The decision to hire Randy St. Claire as the Marlins' new pitching coach is generating a fair degree of feedback, most of it negative, and most of it built upon his dismissal in June by the Washington Nationals. The rationale tends to follow along the lines of "How in the world could the Marlins stoop so low as to hire a pitching coach who was fired by the crummy Nats?"
But when you compare his staffs' numbers against the ones produced by the Marlins during St. Claire's six-plus seasons with the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals, the results might surprise you, especially when you factor in what little --and I can't emphasize enough how little it was -- he had to work with.
Let's start with those champion Marlins of 2003 since that was the year St. Claire took over as pitching coach in Montreal. The '03 Marlins adhered to the Larry Beinfest motto of "pitching, speed and defense." It was anchored by a balanced starting staff of three 14-game winners in Brad Penny, Dontrelle Willis and Mark Redman, a 12-game winner in Carl Pavano, and a 9-game winner and soon-to-be World Series sensation in Josh Beckett. Including the bullpen, the Marlins' ERA that season was 4.04. While that figure out-ranked nine NL clubs, it was a tick inferior to St. Claire's Expos, who ended up at 4.01. His starting staff that year consisted of Livan Hernandez, Javier Vazquez, Tomo Ohka, Zach Day and Claudio Vargas.
One season doesn't a reputation make, and St. Claire's Ex-Nats haven't exactly enjoyed much, if any, success overall. Then again, he wasn't the one trading Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens to the Indians for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew (thank you, Omar Minaya), or dealing Vazquez to the Yankees for Nick Johnson, Randy Choate and Juan Rivera (Minaya again).
So how did St. Clarie's talent-challenged staffs perform overall when compared to the Marlins over the same time frame?
Here are the 10 pitchers who started most often for the Ex-Nats from 2003-09: Hernandez (125 starts), Tony Armas (65), John Lannan (64), John Patterson (50), Ohka (49), Tim Redding (48), Day (42), Jason Bergmann (42), and Vargas, Vazquez and Esteban Loaiza (34 each).
Now, here are the top 10 for the Marlins during those seasons: Willis (162 starts), Scott Olsen (97), Ricky Nolasco (85), Beckett (76), Josh Johnson (71), Pavano (63), Penny (53), A.J. Burnett (51) Brian Moehler (46), and Chris Volstad (43).
If you were a pitching coach, which of those two groups would you take?
And yet, for all its supposed talent, the Marlins pitchers (including relievers) from 2003-09 have fared only slightly better than the Ex-Nats. The aggregate ERA for the Marlins over that span is 4.33. For St. Claire's Ex-Nats, it's 4.50. The difference works out roughly to about one earned run per week over the course of those seven seasons. Remember, the Marlins have enjoyed five winning seasons during the '03-'09 stretch. The lowly Nationals? Just one.
It's going to be interesting to see whether St. Claire can wring improvement out of a Marlins staff that last season didn't live up to promise. Only this much appears certain for now: a prospective rotation of Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Chris Volstad, Anibal Sanchez and (pick one), Andrew Miller, Sean West and Rick VandenHurk is a significant upgrade over anything St. Claire has worked with in the past.