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Pirates Hire Joe Kerrigan as Pitching Coach

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The new pitching coach is Joe Kerrigan, who had been the Yankees' bullpen coach. He used to be the pitching coach for the Phillies, Expos, and Red Sox. He was also briefly the Red Sox's manager, but was quickly replaced by Grady Little after leading the team through a bad stretch run in 2001.

In Montreal from 1992 to 1996, Kerrigan coached a young Kirk Reuter, who went on to have a nice career as a lefty control specialist; that experience could be valuable in coaching Zach Duke, who's similar to Reuter in a number of ways. He also coached a very young Pedro Martinez in Montreal, then again in Boston for most of Martinez's prime years. Jeff Fassero also overachieved while Kerrigan coached the Expos. In four of Kerrigan's five years as the Expos' pitching coach, Montreal ranked among the top four pitching staffs in the National League in ERA. 

Most of Kerrigan's starting pitchers as the Red Sox pitching coach from 1997 to 2001 were veterans, but Kerrigan did oversee the development of Derek Lowe, who spent several years as Boston's closer. His experience with Lowe, an extreme groundball pitcher, may be relevant to Pirates groundball guys like Duke, Paul Maholm and Tom Gorzelanny. Kerrigan's Red Sox staff finished 12th in the AL in 1997; they finished second, first and first the next three years. Quite a lot of that had to do with the addition of Martinez before the 1998 season, but that's still impressive, especially when one glances through the number of dubious veterans pitching for the Red Sox at the time.

Kerrigan was the pitching coach in Philadelphia in 2003 and 2004. Brett Myers had a good first full season in the Kerrigan's first year there. In 2004, however, Philly's pitching staff was among the worst in the league. 

Of course, correctly assigning credit or blame for any of these things is nearly impossible, especially now, several years later. Ultimately, we'll have to wait and see what effect Kerrigan will have. One promising sign: he uses performance records to help him decide when a pitcher should be removed:

Phillies pitching coach Joe Kerrigan has spent more time looking at the numbers on his computer than half of Bill Gates' programmers. And he digests them all: "Third time through the order. What a pitcher allows the opposing hitters to hit as the game goes on. From 75-90 pitches, 90-105, 105-120. We have all those averages in our database. We have last year and this year, number of pitches thrown in his last three starts, number of days of rest over his last three starts."

And once those numbers are absorbed, they provide a context for what unfurls in front of everyone's eyeballs on the mound.

"The information gives you a little sound in the back of your mind going in," Kerrigan says. "If it's the third time through the order, if the average against him escalates when he gets from his 75th to 90th pitch, or 90-105, those are numbers that weren't put there by the pitching coach or the manager. Those numbers were put there by the pitcher."

But as information-oriented as Kerrigan is, he would no more use just numbers to tell him when a pitcher is done than he would keep his cruise control on to weave through a traffic jam. There are times to use the technology -- and times to turn it off.

More clues about Kerrigan's style:

"Joe K is not the type to be on top of you about your mechanics," Martinez says. "That's not his style. ... He likes to analyze hitter's habits, and that's what makes him different."

Kerrigan keeps meticulous charts and watches 8 hours of film on the opposing team prior to a series. The computer system allows him to break down pitch counts and consider every variable. Then he hands a lengthy printout to catchers Jason Varitek and Scott Hatteberg.

"In all my years, I've never seen a pitching coach put so much time in," Boston manager Jimy Williams says.

"We pitch off hitters' swing mechanics and swing habits," says Kerrigan, who was pitching coach with the Expos for five seasons before coming to Boston.

The coach doesn't follow one set routine for all of his starters.

Martinez... used to throw between starts. Now, after his first couple of early-season starts, the three-time Cy Young winner rarely does anything except long-toss in his 4 or 5 days off.

After Nomo's two-inning shellacking against the Yankees on April 20, Kerrigan decided to have Nomo throw twice before his next start.

One reason Kerrigan had success with Boston was that he was able to rely on Martinez to pitch a lot of innings, thus giving his relievers a regular break so that the Sox could use them liberally on days when questionable and/or injury-prone starters like Pete Schourek were pitching. Check out this article, in which Baseball Prospectus credits Kerrigan and Jimy Williams with this strategy, which allowed the Sox to finish tops in the league in ERA despite a rotation that included Schourek, Fassero, Brian Rose and Ramon Martinez. Obviously, Kerrigan won't have Pedro Martinez in Pittsburgh, but he and Williams deserve credit for designing a strategy that worked despite some pieces that were less than ideal.

Vlad in the comments:

He was also one of Randy Johnson’s first pitching coaches in Montreal’s system, though that could be a plus or a minus since Randy took a while to straighten out.

There’s some stuff on his approach in this article. He’s big on video scouting and centralized information archiving, which might be a good fit for our new data system. He’s also big on first-pitch strikes, which would be an awfully nice change for us. He likes to take an active role from the bench, but he flows all his info through the catcher, which is interesting.

On the whole, I have a positive impression of Kerrigan, and I like the hire. I’d been kind of wishcasting Rick Peterson or Leo Mazzone, and I’m kind of ashamed that I didn’t even think about Joe.

Based on what I've seen so far, I like this hire too. Kerrigan has a ton of relevant experience and a very good record of results to go along with it. Of course we'll have to wait to see some results.