East Bay Express: Moneyball 2.0, The Pitching Whisperer
Oakland A's pitcher Travis Blackley was watching video of the Texas Rangers this summer, preparing to make a start against the league's premier offense, the very one standing in the way of the A's and the American League playoffs. Blackley was deep in study, identifying tendencies, looking for weaknesses in the reigning pennant winner's armor. He looked at a season's worth of at-bats, contemplated dozens of pitchers' approaches. And here is what he saw: "They had one guy who couldn't hit a change," Blackley said, "and the next guy kind of diving and try to cover the far side of the plate." Here's what Blackley didn't see: A's pitching coach Curt Young standing behind him, watching him watch video.
At the time, Blackley had been with the A's for two weeks. He is one of a dozen new pitching faces that have made their way through the Oakland clubhouse this season. Blackley has more than earned the label "journeyman." Nearly thirty years of age, the tattooed left-hander has pitched for the Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks, the New York Mets, the Kia Tigers (Korean Baseball Organization), the Melbourne Aces (Australian Baseball League), several minor league clubs, the Giants again, and, finally, the Oakland A's.
One thing Blackley had learned over the years is that his coaches wanted to see him working. Not this coach. "He told me to turn off the video," Blackley said Young told him. "I didn't at first because I thought I heard it wrong."
Young, guide and guarantor of the twelve arms that make up the best pitching staff in the American League, had seen enough in just a fortnight with the newest of his A's to tell Blackley something he had never heard before. "Curt told me: 'When you are looking at video, you're figuring out what pitch they can't hit, right? But what they can't hit isn't the same as what you can throw.'"
Blackley paused, remembering the moment. "He was telling me: "Don't go in there contemplating how to get them out with your second or third best pitch. Work on your best pitch. Let them adjust.'"