Reflection on 2007 Devil Rays

June 12, 2007

I’ve watched the Devil Rays closely since the birth of the franchise. I watched with elation and pride as they went for pitching and speed, trying to set up a strong young farm system. They hired the perfect manager, Larry Rothchild, who was also a quality pitching coach. With mediocre talent and a few decent arms, he did quite well for the fledgling team. I watched Vince Naimoli destroy the team by releasing good young pitchers and replacing them with mostly disgruntled, undependable veteran hitters in his ridiculous effort to temporarily put a few extra fans (dollars) in the seats.

I watched him blame the demise of a fairly exciting young team on his managers. I watched Lou Pinella build an exciting, young group of offensive bats while his pitching coach decimated a halfway decent pitching corps. The excuse was always the same: “yeah, he throws 100 miles and hour and he has great stuff, but he’s just not coachable.” So 5 or 6 of these “noncoachable” pitchers were basically “fired.” Many, of course, did quite well with other coaches. Logic (there’s that dirty word again) dictates that maybe the “uncoachables” could not be coached by that coach.

Meanwhile, the Devil Rays are in their usual situation, I think, even with a new pitching coach. All of a sudden, Casey Fossum “can’t pitch.” Kasmir is “mediocre.” Ill as it makes me feel, I observe, however, ignorantly, as Fossum throws sidearm, his fingers under the ball, and bats light up like the 4th of July. He throws three quarters, fingers over the ball, and he’s a damn good pitcher: the ball moves up and down, you see, not just sideways. Unlike Kasmir (same problem) who can, for a time, get away with this because of his 95mph fastball, Fossum can’t. What’s more, when Fossum throws sidearm, he steers his pitch and does not finish his throw. Instead of telling Fossum or Kasmir to throw “three quarters,” the coach tells them the weather report or the Dow Jones Average when he goes to the mound.

Did you ever pitch? It looks easy and there are probably 30 outfielders in the Major Leagues who can throw accurately at 100mph or so. Put them on that awkward thing they call the “pitcher’s mound” and they can barely hit the backstop. Two Rays pitchers amaze me. Camp and Orvella. Both have not “good” stuff, but “excellent” stuff. Both pitchers have horrible balance. Camp looks like he’s falling out of bed on every pitch- he never finishes the same way twice. Orvella- every time he finishes with his chest toward the plate, the man is unhittable. Every time he finishes with his chest to the 3rd base side, he is completely hittable. Both of these guys would be better off with a ballet instructor rather than their semi-existent coach.

The message: Don’t give up on these guys- teach them the basics. Get an assistant pitching coach who doesn’t have to worry about holding runners or deciding what pitch to throw or where to throw it- instead teach the basics… those things they teach now in Little League!!!

Allen Finkelstein, D.O.