The San Francisco Giants are known for their pitching. The 2010 and 2012 World Series were won on the shoulders of the hurlers, who were able to shut down some of the best offenses in the game. But the key piece to the pitching success may come from a pitcher who has been retired since 1995.
Dave Righetti had a great career in the Major Leagues, as both a starter and a reliever. Over his sixteen-year career, the lefty, affectionately known as “Rags,” appeared in 718 games, including 89 career starts. He finished his career with a solid 82-79 win-loss record to go along with 252 saves and a 3.46 ERA.
Righetti earned most of his success as a member of the New York Yankees. In his 11 years in the Bronx, his career record was 74-61 with a 3.11 ERA and 224 of his career saves. He earned two All-Star selections, one each in 1986 and 1987, and was also awarded the AL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year in each of those seasons. Righetti also became the first pitcher in history to throw a no-hitter and lead the league in saves in his career.
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Righetti also pitched for three years for the Giants. In 166 games, he compiled a 5-15 record with a 4.61 ERA and 28 saves.
While he enjoyed a successful career as a pitcher, Righetti’s biggest success may be as the Giants’ pitching coach. Righetti has been on the Giants coaching staff since 2000, and his 15 years make him the longest-tenured pitching coach in baseball.
In his time on the bench in the Bay, Righetti’s pitchers have amassed a 3.92 team ERA. Since 2009, the number is down to 3.55, dropping the total significantly. Righetti-led pitching staffs have finished among the top five National League teams in ERA eight times, including leading the league en route to winning the 2010 World Series.
Righetti’s ERA was 4.61 during his pitching career with the Giants. As the pitching coach, the Giants’ staff ERA has been higher than that just once in 15 years, when they finished with a 4.63 total in 2006.
In recent years, the Giants have become famous for turning former castoff pitchers into key guys. While moving to the pitcher-friendly confines of AT&T Park has helped, working with a great pitching coach like Righetti is certainly a factor.
Looking at the 2014 pitching staff, many of the main cogs were once cast aside by their former teams. Ryan Vogelsong is the perfect example. His story is well known throughout the league, as he was a top prospect for the Giants who fizzled out in his time in the Bay and in Pittsburgh. From 2000 to 2006, Vogelsong’s numbers were bad, with a 10-22 record, 5.86 ERA, 1.59 WHIP and 4.4 walks per nine innings ratio.
Jun 4, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong (right) talks to pitching coach Dave Righetti (right) during the seventh inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. The Giants defeated the Reds 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
Following his time in Pittsburgh, the gritty right-hander would play in Nippon Professional Baseball for three seasons before returning to the United States. He rejoined the Giants before the 2011 season on a minor-league contract, and was an immediate revelation when he was called up.
Vogelsong, who CSN Bay Area’s Andrew Baggarly called one of Righetti’s “favorite pupils” in this 2011 article, had his breakout year at 33 years old. He finished with a 13-7 record, 2.71 ERA, an All-Star bid, and the Willie Mac Award. The bond between pitcher and coach may have made the difference in the long journey to stardom.
Vogelsong isn’t the only pitcher that’s found a home under the wing of Righetti. The Florida Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks gave up on Yusmeiro Petit. From 2006 to 2009, he was 10-20 with a 5.57 ERA, 1.422 WHIP, 6.9 K/9 IP, and 2.9 BB/9. He was out of the Major Leagues for two years, and pitching in the Mexican League in 2011.
Since joining San Francisco for one outing in 2012, he has experienced a dramatic career turnaround. Petit’s record with the Giants is 9-6, with a 3.66 ERA and 1.102 WHIP. His strikeouts have increased while his walks have gone down, and he has become known as an extreme control pitcher.
The numbers aren’t the only things working in Petit’s favor. On September 6th, 2013, the big right-hander came within one out of throwing a perfect game as an injury replacement. Earlier in 2014, Petit set the Major League record for retiring 46 consecutive batters. The numbers and accomplishments prove that Petit is a new pitcher.
Other examples of unlikely stalwarts in the bullpen include Jean Machi and Santiago Casilla. Machi spent 11 seasons in the minor leagues before making his big-league debut at the age of 30 in 2012. Since then, Machi has appeared in 130 games with a 2.71 ERA, allowing just .6 home runs and 2.2 walks per nine innings.
Casilla spent six years with the Oakland Athletics, and despite being a highly-regarded prospect, he never lived up to the hype. In 152 games, his ERA sat at 5.11 with a 1.578 WHIP. His walks and home runs were high as well, allowing 4.5 walks and 1.1 home runs per nine innings.
Since switching Bay Area clubs, Casilla has appeared in 285 games over five seasons, and all of his numbers have dropped. His ERA with San Francisco is 2.10, with a 1.13 WHIP. The big difference is walks and home runs, as he has allowed just 3.6 walks and .5 home runs per nine innings. He has cut his ERA down by three runs and cut down on home runs by half, while walking almost a batter less per nine innings.
A good pitching coach will make his staff better. Righetti has shown over his fifteen-year tenure with the Giants that he has a knack for taking other teams’ scraps and helping to turn them into top-of-the-line pitchers.
Asking for the Giants pitching MVP will almost certainly result in Madison Bumgarner as the answer. But Righetti, the man behind the scenes, is the one that seems to make the big difference on this pitching staff.