Q&A: Jim Wright, Colorado Rockies Pitching Coach

It isn’t easy being the pitching coach for the Colorado Rockies. The reasons are multitudinous, and well-known to fans and physicists alike. Coors Field is simply not conducive to suppressing offense.

Jim Wright is currently entrusted with helping Rockies hurlers succeed in that hitter-friendly environment. He can’t do anything about the effect of altitude on batted and thrown baseballs, but he can help his mostly-inexperienced staff approach the challenges in a productive manner.

Wright, who pitched for the Royals in 1981-1982, has previously served as a minor-league pitching coach, roving pitching coordinator, and bullpen coach. This is his 17th season in the Rockies organization.

——

Wright on his pitching philosophy: “My philosophy — our philosophy — is dedicated to getting people out. What we consider our identity — what we like to see out of a Rockies pitcher — is to throw strikes, keep the ball down, keep the ball on the ground, hold runners on first base, and deliver the ball in a timely fashion. That’s our philosophy; that’s what we want out of them.

“There are many descriptive terms I could use, but I want them to reflect the attitude of their pitching coach, too. While I’m in this position, that is to pitch inside, be aggressive, pitch to win — learn how to pitch to win — and never have any fear, or any excuses, about anything. I want fearless competitors, knowledgeable competitors. At this level, intestinal fortitude has to be a given, so you have a chance to learn.”

On innings and experience:
“I think a lot of pitchers today are… I don’t know if prematurely is the right word, but they’re here sooner than they should be. Normally, you’d like to see a guy get 500-700 innings in the minor leagues, and they’re getting maybe 300.

“I don’t want to stall a guy’s career either, but pitchers need to have some sense of baseball pitchability. It’s not scholarly knowledge, but it is pitching wisdom. That comes through logging innings and the experience of being out there, start after start after start. They need some level of intelligence as a starting pitcher.”

On pitching at Coors Field: “Mental toughness has to be there to pitch in Denver, because there are certain things that might show up. Your sinker may cut a little bit instead of sink, or your breaking ball may not have the same bite. You have to figure out ways to pitch around those parameters of your repertoire. The main thing is to be really good at pitching down in the strike zone. That works anywhere, but getting ground balls in our ballpark is the key to success.

“It’s a different type of mindset as far as attacking a hitter; you’re attacking down versus in-and-out, up-and-down. I mean, there are places for that, and times for that, but as a general rule, I want these guys to learn to pitch down in the zone. And to do that, they have to pitch to the catcher and not to the hitter. If you pitch to the hitter, you’re going to pitch up in the zone.

“We see a big difference when we come here with guys — with their movement, the bite on their breaking ball and the consistency of the rotation. It’s different. That’s an adjustment for them, but they’re pros, so they should be able to adjust.”

On if Rockies pitchers should pitch differently on the road than they do at home: “No, they shouldn’t. I think that once you buy into the down… if you asked me, when I pitched, “How do you pitch?’, I pitched in-and-out, but always down, and then up when I wanted to. And I think in the past — because of Denver and our venue — they’ve focused on being down in the zone, but then they get on the road and see their better stuff, and they want to throw instead of still pitch down. You have to pitch the same, no matter where you go. Our ground-ball ratio should to be similar at home and on the road; it shouldn’t be one good and one bad. That’s what happened with us last year. We want that same attitude and same approach of keeping the ball down in the zone.”

On pitch movement at Coors: “A slider doesn’t have the same bite here. At times it does, but there’s more bite on the road in a more humid environment. The sinker doesn’t sink as sharp. So I’d say, basically the sharpness of the movement is not the same in Denver as it is on the road. You’ll find a lot of guys that pitch against us come in and try some breaking balls, and they’re not working. so they go to a lot of changeups — fastballs and changeup. That’s another one of our absolutes, the changeup percentage we have.

“Cutters aren‘t impacted as much as sliders, but it’s not a pitch we teach initially. It’s a little tough on the arm. I think sliders and cutters are in general. The concern is that the extra pronation, to the side of the ball, can affect an elbow if it’s not thrown properly, or if you’re gripping it too tight. But it’s something we’ll add to the repertoire if it’s needed, maybe later on when their arms are developed and their delivery is sound enough.”

On mechanics and focus: “My view on mechanics is that they’re important for health. But in general, when his foot lands and his arm is in position to throw the ball, I’m not going to mess with him much. The last thing I want my pitchers to be dependent upon is their mechanics. The more you have your thoughts around yourself, and not where the catcher is… it’s pretty hard to switch them.

“Learn to trust your eyes and your hand. Develop a level of concentration that’s a higher standard and focus. I believe concentration is a learned habit. I’ll have drills where I’ll put a target down, with no catcher, and have them throw at it. It’s kind of like in the circus when you’re trying to knock the bottles down, or you’re trying to dunk the person in the water tank. You want be able to focus on something and throw at it without thinking about how to do it.

“These guys are in their twenties and thirties, and have been throwing a baseball since they were 10 years old. Most of these guys had pretty good rhythm and deliveries, and got signed without thinking about that stuff. Then they got to pro ball and were taught so much about deliveries that they kind of lost focus on how to compete to the target.

“Mechanics are important to keep the guy healthy, and there are certain things they do, but I’ll pay more attention to their focus, how they’re competing in the game, and how they’re pitching to a batter — you know, have they changed the sequence? I’ll look at the film, and if he’s getting hit, and 99% of the time he’s not hitting his target… you know, once he starts hitting his target, and he’s still getting hit, now we’re going to look at his sequences. When the sequences are changed, now I’ll look at his mechanics to see if he’s tipping pitches, or something like that.”

On video and reports:
“We’ve invested a lot of finances in our video; we’ve got state-of-the-art equipment. It’s very good, at times, to go back if a guy has gotten into bad habits. We can take video and put [them] side by side to see when he was throwing low, and when he wasn’t, and see if there are any mechanical discrepancies. Maybe it’s something subtle. We can pick up through video what maybe your naked eye can’t see. I’ll use it to find out if their arm is on time. And for scouting purposes, it’s huge. But here again, it’s a tool that’s good as long as it’s not overused. You can overuse video.

“With reports… let’s say were looking at how [an opposing hitter] has been hitting sliders. The reports are grouping in a lot of different types of sliders. It may be that the guy isn’t hitting the good ones, or even the more average sliders, he’s mostly hitting below-average sliders.

“In general, the more you can focus on making your pitch — then you just have to find out if your stuff is good enough in the zone, or if you have to maybe go out of the zone a little bit with your strikes. Or do you need to pitch in a bit more, to open up away? Scouting reports are good, and I used them when I pitched, but once I went out there, sometimes I saw I could get a hitter out a different way. It’s important to understand that reports are a foundation to go of off, and then you build from that.”




Print This Post



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


13 Responses to “Q&A: Jim Wright, Colorado Rockies Pitching Coach”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Sean says:

    Yawn.

    -7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. rockymountainhigh says:

    This guy has Chacin, Chatwood and DLR pitching way beyond what could have been expected, and he did a great job with the bullpen the last few years. The Rockies need to look at how they draft and develop pitchers, because these three, Ubaldo and Francis are the only pitchers they’ve ever developed. Pomeranz looks like the latest bust. Very frustrating.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Guest says:

      Why was Pomeranz was the guy they targeted in the Jimenez deal? He has always been a 2 pitch pitcher w/ a fastball that hasn’t regained its velo since his appendectomy and a knuckle curve that just does not have much action at altitude. His repertoire isnt made to succeed in Colorado.

      They should just trade the kid for a prospect w/ a solid changeup so everybody wins.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • jfree says:

      To me, Pomeranz looks like a pitcher who will best learn how to pitch by going into the bullpen for long relief. His MLB stats are OK up to about 75 pitches – and then – ugly. I’m not sure the idea of a fixed 5 man rotation – completely separate from bullpen – works that well at Coors. The value of a fixed rotation is the “routine” of it – x days off, predictability of starts, knowing those first batters of the opponent, etc – but that assumes that you already know the quirks of altitude. Learning those quirks is best done with unpredictability and more frequent appearances – not predictability.

      and realistically, I think he stills needs some AAA work.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Sean says:

    He admits to certain pitches having less value at home, yet definitively states his pitchers should pitch the same both home and away. Just get a feeling from this interview that his process lacks the progressive approach you see more often from coaches today.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Guest says:

      Yeah there’s not much new info here… Keep the ball down and lots of changeups instead of breaking balls. Placing a priority on quality defenders might help…

      Other than that, it seems like the only way to suppress offense is to move the stadium off the mountain

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jeremiah says:

        It’s not on the mountain. It’s in Denver.

        He does seem a bit old school, but I think the emphasis on pitching down is probably a good thing for Rockies’ pitchers. With the infielders they have, and the less dense air, ground balls are a significantly better outcome than balls in the air.

        I’m not sure how much is directly due to Wright and organizational philosophy versus random luck, but the HR/FB rates of Chacin, Chatwood, and De La Rosa are astounding.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Dan Rozenson says:

      I’ve actually done some research on this topic and I found that sliders are a much better option than curveballs, and that changeups are not very effective.

      http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=20069

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • jfree says:

        I read that article when published and enjoyed it. The one big question I had re the batting outcomes was — different pitches tend to be thrown in very different situations – ahead in the count, behind in the count, platoon splits, etc. Those different situations themselves make a huge difference in producing different outcomes.

        Is your assumption that the pitch frequencies in each of those situations are the same at Coors as in other parks? Because I would assume that the pitch frequencies are actually a bit different — and more significantly that the frequencies of those situations themselves may be quite different.

        IOW – a slider may work just as well as an out pitch to oppositehanded batters at Coors as elsewhere – but if Coors itself makes it tough to get to that “out situation”, then the slider is less important and a good fastball (or other high command or non-platoon pitch) is more important.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • jfree says:

        Also as an aside — do you know how PitchFx actually adjusts for altitude? I know they use algorithms to calculate the pitch trajectories (and that would include air pressure among other inputs) but do you know how the system actually accepts the input? Is it a manual input — or do they hardcode whatever machinery is at Coors?

        I ask this because anyone who lives in Denver knows that even simple things like barometers don’t actually work here using the “as manufactured” settings. The air pressure here is far far lower than the lowest number on any barometer. So we have to play games and pretend that 25.5 (fair here) equals 30 (fair everywhere else) and then adjust stormy/etc from there. And if barometer manufacturers don’t include Denver in the realm of the “possible” – how does PitchFx?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. jfree says:

    I really like this interview. I’ve been a Rockies fan for years – but never thought highly of the competence of the front office or coaching staff. Wright is saying exactly what I’ve been thinking for years about pitching at Coors. But finally in a way that can be communicated to pitchers themselves so that they don’t need to figure it out on their own.

    With Apodaca in the front office, hopefully the Rockies can now scout the future Rockies pitchers better (right pitching repertoire, mental makeup, etc) and use the minor league affiliations (esp Rookie, A, and AAA for uniquely “altitude” stuff) to better develop them for Coors. For the first time ever, the Rockies now have almost a career path for coaching – AAA pitching coach –>MLB bullpen coach–>MLB pitching coach–>MLB front office “pitching guy”.

    Potentially I can see most pitchers (exc “closer”) themselves following a similar path – from AAA to MLB bullpen (mid/long relief) to MLB rotation. Coors will never attract “aces” and “#1″s. But who says you can’t build a World Series team on serious rotation and long RP depth?

    I do think that the Rockies should split their rotation a bit between “home pitchers” and “road pitchers” – but that’s not the same as having them pitch differently depending on location.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Guest says:

      Apodaca is awful and has no clue what he is/was doing. Home and road pichers? Come on. What are you going to do on 10+ day homestands or road trips. You just have to draft/ acquire pitchers with sinking action on fastballs with good changeups. Pay more attention to command than velocity/breaking action.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • jfree says:

        I don’t disagree with the pitching repertoires that we need in future. But what makes you think Apodaca is not an improvement over Lachemann in that respect? He actually has 10 years in-game experience seeing pitching at altitude and knowing what works and what doesn’t – even if he wasn’t really able to communicate it with players. There is a big big difference between Apodaca’s job now and his job last year. And my comment obviously says that Wright is an improvement over Apodaca in the pitching coach job.

        re home/away. It is far far easier to find pitchers with a repertoire that works at Coors than it is to train pitchers to adjust their pitching depending on location. Once you accept that (and find the pitchers), it is far more effective to try to maximize the “home” pitchers innings here at Coors than it is to just do the same thing as everyone else in the league (but force your pitchers to do things different at Coors). Likewise, the best way to maximize the trade value of those pitchers who don’t have the right repertoire for Coors is to have them pitch more innings on the road than at Coors. The easiest way IMO is to get rid of most of the one-inning-max RP’s and replace them with long relievers/swingmen. And work scheduling software can be bought for about $50 at Office Depot and can be handled by a secretary.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *