When the 2015 Calgary Inferno won the Bull Cup championship, and then won again this season, some in the organization were quick to credit to long-time pitching coach Nate Toto.
After 23 years with the organization, he has proven to possess a solid reputation for helping young pitchers develop their control and finesse, earning two Bull Cup championships and numerous playoff trips along the way.
Toto’s finesse coaching is legendary, and the results show in the team’s pitching stats, which consistently demonstrate a very low number of walks compared to strikeouts, often around 300 or less bases on balls and 700 or more strikeouts.
Fernando Latorre, for example, is one of those young pitchers to have benefited from Toto’s tutelage. A “finesse pitcher without the finesse” he nevertheless after six seasons with Calgary, including the last four as a starter, consistently used his effective curve ball/slider combo as a contrast to his hard fastball. In 2015 and 2016, he kept his free passes issued to just 35 walks, while striking out 125 batters. With the longer 2017 season, he did see his walks creep up to 65, but remained an effective pitcher through the year.
Teams are starting to take notice, watching Calgary’s perennial successes. The California Tidals hired Mike Deason in October to a one year deal. Deason is new to coaching, but falls into the Nate Toto mold, preferring to work with young pitchers on their control. Tidals ace Jordan Delgado, and reliever Yatuka Muramoto answer that description. The Tidals also had the highly reputed Omari Holmes, another finesse coach, who was on the payroll from 1995 until 2014, including for both Bull Cup championships (2012 and 2013). Holmes has now been hired by the Ohio Oxen.
The Tidals organization also has two finesse coaches to work with the youngest ballplayers in the organization, at Short Season A and at A-level, and it is clear the organization is investing in a future where their pitcher’s ability to hold off walks, and earn strikeouts through ball movement, is of paramount concern.
Another playoff team with a penchant for finesse pitching has been converted to the finesse school of pitching instruction. After long-time pitching coach Matt Shank, who was a balanced approach type personality, left last October, the team hired Kevin Nims to a 3-year deal. Nims tutored the AA-level Anchorage Sky Chiefs (Chicago Pit Bulls affiliate) for the past five seasons, and there he developed a crop of Chicago’s next wave of arms who have worked hard on control instead of velocity to get outs.
While the best of the finesse pitching coaches are already employed, there are a handful of these patient types still on the market and looking to help teams.
Toronto native Rick Lopez spent the last five years in the Calgary organization, as pitching coach of the East Broughton Critters (formerly Rookie level, now Short Season A level). While the team struggled to find success, the pitching staff got a first glance at the Calgary control pitching school of thought. He worked with 24-year-old right-hander Carlos Corral, who finally broke into the major-level roster last September for the postseason, and gave up no walks over 8.2 innings of relief work in 3 games.
Similarly, lefty Victor Gonzales worked under Lopez’ guidance, steadily improving on his control while with the Critters, and has now also broken into the top level where he has shown steady improvement as a reliever.
Martin Matson is another coach that fits the finesse criteria, and has found some success bringing the Boston Brawlers to the playoffs over the past 12 seasons. He is now on the open market and looking to bring his expertise to another club for 2018.
Some teams have found success focusing on power pitching, or on groundballers, and these are all great assets to have in any rotation or bullpen. But finesse pitching is often overlooked, and there are few coaches who specialize in bringing out this rare quality and use it to find success on the mound.