Certain names in baseball become synonymous with the fundamentals that they coach.
The range of talent alone that he’s worked with since 2003 when he took over as the San Diego Padres‘ Pitching Coach is tremendous: Trevor Hoffman, Greg Maddux, Jake Peavy and now James Shields top that list.
Yet, while everyone raves about Darren’s knowledge of baseball and his track record with the team, he has to feel snake-bit right now when it comes to righting the ship and stabilizing this 2015 edition of the pitching corps.
As of May 18th, the Padres had a team ERA of 4.43, making them the 12th best (“best” being a relative term) pitching staff in the National League, per Baseball-Reference. In 2014, the team ERA was more than a full point under that. Bud Black himself addressed this concern after Saturday night’s Nationals game saying, “I’m going to go on record and say that the next quarter, we will be much better that 11th”(which is where the team stood that night). More on that later.
Anyway, James Shields – far and away the Padres’ most successful and dependable starter – is 5-0 despite giving up 12 home runs and 21 earned runs. And as Barry Bloom from MLB.com points out, he’d be 7-0 if not for blown saves by Shawn Kelly and Joaquin Benoit (which is yet another issue for Balsley to deal with).
Tyson Ross leads the National League in walks with 26, and has only won two games in his last eight starts. This is a guy who was an All Star this past season.
Andrew Cashner is now 1-7 after Saturday night’s game – that’s as many losses as he gave up all of last season, by the way – with 10 unearned runs.
Ian Kennedy’s return from the DL has been, to be kind, inconsistent. He gave up 5 earned runs in 4-2/3 innings up in Seattle, and 6 earned runs against the Nationals on Sunday after pitching a no-hitter with 6 Ks through the first 4 frames.
Odrisamer Despaigne is, as Buddy himself put it, a “Jekyll and Hyde” pitcher whose last two starts have been as deplorable as they are forgettable.
And Craig Kimbrel (when he’s even able to get into games) has given up 9 earned runs in 16 appearances and currently has an mind-boggling 5.52 ERA.
So. Many. Issues. And so many different personalities, psychologies, delivery mechanics and states of fatigue to assess, analyze, revamp and hopefully improve upon. All during a time of the season that’s as unrelenting as it ultra-competitive.
The good news (I’m trying to be optimistic here) is that the Padres are either playing at home, or up in LA, right through June 3rd. That alone has to be a relief, being able to address these myriad issues in the comfort of one’s own backyard.
The other good news is that this is Darren Balsley that we’re talking about. As Nick Hundley raved to Corey Brock a year ago, “”He is very well-prepared. The pitchers that come here from somewhere else always say his scouting reports are better than they’ve ever seen. …Guys will run through a wall for him.”
Having been trained by the remarkable Mel Queen back in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, Balsley picked up countless coaching tips, but the one that resonated most was this: “The main thing that Mel taught me was to treat everyone as an individual,” he said. “You can’t just clone these guys and make them robots. If you do that, you’re short-changing yourself as a coach. He taught me to use my eyes and treat each guy as an individual.”
Now Darren has to double down on that approach and apply it to a talented, yet remarkably flawed, group of individuals. With pitching, as with real estate, it’s all about “location, location, location.” The relentless stream of post game quotes we hear about “leaving the ball up,” “not hitting my spots,” “needing to do a better job.” etc., etc. needs to cease. The bleeding has to stop. And Balsley knows all too well that he and the manager (who, lest we forget, was a pitching coach himself) are the only ones who can help stem it.
If they can accomplish this in the next few weeks, they will have effectively saved this season. If not, well, let’s not go there just yet. It’s still, as Bud Black reminds us, only one-quarter into the season. But it won’t be for long.