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BOSTON -- Is there room for two mad scientists in one laboratory?
The Boston Red Sox have an obligation to find out. They swung for the fences when they hired Bobby Valentine as manager, choosing to ignore all the red flags that Valentine has raised over the years because they decided he was the smartest, most experienced and most driven man available.
Now they should decide to do the same with their pitching coach. Rick Peterson scares some people because he thinks too big, too broadly, too scientifically, too new age. Valentine has been down the unconventional route before with Tom House in Texas and might be reluctant to pass that way again.
|Rick Peterson, who has been pitching coach for the Brewers, Mets and A's, has done a lot studying of his craft.|
To which Ben Cherington should say: Get over it.
The least the Red Sox can do is get Valentine and Peterson in the same room, the way Larry Lucchino did with Cherington and Valentine, because the results might surprise all parties involved. Since being hired by the Sox, Valentine has said he is excited at the prospect of learning how to apply the reams of new information he will have at his disposal, claiming that he is ready to embrace the new analytics that have become such a part of the modern game.
If his enthusiasm is genuine, then Valentine should welcome the chance to interview the 57-year-old Peterson, the son of a general manager (Harding Peterson of the Pittsburgh Pirates), a former professional pitcher and a lifetime student of the game whose curiosity has compelled him to devote years of studying everything from Eastern philosophy to biomechanics in order to understand the psychology and science of pitching.
Peterson should be right in owner John Henry's wheelhouse. Henry has expressed great frustration that injuries have played such a significant role in sabotaging the past two seasons for the Red Sox. Peterson has made it a life mission to understand why pitchers get hurt. He makes it sound simple. There are three ways that happens, he has said. It's either because a pitcher has a flaw in his delivery, has insufficient conditioning or has been overused.
But Peterson was not content to speak in generalities. He made a pilgrimage to the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Ala., the center founded by noted orthopedist James Andrews, and studied the biomechanics of pitching. A pitcher's delivery? Andrews and his staff took 42 basic measurements in breaking down a pitcher's delivery -- everything from stride length to foot contact to the bend of the knee at ball release to the speed and angles of elbow and shoulder rotation.
Peterson had pitchers under his tutelage submit to this testing, then created conditioning programs conducive to maintaining a good delivery. He also incorporated a lot of visualization in his preparation, the kind of stuff that triggers eye-rolling among the old-school types.
But what they are missing is that there is much that is old-fashioned about Peterson too. The work ethic, for example, the hours he spends with pitchers going over scouting reports or watching video, talking about the enormous mental and emotional demands faced by a pitcher at the highest levels.
Peterson, like Valentine, is high energy. They both approach their jobs with evangelical zeal. They both bring questions about how veterans will respond to their ways of doing things. Peterson has been a pitching coach for three big league teams -- the Oakland Athletics, New York Mets and Milwaukee Brewers. He has collected disciples along the way -- some, such as Tom Glavine and Al Leiter, have gone into business with him. Peterson runs 3P Sports, an online company that offers a training program for amateur pitchers. He also has done work with Bloomberg Sports in developing their analytics.
Peterson has a little Red Sox in his background -- he was pitching coach for Double-A Trenton in 1997. From there, he went to Oakland, the scene of his greatest success, helping the development of Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson, first as a minor league instructor, then as the A's pitching coach in the "Moneyball" era. Jobs with the Mets and Brewers followed, Milwaukee firing him last winter with a year left on his contract.
Obviously, not everyone has bought into the Peterson way, although his challenge in Milwaukee was daunting; he took over a staff that had allowed the second most runs in the National League in 2009. He was let go after the 2010 season.
The Red Sox already have interviewed Brad Arnsberg, who had Josh Beckett in Florida, served as pitching coach in Toronto and was fired by Houston in midseason this year after a falling out with manager Brad Mills. Mark Wiley, who has extensive managing experience, is available in Florida. And the Sox already have hired former Royals pitching coach Bob McClure in another capacity, but surely will consider him for this job as well.
But there's a compelling argument to be made that Rick Peterson has been preparing for a job like this one his entire career, working in a place that would appear to share his passion for knowledge and outside-the-box thinking.
Maybe two mad scientists blow up the lab. Or maybe they create a new form, wild and wonderful and better than either imagined. Valentine should be brave enough to consider the possibilities.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.