For a while, a few years ago, there were some people who talked about Leo Mazzone being the first pitching coach to be elected to the Hall of Fame. The fever broke after he left Atlanta to take the Orioles’ job after the 2005 season and found little success. Most folks realize now that, while he was a good pitching coach, having the best pitching staff in the past 30 years or so helps a lot too. Dave Duncan is now your Hall of Fame candidate in that world.
Mazzone hasn’t worked as a pitching coach since the end of the 2007 season. It’s not clear why. Maybe he hasn’t been offered anything that sounds good to him. Maybe people in the game don’t like him or give Bobby Cox more credit for whatever the Braves staff did than Mazzone. There are a million possible explanations.
One other explanation: Mazzone is not too plugged-in to the network of major league baseball and thus doesn’t have anyone advocating for him. I mean, why else would he approach the Phillies like this:
You don’t get jobs in baseball based on public pleas. You get them because you’re either a hot property or because you know someone who will go to bat for you. I get the feeling that neither of those descriptions fit Mazzone at this point in his career.
The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.
I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.
Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.
Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.
To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.