The Indians wasted little time filling the vacancies on their coaching staff. This weekend, they named Scott Radinsky to replace Tim Belcher as pitching coach. Dave Miller will fill Radinsky’s former role as bullpen instructor, and Tom Wiedenbauer is taking the reins as first base coach.
Radinsky’s promotion wasn’t particularly surprising; he’s done a great job with the bullpen in the last two years, and he was rumored to be the favorite to fill the vacancy since Belcher announced his resignation. But looking at past Cleveland pitching coaches, choosing Radinsky actually stands in sharp contrast to what the Indians normally do.
Last week, I noticed an interesting pattern in other recent Tribe pitching coaches. Dating back to 1994 (neither 1993 Opening Day pitching coach Greg Adair nor his post-firing replacement Dom Chiti had ever pitched in the majors), Radinsky’s predecessors have all had big-league pitching experience, but they varied widely in terms of career length, era, and overall skill. Yet there was one thing that they had in common: they were all pitch-to-contact hurlers who rarely struck opposing hitters out.
Radinsky is different. In his career, he struck out 358 batters in 481.2 innings for a K/9 rate of 6.7. He whiffed 17.1 percent of the batters he faced in an era when the average MLB pitcher struck out just 16.1 percent, and out of seven seasons in which he threw 50 innings or more, his K/9 rate topped 7.0 four times, peaking at 8.3 for the Dodgers in 1996. Billy Wagner he’s not, but he definitely knew how to miss bats.
The last Indians pitching coach to have posted a career K/9 rate over 6.0 was Don McMahon, who was fired in 1985. McMahon struck out 6.9 K/9 in his career, whiffing batters at a 18.2 percent clip whilst the rest of the league induced strikeouts in just 14.5 percent of plate appearances. He topped 7.0 K/9 eight times and 8.0 in four different seasons—including 1964, when he threw 101 innings in relief with a 2.41 ERA for the Tribe.
By my count, Cleveland has had 11 different pitching coaches since McMahon was fired—13 if you include coaches who left or were fired and then were rehired later. And until Radinsky, not one of them had shown strikeout stuff in whatever MLB career he had. That doesn’t mean that they weren’t good pitchers or coaches, but the Indians definitely have a distinct type of former player that they like for their coaching jobs.
Interestingly, the Indians have been a low-strikeout team for a while now. They’ve ranked in the bottom half of the AL in K/9 rate six years in a row, finishing 13th or 14th four times in that span. In the 27 years since McMahon was fired, their 6.1 K/9 rate ranks 24th in baseball, though in the midst of that they were one of the best strikeout teams in the league throughout the 90′s. Whether the correlation suggests strong influence of the coaches or a consistent overarching philosophy isn’t completely clear—I’d lean more towards the latter, but coaches undoubtedly have a strong influence. Whatever the case, the approach isn’t necessarily right or wrong, but it’s definitely distinctive.
In a vacuum Radinsky would have been the clear choice, and I don’t know that any of the decision-makers involved consciously considered his career K/9 rate before offering him the promotion. But looking at the team’s decades-long pattern of hiring coaches who made their livings pitching to contact, Radinsky is definitely an outlier. It’ll be interesting to see how much of an impact (if at all) his guidance will have on the Tribe’s team strikeout rate.