Gary Lance: It is not easy at the Triple-A level when you have so many changes personnel wise between the big leagues and Triple-A and even Double-A and Triple-A. It is not easy. The only criteria I use – and I am not a stat guy – is film if it is pertaining to mechanics – has he gotten to where we want him to get – and I guess overall the main thing I gauge myself by is at the end of the year I ask myself, ‘Is this guy as good as he can be?' Not everyone can throw 100 MPH but what I try to do as a coach is I try to visualize what a guy should be doing and then try to get some kinesiology and mechanics going where he can reach that level to be pitching at, which is his ultimate tools and skills and abilities.
Do you find it difficult to get through to some of these guys since they have gone through the system, they have been around three, four and five years, they have gotten teaching from every level along the way and are ultimately one step away. Is there a stubbornness that you have to break through the barrier?
Gary Lance: Yes, sometimes there is a barrier where – I call it "incorrect success" where a guy has gotten to where he is by doing it incorrectly and it is very hard to get a guy to understand that with those parameters he has topped out at what he can do. They always think that is good enough for the next level up and it is not. There is a reason why guys are in their third, and fourth, and fifth years of Triple-A baseball.
The answer might be that they maximized their potential and that is all they have got. A lot of times that is not the answer – they are approaching their skill incorrectly and it is very hard to get them to understand that. You have to get them to use different avenues and different doors – sometimes you have to come in the back door.
Obviously, you had a lot of relievers who had success this past year and many made big contributions in San Diego. Is that a measure of success for you – and I know you said you look at their progress from different levels – but it has to count for something that you are sending prepared pitchers to the big leagues.
Gary Lance: True. But, I don't want them to just get there, I want them to have success there. That is why when Cassidy came back that last time I basically said, ‘Enough with that slider. I got one and let's work on this.' And he did and when he went up to the big leagues he struck out a lot of guys and I talked to one of our guys and he said most of them were on that new pitch. I trashed the slider and called it a cutter. He focused on the last digit of the second finger as a pressure point and it really worked for him. I don't want them, personally, to just get there. I want them to have success and stay there, like Clay Hensley or hopefully an Adkins now and be successful there. That is when I say I have done my job.
The poster childhood for that was probably Cla Meredith. What did you see down at Triple-A that had you convinced he would be successful when he went to San Diego?
Gary Lance: More than anything with Cla I emphasized that he does not need to throw the ball harder than he does. A lot of it was a mental adjustment and a confidence thing – repeating. I said, ‘Let's just become a machine.' A machine cranks out license plates, none better than the other, none worse than the other. I said, ‘This is what you have to do to become successful in the major leagues. You are not going to ever throw 95 and you don't need to. You have a unique release point that has late movement.' He had trouble with left-handers when he came from Boston and I said, ‘Listen, don't try and strike them out. I think what you are trying to do is your anxiety level raises with lefties and you come out of your mechanics to leave the ball up in the zone and when you do that it flattens out obviously.
My stuff with him was mental and accepting who I am, what kind of pitcher I am and becoming a machine-like with it to the point of nausea – which I think is what he did when he went up there. Good God. He took it to heart. Let them ground out. Let them 6-3 or 4-3 all day long and he must have gotten better, obviously, at getting lefties out when he got up there.
It makes it easier when you just say, ‘here, hit the top half of this baseball' instead of trying to throw the ball past the bat swing, which he was trying to do when we got him.
You mentioned a little bit of the mental side. Tim Stauffer comes to mind when you say that. Obviously, he was in the big leagues and went up there this season and had a fantastic start. Triple-A – he did not have the year he had hoped.
Gary Lance: He has been an enigma. I have seen it before and all of a sudden one day they wake up and forgot he struggled in Triple-A. I have not given up on him and he can obviously pitch in the big leagues. He is a special case with me in that I have pretty much let him pitch, even now. I have let him pitch the way he wanted to pitch and it just hasn't worked. The reason is I can tell by people's expressions, demeanor and body language whether they are willing to listen or not.
A huge part of coaching too is to approach guys when they are willing to listen. It doesn't do anybody any good to rant and rave to a guy that it is bouncing off of him.
So when they come to you is when you have them?
Gary Lance: That is a no-brainer but sometimes we don't have that much time with people. You have to get down and find them in the clubhouse, maybe on an airplane at a time when they will be receptive and approach them. Sometimes through the side door and sometimes through the back door. Sometimes I plant seeds so they think it is their idea. We will be talking at a terminal in Salt Lake City and I will say, ‘Hey, have you ever considered throwing a circle change instead of the palm ball thing you got? What do you think? Do you think that might work?' Two days later they will come to me, ‘you know what I was thinking about maybe going to a circle change. What do you think?'
That is all part of the tools we have to use as coaches to get someone to do something when you know the frontal approach is not going to work. They have the low self-esteem to ward off any attempts to help them because their self-esteem can't stand to think anyone else can help them.
Sometimes you have to know when a guy is receptive and his self-esteem is where it needs to be and when a guy is really struggling and he is going to be on the defensive instead of being willing to absorb it like a sponge.
How does that apply to Tim Stauffer?
Gary Lance: I will say, ‘ok, should we start on some new stuff here? What do you think? Obviously, the old stuff is not working.'
Is it correct that Tim was getting back to the pre-surgery form during the season where he was hitting 92-94 with his fastball?
Gary Lance: Yes, there was a window in there when he did; he was starting to look like his old self. Once again, it was incorrect success. It was pushing the ball, opening up early, left side leaving early, and with a low elbow pushing the ball. He was pushing it at 91, 92, 93. There is always a reason, especially a young guy when they hurt themselves. They are doing something wrong kinesiology-wise. You have to figure it out and get to him before he hurts himself again. It is hard for him to stay closed with that left side and protect.