If and when Terry Francona takes home the Manager of the Year award for the masterful job he did with the 2013 Cleveland Indians, I would hope that he at least takes his pitching coach out to dinner.
Mickey Callaway, a rather unheralded pick for Tito’s coaching staff, deserves a ton of credit for the Indians run to the top of the Wild Card standings. Without his guidance, I don’t think Scott Kazmir is anywhere near the conversation for Comeback Player of the Year (though he might be somewhere near Sugarland Texas, still plying his trade with the Skeeters), and I don’t think Ubaldo Jimenez is lying in bed at night dreaming about the money he’s going to command this offseason. Perhaps Justin Masterson rebounds from a poor 2012, but does he make the All-Star team? My money says no.
What kind of a pitching staff did Callaway inherit this season? Take a look: (WARNING: Viewer discretion is advised)
2012 Indians Pitching:
ERA: 4.78 (14th/Last in the AL)
Walks: 543 (13th)
Strikeouts: 1086 (13th)
Justin Masterson: 4.93 ERA
Ubaldo Jimenez: 17 losses, 5.40 ERA
Now let’s see how the Indians fared under Callaways’ tutelage in 2013:
2013 Indians Pitching:
ERA: 3.82 (7th)
Walks: 554 (14th)
Strikeouts 1379 (2nd)
Justin Masterson: 3.45 ERA
Ubaldo Jimenez: 13-9, 3.30 ERA (<2.00 ERA in September)
Scott Kazmir: 4.04 ERA in 29 starts
Shaving a full run off of a team’s ERA in a season with many of the same parts is remarkable. Pulling Kazmir off the scrap heap and turning him into a serviceable strikeout machine is amazing.
But the voodoo Callaway worked with Ubaldo? Unbelievable.
Here we had a pitcher who had lost his primary weapon (velocity) and was left with his poor control and mediocre stuff… we saw how that translated with his horrific 2012 that had many fans calling for Ubaldo to be cut. I don’t think anyone would have argued with the Indians front office if they DID cut Ubaldo going into 2013; he was that bad.
The work that Callaway did with Ubaldo did not pay immediate dividends. With his fastball averaging about 92mph over 2012 and 2013 combined, Jimenez had to come to terms with the fact that he was not the same fireballer that nearly won him a Cy Young award just a handful of years ago. Instead of falling back on his fastball, Jimenez had to learn to use his offspeed pitches to greater effect… what this meant in the short term (the first half of 2013) was a lot of starts with a lot of pitches. Going into the 2nd half of the season, Ubaldo struggled to get through five innings regularly, averaging around 20 pitches an inning and putting great strain on the bullpen.
But then, slowly but surely, Ubaldo started to become a pitcher. He stopped walking so many hitters (53 in 98 first-half innings, 27 in 84 second-half innings), and he started inducing more swings and misses with his curve ball and changeup. Callaway, in other words, took the ashes of Ubaldo’s career and rebuilt him in the image of a real, honest-to-god pitcher. This is the sort of thing that happens over years at the minor league level, and Callaway accomplished it in under a calendar year with a notoriously stubborn 29-year old veteran.
Even though he was a rookie coach at the major league level, Callaway did not show much patience with those who didn’t buy into his program. Trevor Bauer (another notoriously stubborn pitcher — in fact, he’s so stubborn he makes Ubaldo look positively agreeable) was banished to the minor leagues after he went rogue and pitched out of the stretch against the White Sox in late June. True, the 5 runs in .2 innings may have had something to do with that as well, but Bauer was not seen again on the Major League roster after that debacle, so I’m sure that his “I know better than you do” attitude had a big role in his banishment.
Callaway is only 38 years old (four years younger than Jason Giambi!), but already he commands respect both in the dugout and in coaching circles around the major leagues. When we dissect 2013 and look at all the ways the Indians got to this point — Giambi’s home run against the White Sox, the 10-game winning streak, the 4-game sweeps at home throughout the season, the chemistry — the one thing that should not be forgotten is the amazing work that Mickey Callaway did. It’s very likely it will result in some hardware for Terry Francona, and it just might add a Comeback Player Award to Scott Kazmir’s mantle as well. Justin Masterson was in Kansas City for the All-Star game, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence, either.
If the Indians are going to prevail on Wednesday night and then throughout October, it will be because of the tremendous success of this pitching staff… and for that, we have to thank Mickey Callaway. He may not have had a remarkable career on the mound, but he’s been nothing short of an ace as part of Terry Francona’s coaching staff.