Q&A: Bob Melvin, on Five Rookie Pitchers

Bob Melvin was named American League Manager of the Year after leading the overachieving Oakland A’s to a playoff berth. It was an honor well-deserved. The 51-year-old former big-league catcher knows how to nurture young talent, and the squad he skippered was laden with first- and second-year players. Melvin discussed five rookie members of his pitching staff during last week’s winter meetings.


David Laurila: Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin all had relatively low strikeout rates. What does that mean for their success?

Bob Melvin: It means they can get deeper in games, and with younger guys, you really want them to cut down on their pitch counts.

As far as Tommy Milone, he’s more touch-and-feel, put the ball in play and keep it in the big part of the ballpark. He’ll use his changeup. He’s not really a strikeout guy, even though he has the ability to strike guys out.

A.J. Griffin has four pitches and he’s very unpredictable about when and where he is throwing them.

I think you’ll see Jarrod Parker potentially strike more guys out. His changeup is a strikeout pitch. He’s getting much better about the command of his fastball and where he wants to throw it. His velocity was 89-92 at times last year. Other times it was 92-95 and when it was 92-95 he was striking guys out.

DL: Are strikeouts and ground-ball rates less important in your home ballpark?

BM: When you look at, for instance, Milone’s numbers and his home ERA compared to his road ERA… he keeps the ball in the big part of the ballpark. He gives up some fly balls and yeah, that probably plays better in our ballpark than most.

It’s part of our scheme, part of our game plan going in. With a night game in our place, you can pitch away a little more and keep it in the big part of the ballpark.

DL: Of the three, Parker has the highest ground-ball rate. Is that basically him pitching to his strengths?

BM: He’s getting better and better about keeping the ball down, more than anything. I don’t know what his numbers — his ground-ball and fly-ball rates — were in the past, but he’s that good. He has the ability to strike people out, and keep it in the air, as well as on the ground.

Our [game plans] are player specific, but at the end of the day you want conviction in the pitch you‘re throwing. I would rather our guys rely on their strengths as opposed to throwing their third-best pitch, just because it’s a hitter’s weakness.

DL: Ryan Cook had a high strikeout rate coming out of the bullpen.

BM: He was our closer at times, although he set up for probably the majority of the season. Grant Balfour did a heck of a job for us a couple of different times. Cook certainly has the ability to close. A lot of times, though, a guy with his stuff and his strikeout ability is someone you’d rather bring in with a couple guys on base in the seventh or the eighth. He has the ability to do anything he wants as far as the bullpen goes.

DL: Are you a believer in using your best reliever in high-leverage situations prior to the ninth inning?

BM: At times, but do you know what? There are just too many variables to say there is one way or the other to do it. A lot of it is based on the personnel, how you’re getting there, and their experience pitching at the end. Maybe one of your younger guys isn’t ready for that role. Earlier last year, we didn’t think Cook was. Later on in the year, he was.

I think you find out pretty quickly about somebody’s makeup when you put them in to close a game, in the ninth inning, with a one-run lead. Cook has the ability to do that, and he did.

DL: Who else on the staff deserves a shout out?

BM: Sean Doolittle. I don’t know there was a better story among bullpen guys, in all of baseball, last year. The guy was a position player. We moved him to pitching and watched him throw bullpens in spring training, and a little later in the season he was closing against the New York Yankees. If anybody made significant strides — maybe the biggest strides based on his experience level — it was Sean Doolittle.

DL: Whose decision was it to make him a pitcher?

BM: To be honest, I’m not sure who actually made the decision to put him in the bullpen. Whoever it was deserves a raise.

The season we had was based on a lot of good baseball people making good decisions. That starts will Billy [Beane] and David [Forst] in the front office, Billy Owens and Grady Fuson in scouting and player development. And Keith Lieppman. We had contributions from everybody in our organization. When you see as many young guys make it to the big-league level as we had, and be successful, that means they’re being developed right. Our organization gives younger players an opportunity to not only play at the big-league level, but to play prominent roles as well.

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA

11 Responses to “Q&A: Bob Melvin, on Five Rookie Pitchers”

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  1. marlins12 says:

    Someone should tell Justin Verlander to strike out less guys; I’m sure it’ll help him get deeper into games…

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    • VORP is too nerdy says:

      Tommy Milone and AJ Griffin are not Justin Verlander.

      Contrast Verlander with Rich Harden, who was a great strikeout pitcher for the five innings he’d pitch in a start due to high pitch counts and general fragility.

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    • Northhampstonstead says:

      It’s worth noting that Verlander got a lot of strikeouts in three pitch at bats in which every pitch was a ball but called a strike. Like gymnastics or figure skating in the Olympics, a lot of the results on the baseball field are heavily swayed by the fact that umpires side with better players.

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    • Joseph says:

      He’s already pitching very deep into games..he is just a horse but I’ll agree that although his pitch count don’t matter that much, it’s better for his arm to lower the pitch count

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  2. Hehehe says:

    “Keep it in the big part of the park” sounds like a sexual metaphor I don’t fully understand.

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  3. marlins12 says:

    Sorry but I don’t believe the whole “strike less guys out/get deeper into games” thing. Can you factually prove it?

    Statistics seem to indicate that most of the guys getting deep into games/in the IP leaderboard are mostly high strikeout guys.

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    • Rick says:

      “Strike less guys out/get deeper into games” means you don’t need to pitch so fine, and be more aggressive. This way you throw fewer balls; which will tend to keep you pitch count down, and allow you to pitch more innings when on a pitch count.

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    • Hayden says:

      As someone who pitched as a youth, I know this was true for me. Rick’s explanation is right. marlins, you’re not wrong either; that probably is what the leaderboards say. But that’s just it–those are LEADER boards. Those guys are the top echelon, who can throw it as hard as they can AND locate perfectly. For the majority of pitchers, though, (most of the time) you’d rather they put it somewhere where they’re likely to get a first-pitch grounder to short than spend their energy trying to throw perfect pitches to get the strikeout. IMO, anyway.

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  4. marlins12 says:

    Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know. I would say it’s not a “strike less guys out” thing but rather the pitchers who throw more strikes/walk less guys get deeper into games.

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  5. Wade says:

    I pitched for 15 years, one season in the minor leagues. You’re not going into the game looking to strike less guys out, you’re going into the game looking to throw good pitches that hitters will put in play. Instead of starting of the at-bat with a slider off the plate because the hitter is a free swinging, first pitch fastball hitter, you throw him a changeup at the bottom of the zone so he rolls over to SS or 2B. The perfect result of the first scenario is he swings and misses, and the second is a 6-3 or 4-3. In the first scenario, you now have to throw at least one more pitch. So, you’re right in a way. You don’t go into a game looking to strike less people out, it’s just a side effect of making hitters put the ball in play with less pitches.

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  6. Rick says:

    Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist.

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