Using data to back up the staff's assessments, manager Scott Servais will have frank conversations about expectations for each of his pitchers before the season starts.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Scott Servais corrected the reasoning behind mandatory pitchers meetings slated to begin Friday afternoon.
The word “enforced” came up in a question about the motive for individual meetings with each pitcher in Mariners camp. Servais quickly dismissed that word choice — that’s not the meetings’ purpose, he said.
“Bad word,” he said. “We’re not enforcing anything. We’re trying to be as transparent as we can. It’s something I often did at the minor-league level with young players, to let them know exactly where they stand. Because as a player, that’s all I ever really wanted to know. ‘What do they think of me?’”
While the concept isn’t new for Servais, it is something new that he is doing this spring with the pitchers. It will also allow new pitching coach Paul Davis as well as Brian DeLunas, the director of pitching development and strategies, and other staff to provide input. And with so many new and young pitchers in camp, it will provide an avenue for the coaching staff to get to know each pitcher.
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“The plan here over the next seven to 10 days is to sit down with every pitcher individually, myself, with the pitching coaches, and let them understand this is how we see you at your best,” Servais said. “This is how we feel you should use your stuff. And then listen. You might get some pushback, you might get some disagreement, but just start that relationship. It’s really important that you’re honest. You throw it out on the table and get the conversation rolling from there.”
Part of that meeting will be to ask each pitcher for a self-evaluation, which is often enlightening for all parties involved.
“Often times when you ask players to evaluate themselves, it’s much different than how the coaching staff or the front office evaluates,” Servais said. “So let’s see if we can bring the whole thing together and then get the best version of that player. That’s the thought process. It takes a lot of time, but the meetings don’t have to be long. Just get it out on the table, here’s where we’re at, let’s go. That’s the plan.”
Usually a player’s self-evaluation will be high on himself, which isn’t surprising. It’s human nature.
“Some times, most times,” Servais said. “We all do. It’s not just players, we all do. Part of being in a leadership role, you have to be candid, you have to be direct, I think that’s the best policy. The soft serve doesn’t always work. Here’s what we’ve got, let’s see if we can get the best version of you by attacking it this way. If they disagree, then you listen. You better have a reason why and that’s where the data comes in and helps tell the story.”
Ah yes, the data.
Servais and the staff will go into the meetings prepared. With the help of the baseball operations department, they have delved into the wealth of information provided by all of the new technology available and advanced analytics to have their assessment of what a player does best.
They will know what pitches generate the most swings and misses, what pitches are most effective in which counts, what pitches generate the best spin rate and how that compares to other MLB pitchers. It’s an evaluation of the good and the bad of each pitcher. The hope is that the information — empirical and not anecdotal — will help generate a buy-in for the changes that need to be made and reinforce the things that are considered strengths.
“You’re making evidence-based decisions with the objective data that you have,” Servais said. “It’s not subjective. … Here’s what the data says with the ball coming out of your hand, here’s your release point. You can break it down that fine. But it’s more important to keep it simple. Here’s what you do best. Let’s accentuate what you do best. That’s the goal.”
Often times what pitchers think they do best isn’t aligned with the data that is provided.
“I think every one of them think they know and that’s what you find out through those meetings,” he said. “That’s why we’ve tried to gather information. It helps you make better decisions and build relationships and go from there.”
An example would be Marco Gonzales’ increased usage of the curveball last season. Gonzales believed his change-up was his best pitch and relied upon it heavily. But after being shown data about the effectiveness of the curveball, Gonzales started using it more and in different situations, finding increased success. The Mariners made a similar push with James Paxton’s cutter/slider usage in games because of its swing-and-miss ability.
Will the meetings help lead to individual success for a pitching staff that saw a ton of talent get traded in the offseason? That data has yet to be accumulated. But with the new direction of the organization and the amount of information available, Servais decided to try something new before the season instead of reacting during the season.
“Just five to 10 minutes, here’s what we’ve got, what do you want to work on, here’s what we think you need to work on,” Servais said. “Then it’s start getting after that plan.”