The U Files Case # 25: The New Ruhle

When new Mets manager Art Howe was imported from Oakland, he wanted to bring along his old pitching coach Matt Peterson, who's gained acclaim for his work with the Athletics. Alas, Peterson opted to remain an A. So, the Mets interviewed candidates and came away signing veteran coach Vern Ruhle. Ruhle coached for the Houston Astros from 1997 through 2000, then for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2001 and 2002.

I entered every pitcher changing coaches under Ruhle into a spreadsheet, with the starters on one page and the relievers on another.

Fifteen starters have changed coaches to Ruhle during his tenure, not including Randy Johnson, who was traded in mid-year and will be discussed separately. Ruhle has had the honor of working with Mike Hampton, Darryl Kile, and young Randy Wolf over his seven years. Otherwise, he's dealt with such luminaries as Omar Daal, Pete Schourek, Jose Lima, Sean Bergman, and Amaury Telemaco.

The first year of the study (year 1 Before Ruhle), fifteen pitchers logged 1964.1 innings. Darryl Kile (219), Shane Reynolds (239), and Randy Wolf (206.1) worked over 200 innings. Mike Hampton (107), Reynolds (105), Robert Person (130), Wolf (108), and Bruce Chen (143) posted an ERA+ over 100. (ERA+ is the ratio of league ERA to ERA. 100 is average and over 100 above average). Jose Lima, to be converted into a starter in 1998, pitched 72.2 innings and posted an ERA+ of 89 as a reliever.

As a whole, the group was nearly six percent below average, posting an ERA+ of 94.3.

The next year (the first Under Ruhle), the fifteen pitchers worked 2198.2 innings. Hampton (233), Kile (255.2), and Person (208.1) pitched over 200 innings. Hampton (104), Kile (155), Bergman (109), Person (102), Wolf (116), Dave Coggin (102), Nelson Figueroa (103), and Ramon Garcia (108) posted an ERA+ over 100. Lima pitched 75 innings and posted an ERA+ of 76.

The fifteen pitchers posted an ERA+ of 105.4, up 10.1 points from the previous year.

Seven pitchers pitched a second year under Ruhle. Hampton (211.2), Reynolds (233.1), Lima (233.1), and Wolf (210.2) pitched over 200 innings. Hampton (121), Reynolds (116), Lima (110), and Wolf (118) posted an ERA+ over 100. Sean Bergman pitched 99 innings to an ERA+ of 81. Person pitched 87.2 innings and posted an ERA+ of 70. Coggin pitched 77 innings and posted an ERA+ of 81.

As a group, these seven pitched 1152.2 innings and posted an ERA+ of 107.2.

Thirty-one relievers pitched under Ruhle after changing coaches, most notably including Astros closer Billy Wagner. Octavio Dotel pitched one year under Ruhle, but before he became the force he is today. The Phillies closer in 2001 and 2002 was Jose Mesa, who resurrected his career under Ruhle. The group pitched 2020 innings in 1 B.R.. Seventeen pitchers posted an ERA+ over 100 in this group, paced by Wagner's 158. As a group, the relievers posted an ERA+ of 101.8.

In the second year of the reliever study (1 U.R.), the group pitched 1134.1 innings and posted an ERA+ of 109.7, improving nearly 8 points over the prior year. Before crunching the numbers, I'd been sure the group had declined, as more pitchers (22) declined than improved (9). It seems the pitchers that improved pitched more innings on average and showed a bigger improvement.

Nine relievers pitched a second year under Ruhle, working 453.2 innings to an ERA+ of 99.3.

Randy Johnson was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the Astros for a bounty that included Freddy Garcia. During the year up to the trade, the Big Unit pitched 160 innings and posted an ERA+ of 108. After the trade, his Unitness pitched 84.1 innings to an ERA+ of 318. Over the course of 11 starts, he was 3.18 times more effective at preventing runs than the average pitcher. His Unitness, indeed. The next year, he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks and went mad.

Ruhle hasn't the experience in bringing up young aces as his manager, Art Howe. He has helped along young guns Randy Wolf and Vicente Padilla for the Phillies. Wolf improved as I've shown from an ERA+ of 108 to 116 to 118, pitching the last two years under Ruhle and pitching over 200 innings in the first and third years. Padilla had his first full year as a starter in 2002, and pitched 206 innings to an ERA+ of 115.

In total, a sample of over 45 pitchers improved from an ERA+ of 98.1 to an ERA+ of 106.9 when changing coach to Vern Ruhle. In smaller samples, those who've stayed for a second year under Ruhle backed up their solid numbers with more solid numbers. Ruhle, not known as one of the more brilliant pitching gurus in the league, has nonetheless done good work. His failing is a lack of remarkable eye-popping successes. Leo Mazzone will sit atop his mountain in Atlanta and try to pop a lot of eyes with a staff of more questions than answers. Ruhle will work with a staff of surer things, and history shows he'll lead them to success.



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