TigsTown Q&A: Pitching Coach Rick Knapp Pt 1

Tigers pitching coach talks with TigsTown's Mark Anderson to discuss a number of topics when it comes to the Tigers. In part one, Knapp discusses the Tigers' philosophy on pitchers, his background with the Twins and what he's up to this off-season.

TigsTown: What have you got on the docket as far as seeing some of the Tigers pitchers this off-season?

Rick Knapp: I'm going to be heading to Arizona Monday. I've also had on my mind to go down to Puerto Rico to see Weinhardt, and maybe go to the Dominican. That's up in the air still. I'm going to call Robbie here in the next day or so to see what he's up to and how he's doing. I know that his numbers seem to be good, even though it's just started. That's about all I've got planned right now; not much else going on.

TT: Keeping on the theme of talking about some of the younger guys; when you work with one of these guys, how do you balance giving them additional instruction and just taking in what you are seeing and allowing the developmental staff to take the lead on instruction.

RK: That's been the tough part of balancing all this. We're trying to incorporate a universal philosophy, if you will. Part of the stuff I would tell them is going to be pretty generalized information. It's not going to be anything earth shattering, but more or less to show the guys that we're behind them. We support them and let them know that they're not that far away from being a Major Leaguer. Last year I went to the AFL and Robbie and [Andy] Oliver were there, and it turns out that those two guys end up in the Major Leagues the next year. Even when I go to the Instructional League, there always seems to be someone that comes out of there to get to the big leagues next year, whether it was Jesse Crain, Scott Baker, or Matt Garza, somebody always seems to come out of there. We just need to let them know that they really aren't that far away.

TT: You mentioned that you're trying to establish that core philosophy within the organization. Can you speak to that a little bit, and maybe talk about what your ideal vision is for that organizational philosophy?

RK: There are tenants that you have to be able to do when you arrive in the big leagues, if you're going to be a Major League pitcher. It goes back to the simplest things, throwing strikes and changing speeds. Those are the things that are going to make a difference. Throwing strikes, changing speeds, and fielding your position are pretty basic things that I think any pitcher would agree on. Being able to hold runners, keeping the ball in the bottom of the strike zone, getting hitters out on three pitches or less, being able to pitch inside effectively – both on and off the plate, being able to identify situations where you don't have to attack. All of those things are part of that philosophy, and it just helps to hear them from the top. That's part of developing that philosophy. It's important for me to have visibility with the minor league guys.

TT: From a corporate standpoint, it sounds very similar to when a CEO tries to establish a certain corporate culture. You're trying to set a corporate culture among your pitchers, so to speak.

RK: That's exactly right, exactly right. I don't want to go back to where I came from, but the Twins were never known as a pitching organization. In the years when they weren't very good, the pitching was terrible. Quite frankly now, that's what they are known for; the guys that attack the strike zone and don't give in. It's not just about that though. It's about making quality pitches consistently. You have to make your fastball move, mix your pitches, and command things. Look, its good to have that 97, 98, 100 mph fastball, but it's not everything. Verlander gets his strikeouts because he throws a good curveball. He gets a strikeout because he throws the change-up.

TT: Staying on the Twins and Tigers topic for a minute, the two organizations appear – at least on the surface – to have very different strategies for acquiring pitching talent. Dave Dombrowski and David Chadd see that 6-foot-5, 220 pound horse with a big fastball, and they say "Give me that guy." and they try to bring him into the zone. The Twins take a different approach. Do you have a preference for which guy you are handed, or do they both have their pluses and minuses?

RK: With the Twins, we knew we were never going to be an organization that traded players. We weren't going to be trading pitchers. My concern really wasn't with trading anybody. What ended up happening, we would get guys that were command and control oriented, and we'd get their bodies right, get their deliveries right, and then they would throw a little harder. A guy that was throwing 88-90, would throw 90-94 maybe. Then you've got a command and control guy that throws average to a little above-average.

I don't want this to sound negative, but in the end, how you are going to create value in an organization, is by getting guys that throw hard. If you're a scout or someone that has to write a report on all the pitchers you see, you're going to very rarely write a report on a guy if he doesn't throw Major League average. If he didn't have an average fastball, I wouldn't write him. Basically, he wasn't a prospect. With the Twins, we had a lot of guys that didn't have that, but they developed that fastball and had command and control. That's how the organization got its depth.

What the Twins lacked, was a stopper-like pitcher, the guy that could shut you down. When you play the Twins, you don't think you're ever going to get shutout. You might, but you don't expect to. When you draft a guy that throws 94-95 and could gain on that, that's what you are getting; a stopper. When you play a team like the Tigers, with Verlander or Scherzer, there's the potential there to be completely shut down. With the Tigers, when you draft velocity, you have that tool. You have that guy that has a tangible skill that creates value, and they become a commodity. There's obviously validity to that philosophy. When you go down to the Instructional League – no matter who you are – and you see this guy throwing 94, that guy throwing 96, that guy throwing 94, that guy throwing 94, and so on, you say "Holy balls, they've got some arms!" You have to ask if there are any pitchers there, but that's what you have to teach them.

It's good to have good arms, but we have to have width to. If you picture a graph in your mind, and you start with velocity on the left side, and you see a lot of velocity there, but as you move to the right to command, pitchability, and some of these other things, there's not much there. We're not wide in guys that can do that, we're deep in arms, but we need to get wide too.

Stay tuned for Part two tomorrow where Knapp discusses some hot topics from 2010, including the optioning down of Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, as well as his thoughts on Jacob Turner.

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