The importance of Rick Adair.
The Detroit Tigers made Rick Adair their big league pitching coach with three weeks left in the 1996 season, after Jon Matlack resigned for personal reasons. Adair was a sensible choice, not only because he’d served as Detroit’s AAA pitching coach in 1995 and roving minor league pitching instructor until the September promotion in 1996, but also because he had a couple seasons of experience not long before as Cleveland’s big league pitching coach.
Detroit’s 1996 ERA under Matlack was 6.38, baseball’s worst by nearly a full run.
Under Adair’s watch in 1997, the Tigers shaved nearly two runs off its team ERA, finishing sixth in the American League with a 4.56 mark.
In what was the first full season in the bigs for each, Justin Thompson (age 24) went 15-11, 3.02 and made the All-Star Team, and Brian Moehler (age 25) went 11-12, 4.67. Journeyman Willie Blair (age 31), pitching for his sixth major league in eight years and working as a full-time starter for the first time, went 16-8, 4.17.
The trio came into the 1997 season with a collective lifetime 4.72 ERA. In 1997, the three combined to post a 3.88 ERA under Adair’s tutelage.
After three full seasons as Tigers pitching coach (the first under Buddy Bell, the second under Bell and Larry Parrish, and the third under Parrish — with infield instructor Perry Hill a fellow coach on all three staffs), Adair’s next post was as Atlanta’s minor league pitching coordinator, from 2000 through 2003.
In those four seasons, Adair oversaw a farm system that pumped out a number of future big league pitchers, among which were Adam Wainwright, Horacio Ramirez, Jason Marquis, Matt Belisle, Kyle Davies, Matt Harrison, Chuck James, Jo Jo Reyes, and Dan Meyer (who keyed the Braves’ deal for Tim Hudson). All but Ramirez, Marquis, and Belisle broke into professional ball at a time when Adair was in charge of Atlanta’s minor league pitching program. Every one of them progressed under Adair’s supervision.
There was a story a few days ago noting that Nolan Ryan, when asked if Adair was considered a candidate for the Rangers’ open pitching coach post, said he “likes [Adair] where he is right now.” I’m sure Adair would like the opportunity to return to the big leagues — where he has proven the ability to get results out of young starting pitchers — but the role that he’s filled here the last four years is a vital one, and it’s hard to argue with the idea that Texas has a superstar in place. Right where he is.
In 2008 alone, the Rangers saw pitchers like Harrison, Derek Holland, Neftali Feliz, Martin Perez, Michael Main, Tommy Hunter, Jared Hyatt, Doug Mathis, Wilfredo Boscan, Blake Beavan, Neil Ramirez, Carlos Pimentel, Kyle Ocampo, and Kennil Gomez take big steps forward developmentally, which is to say nothing of the strong debuts of draftees like Tim Murphy, Joe Wieland, and Corey Young. Credit the players, of course, and the scouts and the baseball operations officials who acquired them, but don’t overlook the job that those putting the minor league pitching program in place, and implementing it, have done.
The Rangers are fortunate to have Adair around, not to mention Andy Hawkins (in whatever role he’ll fill in 2009) and minor league pitching coaches Keith Comstock, Terry Clark, Dave Chavarria, Danny Clark, Mike Anderson, Carlos Pulido, and John Burgos. Nobody doubts that the long-range plan here is predicated on the depth that Texas has built in minor league pitching, and on developing those pitchers so that they are capable of contributing, and ready to do it, at the big league level.
In a Dallas Morning News interview that Adair gave Mike Hindman a couple weeks ago, the 50-year-old said of Main: “Mentally he’s easily the most polished guy out of high school I’ve ever been around. The only comparison I can think of is [Adam] Wainwright when I had him, and you know where Wainwright is.”
Where Wainwright is now is St. Louis, locked up by the Cardinals — before he’d even reached arbitration eligibility — on a four-year contract with two club options, as a career 27-16, 3.48 pitcher. Where he was, in 2006, was on the mound for the Cardinals in the post-season, as a rookie, permitting no Padres, Mets, or Tigers runs over nine appearances, winning one game and saving four others, walking two in 9.2 innings while striking out 15, the final of which was Brandon Inge on three pitches, to end the World Series.
Wainwright spent the first four years of his professional life being carefully developed by Adair and his crew, before the Braves traded the then-22-year-old after the 2003 season to St. Louis with Marquis and Ray King for J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero.
Whoever the new Rangers pitching coach will be, whether it’s Rick Peterson or Dave Wallace or Mike Maddux or someone else, is going to be expected, more than anything, to help Main and Holland and Perez and Wieland and all those other young arms — a deeper stable than the Braves had from 2000 to 2003 and certainly more critical — make the transition where others in the past have failed.
Through scouting, drafting, trading, and — unquestionably — developing, there’s never been an armada this strong of pitching prospects bearing down on Arlington, and even if Adair is not a finalist to get what would be his third big league pitching coach assignment, he doesn’t get enough credit for the strength and depth of the pitching crop that the new pitching coach will have entrusted to his care.
I was initially a bit disappointed to learn that Adair wasn’t part of the lineup of interviews for the big league job.
But not nearly as disappointed as I’d be if he weren’t part of this organization, in some very important capacity.