Is it a good thing when a team's fortunes hang on the pitching coach?
The Angels have had a busy off-season with a great deal of roster turnover. They've lost so many veterans and added the likes of Hideki Matsui and Joel Pineiro. With so many changes afoot in the Angel clubhouse, somebody is going to have to step up to help put everything in order for the Angels to continue their dominance of the AL West. But don't go looking at the likely suspects for who the person might be because you'll never guess... well, unless you read the title of this post... which you probably did. Crap, so much for the surprise. OK, I'll just say it, the most important man in the Angel franchise is now pitching coach Mike Butcher.
Just to put it in perspective, here are a list of things that Mike Butcher will be tasked with this season:
- Get Scott Kazmir back on track after a rough 2009 season and maybe even cultivate him all the way to legitimate ace status.
- Foster Jered Weaver's continued growth into a hopeful leader of the Angels' pitching staff both on and off the field.
- Make sure that Joel Pineiro doesn't revert to his pre-2009 form in which he sucked... horribly.
- Figure out why Ervin Santana is so wildly inconsistent and not the dominant pitcher that his talent dictates he should be.
- Work with Joe Saunders to get him back to All-Star form or at least help him continue to inexplicably overachieve in the wins column for another season.
- Fix Brian Fuentes so that Angel fans don't soil themselves every time he is called upon to close a game.
- Do something with Fernando Rodney so that his signing doesn't look as egregious as it currently appears.
- Help Kevin Jepsen build upon his success in the second half of last season and not regress so badly that he befalls the same fate as Jose Arredondo.
- Get the bullpen back to being a strength of the Angel team rather than the grease fire it was last year.
That's so much work to do that I am tired just writing it all up, I can only imagine how Butcher must feel since he is the guy that will have to do all of it. Butcher is certainly up to each of those tasks on an individual basis, but as a whole, the workload is rather daunting.
The good news is that Mike Butcher is held in high regard amongst both the fans and baseball insiders, but the fact remains that he is still just one man and only capable of so much. He did work a minor miracle last season in keeping the Angel pitching staff afloat amidst a veritable plague of injuries and ineffectiveness, but he will need another miracle to check off every item on his to-do list for this season. Butch probably doesn't need to accomplish each and every task outlined above, but he is certainly going to have to succeed at several of them. The Angel offense was awfully good last season and covered up for a lot of the pitching staff's shortcomings, but with the loss of Chone Figgins and Vlad Guerrero and at least one or two of the Angel hitters coming back down to earth, 2010 is likely to be a year that the pitching staff needs to carry the line-up instead.
I can't remember another time where the performance of every single pitcher on the team depended so much on the coaching they received. As scary as that thought is, I actually feel relatively comfortable with the idea of Butch being the man responsible. If he can just find a way to balance all his duties, the Angels will be just fine. If he can't, well, who knows.