Should Searage Be the Pitching Coach in 2011?

Lost in the news about John Russell getting fired has been the talk about pitching coach Ray Searage potentially sticking around.  The Pirates haven’t made any decisions, and have told Searage that he is free to talk with other teams.  My guess is that no decisions will be made on the coaching staff until a new manager is hired, so we probably won’t know Searage’s fate for at least a few weeks.  That said, what about the notion that Searage had a positive impact on the pitching staff?  Let’s take a look at three starters who had significant time with Joe Kerrigan and Ray Searage in the rotation this season, and see how the players performed under Searage.

Zach Duke

Kerrigan 2010: 108.1 IP, 5.32 ERA, 5.65 K/9, 2.66 BB/9, 1.41 HR/9

Searage 2010: 50.2 IP, 6.57 ERA, 4.97 K/9, 3.37 BB/9, 1.42 HR/9

September/October: 26.2 IP, 8.44 ERA, 5.40 K/9, 3.71 BB/9, 1.69 HR/9

Charlie Morton

Kerrigan 2010: 43.1 IP, 9.35 ERA, 7.27 K/9, 3.32 BB/9, 2.49 HR/9

Searage 2010: 36.1 IP, 5.45 ERA, 5.95 K/9, 2.48 BB/9, 0.74 HR/9

September/October: 33 IP, 4.09 ERA, 6.00 K/9, 2.45 BB/9, 0.55 HR/9

Paul Maholm

Kerrigan 2010: 134 IP, 4.90 ERA, 4.37 K/9, 3.29 BB/9, 0.74 HR/9

Searage 2010: 51.1 IP, 5.61 ERA, 6.49 K/9, 2.28 BB/9, 0.70 HR/9

September/October: 29 IP, 4.66 ERA, 7.45 K/9, 2.48 BB/9, 0.31 HR/9

Duke was horrible all around, and actually got a bit worse under Searage, with a drop in his strikeout ratio, and an increase in his walk ratio.  However, Maholm and Morton saw big improvements under Searage.

Morton’s biggest problem was his extremely high (and unlucky) home run rate at the start of the season.  Most of his starts at the end of the year came in September, and in the month he posted a 4.09 ERA, and respectable secondary numbers.  With those numbers, Morton wouldn’t be a bad option for the 2011 rotation, at least to start the season.  There is some concern over the disaster of a season that Morton had, but he definitely finished strong.

Maholm’s ERA took a dip, but he improved his strikeout ratio by over two strikeouts per nine innings, and saw his walk rate drop by one walk per nine innings.  Maholm was even better in September, cutting his home run totals in half, and adding another strikeout per nine innings.

Clearly Maholm and Morton improved, while Duke continued to struggle.  However, is it fair to credit Searage with the success of Morton and Maholm at the end of the season?

The Pirates showed improvement under Searage, but should that be enough to make him the 2011 pitching coach?

Looking at the pitching staff as a whole, the numbers look better for Searage than they do with Kerrigan.  Under Kerrigan, the pitchers combined for a 5.09 ERA in 971 innings, with a 6.30 K/9, a 3.53 BB/9, and a 1.20 HR/9 ratio.  Under Searage, the pitching combined for a 4.82 ERA in 440.2 innings, a 7.07 K/9,  3.21 BB/9, and a 0.78 HR/9.  All of the secondary numbers improved, while the ERA showed some improvement.  The biggest numbers came in September/October, when the staff combined for a 4.20 ERA in 263.1 innings, with a 7.11 K/9, a 3.35 BB/9, and a 0.62 HR/9.

There is one advantage Searage had over Kerrigan.  Actually there’s three: James McDonald, Chris Resop, and Chan Ho Park.  McDonald, Resop, and Park were three of the top pitchers in the final two months of the season.  McDonald made just one start with Kerrigan, and ten starts with Searage.  Resop made three appearances with Kerrigan, and 19 appearances with Searage.  Park made two appearances with Kerrigan, and 24 appearances with Searage.

Those three pitchers combined for a 3.45 ERA in 101.2 innings under Searage, along with an 8.59 K/9, a 3.54 BB/9, an a 0.53 HR/9.  Without those three pitchers, the staff under Searage had a 5.23 ERA in 339 innings, with a 6.61 K/9, a 3.11 BB/9, and a 0.85 HR/9.  Had it not been for those three pitchers, Searage’s numbers wouldn’t have looked much better than Kerrigan.

Should Searage get any credit for those three pitchers?  I don’t think so.  McDonald looked sharp in his first start under Kerrigan, and continued to look good in his next outings.  Resop looked great in the minors this year, never really got a chance to prove himself with the Braves, and the Pirates lucked out in landing him on waivers.  However, you could argue that he had the talent before Searage could have touched him.  Park struggled in the AL this year with the Yankees, but he’s been a much better pitcher in the NL in his career, with a 3.98 ERA in the NL, compared to a 5.78 ERA in the AL.  That includes a 3.88 ERA in 178.2 innings between 2008 and 2009 with the Dodgers and Phillies.

The main argument for Searage is the improvement seen by the pitching staff in September, but that’s a small sample size.  You could also argue that Kerrigan had to deal with a lot of waiver claims like Hayden Penn and Dana Eveland, plus some free agent busts like Brendan Donnelly and Jack Taschner.  Then again, Searage didn’t get to work with D.J. Carrasco, Octavio Dotel, and Javier Lopez, who were all traded away at the 2010 trade deadline.

The pitching staff was horrible under Kerrigan this year.  Charlie Morton looked lost, and didn’t rebound until the end of the season, after a lot of time on the disabled list and in AAA.  Brad Lincoln came up, struggled, was sent down due to negative results with his mechanics, and continued to struggle in AAA.  The numbers for Kerrigan looked bad, and it seemed like he didn’t really care, just from an outsider’s perspective (remember, he debated last off-season on whether he would come back, and only came back because the Pirates agreed to give him an assistant).  Should Searage be retained for the position just because his numbers were better than Kerrigan?  That doesn’t seem like a good measuring stick.

It’s hard to deny the numbers under Searage, but at the same time, it’s a very small sample size, and Searage was working with three successful pitchers who were added as Kerrigan was dismissed, which helps his numbers.  The important things to look at would be the numbers of Morton and Maholm.  Both pitchers showed improvement under Searage.  Was that also due to a small sample size, or is that due to something Searage did?  The numbers won’t give us the answer to that question.

The pitching staff looked good under Searage, especially in September, but once again it would have been hard to not improve over what the staff looked like under Kerrigan this year.  To me, that means Searage should be in the running for the 2011 pitching coach, but in no way should that guarantee him the position.  Just because Searage was better than Kerrigan this year does not mean he is the best option available.  The Pirates definitely need to look for some potentially better options before committing to Searage.

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