I’ve been re-watching the show “Freaks and Geeks” with my wife lately. For anyone who hasn’t seen the early Judd Apatow show, starring a young James Franco, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segal, it’s recommended.
The show follows high school life in the early 1980s, but does an amazing job of capturing moments that exist for every family, across every timeline. And, since it’s a show about high schoolers, it features a lot of focus on what these characters will become in the future.
Jason Segal’s character in the show is a drummer and a huge Rush fan, which basically makes him the younger version of any and every character he’s ever played in any other Apatow film.
Except, he’s not a good drummer.
He’s a massive Neil Peart fan, and has a 29-piece drum kit to match. When Segal’s character (Nick) goes to audition to be the drummer of a band called Dimension, the band’s initial reaction to his 29-piece set is that he’s too good to play for them.
You see, Nick has exactly what Neil Peart had. He also has the confidence to call himself a drummer, and the confidence to try out for an existing band.
Yet, when Nick looked at the drum set he would be auditioning on, he became nervous, having never played on a set so small.
What resulted was the equivalent of a baseball prospect getting a look in Spring Training, and striking out in almost all of his at-bats.
Nick wants to be Neil Peart. He thinks he knows how to do it. Get the drum set, learn how to play each one, and aspire to be a drummer.
It’s almost like a young baseball player following his MLB icon pitcher. The young player adds an upper-90s fastball and a great curveball, and there’s a belief that one day he could also pitch in the majors, possibly as good as his icon.
This pitcher rocks it in the minors, which are the equivalent of the horrible band practices that Nick has on the show. He dreams about the majors one day. Perhaps he has the confidence that Nick had in the show, to believe he’s an MLB player before anyone else has that thought about his potential.
How many times have we seen this type of pitcher?
How many times have we seen this type of pitcher fail in the majors?
I can tell you that the answer to that last question is “Way more times than we’ve seen a Luis Oviedo situation.”
I don’t want to crown Oviedo’s future after three innings as a Rule 5 pick.
I just want to point out this comparison.
In 2017, I was watching Mitch Keller tear up High-A ball, on his way to emerging to the upper levels.
He had command of his fastball that rivaled MLB pitchers at the time.
He had a plus curveball, although he almost exclusively used the fastball in the Pirates’ still-existing approach of going 60-70% fastball usage for their pitchers.
There was no question he would make the majors, and the only debate was how good he could be.
Mitch Keller was the same age that season as Luis Oviedo is now.
I wonder today, what might have happened if Mitch Keller was called up from A-ball in 2017, just as Luis Oviedo has been now?
He likely would have bombed at the time with the extreme fastball approach. He didn’t know how to pitch, yet. I’m not yet convinced that he’s since been taught the proper way. If he had, we’d be talking about the Pirates building their rotation around him, with no questions about his production in that scenario.
I liken the Pirates’ development approach at the time to an aspiring drummer adding pieces to his set.
They focused more on working on your rudiments on the snare drum than they did in teaching their potential drummers how to play the complete set. Eventually, they taught how to play the other pieces in the set, adding them on gradually. Finally, they’d teach how to play them all together.
Then, they sent all of them to the majors, and we dreamed one of them would become Neil Peart.
Most became Nick from Freaks and Geeks.
The development skills the Pirates had in the lower levels was praised by scouts I talked with. There was legitimate praise for the legitimate pitching prospects that the Pirates were developing.
What this all meant was that the Pirates were doing a great job of teaching their pitchers individual command and control, along with working on improving individual pitches. This allowed them to dominate in the lower levels — where throwers are kings — while struggling in the upper levels — where pitchers rule the land.
The Pirates were trying to develop pitchers, but it seemed like they wanted every drum piece in place, and every rudiment learned before they started teaching how to play the set as a set.
They wanted a pitcher to develop a plus fastball, a plus curveball, plus control, plus command, and an additional secondary pitch or two.
Honestly, there might not be enough time for any prospect to learn all of that.
How many years does it take to learn a single pitch?
How many years does it take to improve your command of a single pitch?
How many years does it take to improve your overall control?
How many years does it take before the organization gives up on a player being able to achieve any of the above?
How many years does it take to realize that none of this matters?
In a league where teams could keep their players forever, the Pirates had a good plan. In a league where you have three or four full years of development before the Rule 5 draft, there doesn’t seem time for such a formulaic approach. Unless, that is, you only want 2-3 good years in the majors from your prospects.
I don’t know how much can be reversed of Keller’s development to get him back on track to where he was expected to end up.
Because of the pandemic, we’ve yet to see what Ben Cherington’s development system will even do with the next version of Keller.
But what if the approach was just to ask a prospect to show you his drum set when he joins the organization? If he can play, then the only approach should be practicing on the complete set as if you’re on the big stage.
If the prospect turns out like Nick from Freaks and Geeks, then that’s when you remove the set, and sit the prospect down with a snare drum and a teacher.
This is a simple approach that will lead the actual drummers (or pitchers) ascending quickly to the majors, while reserving the lower levels for development of the throwers.
The main difference between this and the Pirates’ former approach is that you don’t place every pitching prospect in the “thrower” bin, and force them to work their way out.
That’s an approach that can, and possibly has, ruined some actual pitchers.
(I’ll be digging into Mitch Keller a bit more next week, after spending a lot of time breaking down video on him this weekend.)