs. One of them was Ricky Meinhold, who was hired as a minor-league pitching coordinator. He retains that position while also being named as an assistant pitching coach at the Major League level. Meinhold understands and embraces the latest technology and methods. He's also very effective at communicating with the young pitchers.

The Mets have done a good job in hiring some good people, and they seem to be heading in the right direction in implementing the processes to ensure that their young prospects get consistent and coherent instruction throughout their development time with the club that takes advantage of the technology the Mets are investing in.

Brian DeLunas was hired by the club in January after he pitched them on a state-of-the-art pitching lab of the type used by teams like the Yankees. Young pitchers will be able to get immediate feedback on the things they're working on:

"For me, the job really entails helping coach the coaches, making sure the information that we’re using and the systems we’re using are heading in the right direction," DeLunas said. "The second biggest thing is going to be the actual hands-on work with our pitchers in a lab-setting scenario, where we can collect data, talk about player plans and help those guys really get headed in the right direction."

DeLunas envisioned a lab decked out with mounds that provide ground-force feedback, portable Trackman and/or Rapsodo cameras for pitch-tracking data like vertical and horizontal break, and Edgertronic cameras that show in super slow-motion the way a ball comes off a pitcher’s hand. DeLunas mentioned spring 2022 as the goal, with the possibility of the lab being partially ready for the instructional league this fall.

If this investment on the part of the Mets allows even a handful of pitchers to reach their potential, it will be well worth it. Just think of the millions spent on established relievers and signing free-agent starters. Being seen as a progressive organization will also help the Mets attract players to sign with them, whether it's an amateur deciding between the Mets and a college offer, an international free agent, or an MLB castoff the club sees some potential in.

As of the time of this writing, it remains to be seen whether the Mets will be able to lock up Francisco Lindor long-term. It just underscores how expensive it is to sign players developed by other teams when a reported 10 year, $325 million offer can't seem to get the job done. It puts into perspective how smart it is to invest in your own player development for the long-term. I'm glad the Mets are finally all-in on doing that.

Tim Britton's long, detailed piece on all of this is well worth your time if you have a subscription to The Athletic. It's why I retain my subscription to that site despite having had to drop some others in the past year, mostly thanks to the personal financial consequences of the Pandemic.

Please stay safe, be well, and take care.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

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