MLB.com Braves beat reporter Mark Bowman:
Still, while battling the storm, McDowell showed the patience and intellect necessary to make progress. The evolution of Macay McBride and Tyler Yates were a result of McDowell’s dedication and patience — two necessary qualities his predecessor didn’t always show.
Had Leo Mazzone been handed this pitching staff and faced the same obstacles, I’m apt to believe last year might have been a disaster on the pitching front in Atlanta. Young pitchers like McBride and Yates need somebody to provide both direction and confidence. With McDowell, they had somebody capable of providing both.
Look, I don’t believe that last year is evidence that McDowell is a bad pitching coach, nor do I think it shows he’s any good. But to say that Mazzone would have done worse is a bit much. I don’t know how you can defend that statement since the Braves pitched even worse after he left with a similar staff. I’m not sure what qualities make someone a good pitching coach—patience and dedication probably aren’t negatives—but Mazzone definitely has them.
In my upcoming book, I update my previous study on Leo Mazzone’s effectiveness as a pitching coach. This study takes into account aging, park effects, defense, pitcher quality, and the run environment of the league. What I find is that during his years in Atlanta, pitchers who pitched for Mazzone and with another pitching coach had ERAs 0.64 lower with Mazzone than without. How does this happen? Pitchers under Mazzone increase their strikeouts by 10% and lower their home run rates by 20%. I could not find any effect on walks. This is interesting, because it fits exactly with Leo’s advice to his pitchers.
Don’t give into the strike zone. This is about making pitches and trying to execute a good pitch. So forget about walks. And don’t throw one down the middle just because you walked a guy. I’d rather you be off the plate a little than give up a three-run bomb.
Furthermore, when pitchers leave Mazzone, they tend to revert to their old form.
Some Leo detractors have pointed to his first year with the Orioles, who had a pretty bad pitching season in 2006. I think his experience was quite similar to McDowell’s: he had a year of adjustment to a new environment and players, coupled with a little bad luck. But let’s not forget that Mazzone had 14 years of success in Atlanta with many different kinds of pitchers: young and old, lefties and righties, starters and relievers, jocks and nerds, future Hall of Famers and Quad-A cast-offs. If you’re looking to call some period of Mazzone’s career a fluke, last year would probably be a good pick.
Maybe Leo Mazzone is overrated, but the evidence indicates that he is good at what he does. Sure a few his former pitchers have complained about him, but many more have offered praise and given him plenty of credit. I was once one of those who thought his reputation was overblown, but I have changed my mind. Leo Mazzone is a damn good pitching coach, and I expect the Orioles to reap the benefits of his expertise for many years to come.