Pirates Fire Joe Kerrigan and Gary Varsho

According to Dejan Kovacevic, the Pittsburgh Pirates have fired pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and bench coach Gary Varsho.  Ray Searage has been promoted as the new pitching coach, while Jeff Bannister will become the bench coach, both on an interim basis.

When Kerrigan was added, there was hope that he would be able to finish developing the talent on the major league pitching staff, similar to what he had done in the past with the Montreal Expos and the Boston Red Sox, specifically with Pedro Martinez.  Kerrigan’s was big on control and command, leading to fewer walks.

Things were looking good in 2009.  Zach Duke put up the best season of his career, with a 4.06 ERA, down from a 4.82 ERA the previous season.  His strikeout and walk ratios in 2009 were similar to his 2008 season, although his BAA dropped from .306 in 2008 to .278 in 2009.

The biggest success came from Ross Ohlendorf, who broke out with a 3.92 ERA in 176.2 innings pitched, plus a 5.6 K/9 and a 2.7 BB/9 ratio.  Ohlendorf was lucky with a .265 BABIP, but the walk ratio was a significant improvement over his 4.45 BB/9 ratio in 2008.

Kerrigan earned fame in July 2009 against the Milwaukee Brewers.  After Jeff Karstens was hit at the plate with a pitch, an argument started between Kerrigan and Brewers’ catcher Jason Kendall.  After the game, Kendall referred to Kerrigan as “Dave Kerwin”, and the name was immediately adopted by Pirates bloggers.

None of his success stuck around in 2010.  Ohlendorf now has a 4.23 ERA, which isn’t bad, although he’s allowing one more walk per nine innings compared to his 2009 season, and his FIP is 4.64, so he’s still a little lucky.  Duke is having one of his worst seasons in the majors, with a 5.65 ERA in 108.1 innings.  He’s been a little unlucky, with a high BABIP and a high home run per fly ball rate, but his FIP is 4.86, which still isn’t good.

Kerrigan didn’t have any success stories in 2010, as the entire rotation has been horrible.  Consider the following:

-Paul Maholm has failed to put up his 2008 numbers for two straight years, and has seen his strikeout ratio drop from 6.06 in 2008 to 4.39 in 2010.

-Daniel McCutchen had success at the AAA level, only to get hammered in the majors.

-Charlie Morton had some success in 2009 with the Pirates, but was horrible in 2010 in the majors, and has been just as bad at times in his demotion to AAA.

-Brad Lincoln looked ready for the majors, only to get hit hard in his time up in 2010.  This bit of info also didn’t help, from Dejan Kovacevic when Lincoln was demoted:

As for Lincoln, he allowed more than five earned runs for the third time in his past four starts and needed to return to Indianapolis to regain mechanics that, Huntington said, changed over his nine major-league starts. Lincoln’s velocity fell by as much as 5 mph from that of his Class AAA time earlier this season.

With any one of these things, it’s hard to say whether it’s the player or the pitching coach.  With all of these things combined, it doesn’t look good on the pitching coach.  You’ve got a two year regression from Maholm.  You’ve got Duke and Ohlendorf looking like they just had good seasons in 2009, but seasons that will be hard to replicate.

Then there’s Morton, McCutchen, and Lincoln.  All three have had success in AAA.  All three struggled in their time in the majors this year.  All three have been bad at the AAA level after being in the majors, at least compared to their past AAA success.  Combine that with the fact that Lincoln’s mechanics changed for the worse in his time in the majors, and it’s hard not to put the blame on the pitching coach.

One has to wonder if Kerrigan just didn’t care this year.  He debated over returning in the off-season, and while infield coach Perry Hill decided to leave, Kerrigan ultimately returned.  However, he returned with the promise that the Pirates would add an assistant who would learn under Kerrigan, and eventually take over.  That assistant is his replacement, Ray Searage. Searage was added to the major league staff in October 2009, after spending two years in Indianapolis, and seven years total in the Pirates’ farm system as the pitching coach at various levels.  Searage is only the interim pitching coach, although one has to wonder if he will keep the job, as the Pirates intended for him to be the long term option once Kerrigan was gone.  The poor performance this year from the pitching staff might change that approach.

The move to fire Varsho is a bit unexpected, not that either move didn’t come as a surprise.  Aside from being the bench coach for the last two and a half seasons, Varsho has also served as the outfield coach, and has received a lot of praise for the job he’s done in that role.  His replacement, Jeff Bannister, is minor league field coordinator.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more moves.  Two coaches who should be on the hot seat are Don Long and Tony Beasley.  Long is the hitting coach, although he may get saved by the excellent hitting from the young talent that has arrived this year, specifically Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, and Pedro Alvarez.  Beasley is the third base coach, and the base running coach.  The base running has been bad this year at times, and Beasley has made some questionable calls as the third base coach, although that could be an agressive approach that is decided upon by the front office, which Beasley just carries out.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

Share This Post On
  • piratemike

    Who gets custody of the pitching dummies?

  • salempirate

    Wasn't Varsho the daddy of the no triples OF defense?