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Drayer: Mariners’ red-hot pitchers owe credit to new resources from coaches

Marco Gonzales is one of the Mariners seeing benefits of additions to the coaching staff. (AP)

ST. PETERSBURG, FL. – Over a third of the way through the season, it is perhaps a surprise to see the Mariners pitching staff among the elite in a number of categories.

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In March and April combined, the Mariners pitching staff recorded a team ERA of 4.90 with a 4.51 FIP. They since have rebounded, and as of June 8 own a 3.82 ERA, 3.75 FIP, and sit fourth in the American League in WAR behind the Astros, Yankees and Red Sox, according to Fangraphs. Over the last 30 days they are the top team.

Improvement like this doesn’t just happen. Work is put in by the individuals, coaches and analytics staff, and as a result of the collaboration it would appear we are seeing meaningful adjustments made quicker than we have in the past.

“With the amount of resources and people we have around here, if we don’t pay attention then shame on us,” Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. said Wednesday in Houston.

More and more technology on the pitching side has been utilized in the past two years, and this year the Mariners added two additional coaches to help on the pitching side in Brian DeLunas and Jim Brower. In Stottlemyre they have a pitching coach who brings great experience, great communication skills and great eyes. With the additional resources he is able to get to the heart or origin of problems, and not only find but sell solutions quicker.

We have seen this with changes that have been made with a number of pitchers. There were stat sheets put in the lockers of James Paxton and Mike Leake while the team was in Cleveland in April focusing on effectiveness when throwing first pitch strikes that have appeared to help spark nice runs by both pitchers. Measurement of stride distance and timing of delivery has helped Wade LeBlanc and Felix Hernandez make important adjustments, as well.

At this level, however, it is not enough to just identify the problem. Veterans can be slow to accept change, while younger pitchers can be fearful of failure that could lead to demotion. It’s a delicate balance for Stottlemyre, but now he has backup in the form of hard data and additional eyes.

“You trust your eyes first and foremost,” said Stottlemyre. “With our experience we’ve watched a lot of baseball, but it is nice whether you have another conversation with another pitching coach or an outside source that sees the same thing, it validates and gives confirmation. It becomes an easier sell for the guys who are in tune with the numbers. Most players feed off and live off being visual guys and obviously the results between the lines are important to them, but for the younger guys that are in tune with the numbers, the hand position, their stride distance, the spin rates, all the things we have to gauge our stuff, it does help those guys. It’s another resource.”

In working with a staff that has pitchers of every experience level – one in his first full year, one a former Cy Young Award winner, one the ascending ace with a knockout fastball, and one the veteran who needs to use every tool in his toolbag to survive – for Stottlemyre their is no blueprint for communication. Finding the problem is one thing, perhaps the easiest thing for the pitching coach. Armed with the numbers that confirm what the eyes have seen, Stottlemyre at that point has to be able to find a way to communicate that there is a problem and there is a fix.

“I kind of let my eyes let me know what I am seeing,” said Stottlemyre, “then I do go and support it and check in with Jim (Brower, assistant pitching coach) and Emanuel (Sifeuntes, who travels with the team and oversees advance scouting) and the guys upstairs to be able to match the numbers up with what the eyes see. At that point, you come to a conclusion and you dig in and you have to decipher what is the right terminology or what the right way is to attack whatever you saw to give it to the player so he doesn’t get in a tizzy, because guys don’t like to make overhauls or drastic adjustments over the course of a season.”

In the case of LeBlanc, Stottlemyre had a pupil who knows who he is and where he is in the game right now, and as a result was open to whatever could help him better utilize his stuff.

“Wade is a guy who has to and he took to it quickly,” said Stottlemyre. “You see the finish on the changeup, the finish of the breaking ball and the cutter and all he has to offer – it’s all got a little better.”

With others it can be a longer process because of experience or even outside influences such as offseason or prior experience with different coaches and trainers. With the results the Mariners are seeing with individuals, however, it would appear Stottlemyre has found a way to get his message through.

“You do have to be able to communicate, and you’ve got to be careful,” he said. “You have to choose your words wisely, and you definitely have to make it their idea. And you have to trick ’em. And we’re good at it.”

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