The Cleveland Indians fired pitching coach Scott Radinsky last week following the team’s 11-game losing streak. The Tribe pitched atrociously through that the run of losses—especially the starters, who went 0-8 with a combined 10.44 ERA. The Indians were outscored 95-39, lost one in the ninth and another in the 10th with their closer on the mound, and got shellacked five times by the Twins of all teams. Sure, we all knew they weren’t going to lose 70 in a row, but it sure felt like it.
So now Radinsky is gone and the Indians are all better, because that’s how this works. Someone had to be the fall guy, and since Manny Acta is under contract for a while, the new guy had to be it. It’s hard to tell what he was doing wrong—but maybe that’s the problem.
It’s hard to nail down what a pitching coach really does. We all hear about the successes of Dave Duncan and his ability to turn retreads like Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook into dominant pitchers again. But other than Duncan’s results, what do we outsiders really know about the impact coaches can have?
One thing they try to work on is their pitcher’s mechanics. Maybe Radinsky was just in way over his head with guys like Ubaldo Jimenez and his strange, hard-to-repeat delivery or Justin Masterson’s three-quarters motion that makes pitching to lefties so difficult. Plus he’s tasked with developing a bunch of young arms. Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia (who knows a thing or two about baseball) famously said that it’s hard to change a guy’s mechanics at 18, let alone 28. And, as Randy Wolf said, no coach ever pitched for him on the mound.
As Acta said Wednesday, this is a professional sport played by elite athletes. As much as we want to think it’s the hitting coach that so doomed the Tribe down the stretch in 2011 and their unloading of John Nunnally was the solution, maybe the Indians just had a lot of young or injury-happy or bad players last year who were playing over their heads. Of course, the day Radinsky was fired Ubaldo struck out 10 Red Sox while walking only one and pitched maybe his best game of the year. That’s just tough to read.
This losing streak wasn’t just the pitching’s fault though, even if Radinsky was the sacrifice. The offense has been plucky and exciting on good days all year with big hits coming from small players as often as not, and just nonexistent or double play-happy on bad days. A small-market team there needs to have a true anchor in the lineup, whether it’s someone like Justin Upton down in Arizona or Evan Longoria in Tampa or half the Yankees’ lineup. The Indians don’t have that, so they’re at a disadvantage coming out the gate. Shin-Soo Choo is a fine baseball player, Asdrubal Cabrera is exciting, and both Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis are going to have good, long careers. But as I wrote last week, they’re really good complements and great major leaguers, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be the centerpiece of an offense.
Now if the Indians go on a 15 game winning streak and seize the lead in the division, you have to wonder what that means. Lewie has already pointed out the mathematical improbability of the streak—the Tribe did something amazing. Horrible, but still amazing. Maybe baseball really is just a collection of random chances jammed together into a lovely little game. Maybe the Indians actually are really talented and just needed a kick in the pants.
Simply put, someone had to pay. The Dolans are the first ones to feel the pinch in their pockets and 11 straight losses will certainly squeeze. Radinsky was the last guy to join and the pitching was horrible. But the official line from the team wasn’t that he had screwed up, just that the results weren’t there. If this is bringing in a more disciplinarian pitching coach than the fairly laid-back Radinsky really makes a difference, then we live in a movie cliché.