By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Much has changed in the world of pitching in major league baseball. For instance, Cy Young completed 749 games in a 22-year career that included 511 wins. Bob Gibson won 251 games, while completing 255 of his appearances.
Tom Glavine, who won 305 games and will be eligible for election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014, finished just 56.
See a trend?
Paul Quantrill certainly did, and it paid off for him. He didn’t have a lot of saves (21) or wins (68) in a 14-year major league career spent with seven different teams, but the University of Wisconsin product was one of the best at what he did.
“I am more than satisfied,” Quantrill, who was in Bluefield last week in his role as a minor league pitching consultant with the Toronto Blue Jays. “I certainly wasn’t the most gifted player, but I did my job. I was a real blue collar worker and put in my time and felt like I made a contribution to each and every team I played on.”
Specialization on the mound began during Quantrill’s tenure in the major leagues, which started with Boston in 1992 and ended in Florida in 2005. In between, 44-year-old Quantrill also pitched for Toronto, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Diego and the New York Yankees.
He is ranked 39th all-time with 841 appearances, with 777 of those coming in relief. His role wasn’t to accumulate saves or even finish games. His role was to protect the lead — normally in an eighth inning stint — and then leave the save for the closer in the ninth.
“It was during my generation where it became so specialized that really I probably pitched more eighth innings than probably anyone for 10 years because it didn’t matter how matter how good the starter was going, you took him out,” said Quantrill, a sixth round pick in 1989 by Boston. “It just became part of the game and even more so now that it is so specialized, but that is not such a bad thing.
“You can save some starter’s arms. In the past it used to be the starter would go nine and those days are long gone now.”
How specialized was Quantrill’s role? He led the majors in appearances with 80, 86, 89 and 86 from 2001-2004, but in those 341 games, he actually pitched just 332 1/3 innings.
Yet, he did his role well, earning All-Star honors while with Toronto in 2001, compiling a career record of 68-78 and a 3.83 earned run average.
Quantrill, who retired after the 2005 season, is in his first year in his current role the Blue Jays, where he is sharing his expertise among minor league hurlers hoping to follow his unique path to the big leagues.
“I am working with the pitchers and my job really is come and spend some time with the young lads and our staff as well,” he said, adding with a laugh, “tell them some lies and some stories from when I played.”
Quantrill isn’t trying to interfere with the work of Bluefield pitching coach Antonio Careras, but simply trying to reinforce the message of what it takes to get to the highest level in the game.
“I think mostly my job is to give perspective to them, showing things they need to do, it is not so much the technique,” Quantrill said. “Tony here is fantastic, but sometimes you just need another voice, if you are listening to the same guy every day...
“You can tell them a direction they need to start heading or applying themselves in a certain manner than they have been and hopefully help themselves move on.”
While most major league starters want to remain in the game as long as possible, Quantrill was part of a change in philosophy in which it became the job of the manager or pitching coach to make difficult decisions in terms of what is best for the player and team.
“When you have some really spectacular pitchers out of a pen, it is not just that he is getting tired and even if he has got his stuff working, it might be the hitter’s third time around the order,” Quantrill said. “These hitters, I like to tease them, a lot of them are not too bright in the big leagues, but collectively they are going to beat you up.
“They are large men with pieces of wood in their hands so sometimes it really comes down to where it is the manager’s decision because any competitor wants to keep the ball in his hands.”
The approach of taking out a starter just because that is how it is done has come under criticism, especially from traditionalists, but Quantrill said there are reasons for the madness.
“The top pitchers always want the ball, but simply put I think there are times when that specialty is needed,” he said. “It happened for a reason, it is not that we are all crazy in this baseball world because when you can bring in a guy that is fresh and not tired and they haven’t seen him that particular day, it can make quite a difference.”
Quantrill played a role that has continued to expand. He made the All-Star team as a specialist in 2001 while with the Blue Jays, while several relievers receive the same honor in last week’s Mid-Summer Classic.
“I think if a guy is going good and if they have trained their body to stay and go longer in games then that is fine,” Quantrill said. “I guess it is no different than it has always been. It is a tough decision, but as the manager with the help of the pitching coach they have to decide, ‘Is my specialty guy now a step up from where my guy that has gone seven innings, is he getting tired.’
“I guess it has always been the same. It is just that in the past they didn’t have as many specialty guys that could come in. If you were that good you happened to be a starter, now you have guys who are throwing 100 miles an hour, it is crazy.”
Only one pitcher — Tampa Bay’s James Shields with 11 in 2011 — has completed at least 10 games since 2000. Quantrill says that starters could finish more games, but it’s rare.
San Francisco hurler and two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum recently threw 148 pitches to complete a no-hitter, and was pounded in his next outing. Johan Santana needed 134 pitches in the first no-hitter in Mets’ history last season, and has never been the same.
Quantrill isn’t sure that Lincecum will ever throw that many pitches again.
“I think it is a one-time thing, I personally think at times we are probably over-protective. The young men train their bodies and then train their bodies to go a certain number of pitches,” Quantrill said. “Every game is different though, there are times you go nine innings and you hardly feel like you have worked because ‘I started a good chunk of my career’ and now there are times you go five innings and they have just had it.
“If they work you over one inning where you have thrown 30-plus pitches, that seems to be what gets guys more than anything. Lincecum has got really good mechanics, but that is always part of the excuse.”
Quantrill doesn’t focus on the mechanics of pitching as part of his role with the Blue Jays. He is trying to get his prospects to simply compete.
“I think from my perspective that is what I like to talk about,” Quantrill said. “I certainly wasn’t the most talented in my group coming up through even the Red Sox organization.
“What you can learn pretty quickly is whether you are a person that learns to learn. Sometimes that is what school teaches you is if you learn to learn, we all have our specialty thing that we are good at or we wouldn’t be playing pro ball.
“I remind them you might not throw 96 like this guy over here, but he is having a hard time hitting the barn door and you are hitting it and that can be the difference that makes you special.”
It is that ability to figure it out and then harness his role that helped Quantrill play 14 seasons in the big leagues. That is, ultimately, the goal of every person — pitcher or position player — among the current crop of Blue Jays.
“I just like to see guys get the most out of their ability,” he said. “If that means the big leagues I will be very, very pleased for them and the organization, but if doesn’t mean the big leagues, as long as they can look back at their career and say ‘You know what, I gave it the best I had,’
“For me the most important thing is guys with high compete level and they don’t get intimidated by those around them or the other team and go out and compete. I love watching guys like that.”
—Contact Brian Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org