We have not had a baseball debate in awhile, so I am glad we are covering this… and just in time for the important Braves-Cardinals series.
St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach, Dave Duncan, is an excellent coach who is well respected by his colleagues. While he may not be well known by fans, that does not take away what he has accomplished. As Bleacher Fan stated in the intro, Duncan has had the privilege of mentoring several Cy Young winners. However, I am hesitant to name him the greatest pitching coach of the past 30 years when there was a short, grumpy bald-headed fella down in Atlanta who helped turn that franchise around. That guy’s name is Leo Mazzone, and I believe he is the best pitching coach of the past thirty years.
Mazzone, who is perhaps most distinguished by his constant rocking in the dugout, had the honor of working with the great pitching staffs for the Atlanta Braves all the way through 2005. It is worth noting that the Braves have not made the playoffs since Mazzone left after the 2005 season to go to Baltimore, which, as it turns out, was a horrible career move.
While in Atlanta, Mazzone’s pitchers won six Cy Young Awards. Greg Maddux won three, Tom Glavine won two, and John Smoltz won one. He coached nine 20 game winners and ten different Mazzone-coached pitchers made the All-Star team. During his time in Atlanta, the Braves pitching staff finished first or second in league ERA 12 out of his last 14 years as the Braves won 14 consecutive division titles.
Duncan is credited, and deservingly so, of reviving the career of players like Kyle Lohse, Joel Pineiro, and John Smoltz. He also deserves a lot of credit for developing Adam Wainwright, who ironically came up through the Braves minor league system, into a Cy Young contender. But, Mazzone made similar strides with pitchers over the years.
Mazzone turned Denny Neagle into a 20 game winner in 199. He also revived journeyman John Burkett’s career, which quietly led to an All-Star appearance in 2001. It should be noted that Jaret Wright’s career was revived in 2005 as well. Guess what Neagle and Wright did after they left Atlanta? They signed big contracts with other teams… and tanked with both teams. Hmmmmm… coincidence?
Mazzone always held “Camp Leo” a week before spring training. At Camp Leo, the pitchers would start throwing early and slowly build up their arm strength. It obviously worked. Mazzone also has his starting pitchers throw twice between starts instead of once. It is a unique philosophy, but it is hard to argue with the results.
Again, I am not trying to bring down Dave Duncan. He absolutely has flown under the radar and unfortunately, is not well known by the casual baseball fan. You might be able to make the argument that he is the second best pitching coach. But hands down the best is Leo Mazzone. Rock on Leo!