The Red Sox created a new position for pitching analytics master Brian Bannister, naming him assistant pitching coach to Carl Willis.
In an unprecedented move, the Red Sox have basically created a new position for pitching guru Brian Bannister as assistant pitching coach to Carl Willis. It’s no secret that the pitching staff has been struggling for Boston all season. From David Price on down to Sean O’Sullivan and most of the bullpen guys as well, the pitching has been inconsistent at best and downright pathetic at worst for a good portion of the season. The team’s ERA is 4.48 with a WHIP of 1.35, and they’ve let up 99 homeruns on the season. Often times, the team finds itself in a mega hole one or two innings into the game creating a tough situation for the offense.
While many fans have been calling for the heads of Carl Willis or even John Farrell, and others want Dave Dombrowski to pull the trigger on a trade to upgrade the rotation (which Dombrowski says they are currently working on), Boston has first opted to go an alternative route.
Bannister was a pitcher for the Mets and Royals during his five year career (2006-10) and finished his career at 37-50 with an ERA of 5.08. His best season was in 2007 for Kansas City when he went 12-9 with a 3.87 ERA. His numbers don’t blow you away, but it’s important to remember that he never really threw over 90 mph.
So what exactly does Bannister bring to the table? Apparently, he’s considered a phenom in the wild and whacky world of pitching analytics and statistical analysis. ESPN’s Scott Lauber discussed Bannister’s role in helping to bring Rich Hill back to form and getting Hill to focus on using his curveball.
However, it does seem a bit odd that Bannister was already with the team as director of pitching analysis and development. He was hired prior to last season, and then Dombrowski created a new role for him with the team. Dombrowski clearly thinks highly of him since he’s been moving up the chain of command in the one year plus since being with the Red Sox organization.
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So should Carl Willis be worried? Of course he should be. Dombrowski said that the move had nothing to do with their opinions on the job that Willis is doing. He said: “We thought it would be the best way to make it work in cohesion with Carl. It’s not that we’re unhappy. But we’re looking for any way to make ourselves better.” But if they’re not unhappy, then they don’t make this new position for Bannister. If they’re not unhappy, then Willis wouldn’t need an “assistant” to look over everything he does. And I don’t believe that this will assist in the cohesion amongst the group. There is no reason that Bannister’s prior role made it difficult to communicate with the rest of the coaching staff.
The move means that Bannister will be in uniform and on the field prior to games, but can’t be on the field during actual games. I think this clearly shows a lack of confidence in Willis and also calls into question the relationship between Willis and Farrell.
David Price has complained multiple times this season that he can’t figure out his issue, and it actually took Dustin Pedroia breaking down film to assist with a mechanical problem earlier in the season. Clay Buchholz has obviously had his own issues this season, and Rick Porcello has been up and down. The best pitcher in the rotation has clearly been knuckleballer Steven Wright – a pitcher who throws the same pitch about 80-85 percent of the time and therefore probably spends the least amount of time with Willis out of the bunch.
It looks like the deck is stacked against Willis as of now. He now finds himself in a real catch-22 – if the pitching staff doesn’t improve, the team will be in some real trouble and so will Willis. But if the pitching improves, it will look like Bannister’s increased influence was the key to the staff getting better and Willis is expendable. If Juan Nieves wasn’t axed in the middle of last season, I think the leash on Willis would be much shorter this season. Sox fans are clearly looking for improvement, but it looks like Willis has been boxed in by the promotion given to Bannister.