Ray Searage Is Still The Pitcher Whisperer

Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

This season, a false narrative has formed among some in the Pirate fan base that Ray Searage was ridding Jim Benedict’s coattails in recent years. However, this is not the case.

In recent years the Pittsburgh Pirates have become known for ‘fixing’ pitchers. A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon, Edinson Volquez, and J.A. Happ are just some examples of this. A big reason for this has been due to the Pirates having one of the best, if not the best, pitching coach in all of Major League Baseball in Ray Searage.

In 2016 though, things have not gone as smoothly for Ray Searage. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitching staff has been, at best, inconsistent in 2016. The struggles of the pitching staff is the biggest reason why the Pirates currently find themselves two games out of a postseason position.

So far, 2016 has been the worst season of Jared Hughes and Jeff Locke‘s careers. Furthermore, prior to being traded both Francisco Liriano and Jon Niese were also having the worst seasons of their careers. As a result of the struggles of these pitchers, among others on the Pirate staff, many started to question Ray Searage.

Prior to this season, Ray Searage always had his right-hand man Jim Benedict at his side assisting with the Pirate pitching staff. But this past offseason Benedict left the Pirates to join the Miami Marlins’ organization. As the Pirate staff has struggled this season, many have started claim that Benedict, not Searage, was the secret behind the Pirates’ success.

More from Rum Bunter

While, yes, the Pirates’ pitching staff has struggled this season, to say Ray Searage is not the pitching coach everyone thought he was is totally ignorant. There are a few reasons that it is totally ignorant to think that. The first of which is that it has always been Ray Searage, not Jim Benedict, that worked directly with the pitchers at the Major League level.

By no means is this a knock on Jim Benedict who is very good at his job, but once Spring Training ended he did not see Pirate pitchers again unless they were pitching in the Minor Leagues. It was, and still is, Ray Searage who would work with them at the Major League level in an effort to improve and get better. It was always the coaching, adjustments, and suggestions of Ray Searage that these pitchers were getting that led to their success.

Another reason it is ignorant to say Benedict and not Searage as the reason for the success of Pirate pitchers is that it totally ignores this season’s success stories. You know like A.J. Schugel, Neftali Feliz, Ryan Vogelsong, and Juan Nicasio as a reliever. Plus, all the success that rookie pitchers have had for the Pirates.

Next: Ryan Vogelsong: Cinderella Man

Prior to this season A.J. Schugel had pitched nine Major League innings. In those nine innings he posted a 5.00 ERA, 6.58 FIP, 5.17 xFIP, and he had a 2.44 WHIP. So it goes without saying he was pretty terrible as an Arizona Diamondback.

However, 2016 has been totally different for Schugel. In 49 innings pitched he is averaging 7.90 K/9, 2.39 BB/9, 0.73 HR/9, and he has a 1.08 WHIP. All of this has resulted in Schugel posting a 3.86 ERA, 3.30 FIP, and a 3.82 xFIP. A.J. Schugel has also developed a change up that is among the best in all of Major League Baseball among relief pitchers.

Even though A.J. Schugel is stuck in Triple-A, for reasons unknown, he has joined this list of Ray Searage success stories. Schugel has also pitched well at Triple-A. In 8 1/3 innings for Indianapolis he has a 2.87 FIP, he’s struck out seven batters, and he has not allowed a home run.

Jul 4, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Neftali Feliz (30) pitches to a St. Louis Cardinals batter during the ninth inning at Busch Stadium. The Pirates won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 4, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Neftali Feliz (30) pitches to a St. Louis Cardinals batter during the ninth inning at Busch Stadium. The Pirates won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

A.J. Schugel is not the only relief pitcher that Ray Searage has ‘fixed’ this season. Neftali Feliz finds himself on this list as well. Combined between the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers in 2015, Feliz had the worst season of his Major League career. In 48 innings pitched Feliz posted a 6.38 ERA, 4.42 xFIP, a 1.56 WHIP, and he averaged 3.38 BB/9 and just 7.31 K/9.

So far this season, Neftali Feliz has been the lights out reliever he was earlier in his career. In 44 innings pitched he is averaging 10.43 K/9, the second best strikeout rate of his career, 3.07 BB/9, and his WHIP has dropped to 1.05. As a result, he has a 3.07 ERA and a 3.60 xFIP. Ray Searage has helped make turn Neftali Feliz back into the pitcher he was earlier in his career, and, in the process, has probably saved Feliz’s career.

There is also the incredible work Ray Searage has done with Ryan Vogelsong this season. When the Pirates signed Vogelsong in the offseason, I, like many others, was vehemently against it. After all, Vogelsong was a 38, now 39, year old pitcher coming off a season in which he posted a 4.67 ERA, 4.53 FIP, and a 4.55 xFIP.

Ray Searage, however, has worked his magic with Vogelsong. This season Ryan Vogelsong is averaging 7.22 K/9, 3.21 BB/9, 0.80 HR/9, and has a 1.19 WHIP in 33 2/3 innings pitched. Vogelsong also owns a 2.67 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 4.16 xFIP, and a 0.4 WAR.

As you all know, Ryan Vogelsong missed all of June and July due to being hit in the face with a pitch in lat May. However, according to Vogelsong, this was a blessing in disguise. Why? Because it allowed him more time to work one-on-one with Ray Searage to work to fix what was plaguing him. Yeah, I think Uncle Ray has still got it.

There is also another, less conventional, Ray Searage success story this season. That is in the form of new Pirate closer Tony Watson. After his outing on June 5th Watson had a 4.50 ERA, 5.08 FIP, 4.67 xFIP, and was averaging 3.75 BB/9 and 1.50 HR/9 both of which were career highs.

It was at this time that Ray Searage noticed something wrong with Tony Watson‘s delivery. Searage and Watson worked to change it, and since then Watson has been his dominant self once again. In his last 24 2/3 innings pitched Tony Watson has 22 strikeouts, he has walked just seven batters, and he’s allowed just three runs.

Finally, let’s not overlook the work Ray Searage has done with the Pirates’ rookie arms this season. So far in 2016 Wilfredo Boscan, Chad Kuhl, Jameson Taillon, Steven Brault, and Tyler Glasnow have all made their Major League debuts for the Pirates. These five pitched have pitched a combined 119 innings. In these 119 innings their combined ERA is 3.78, they have struck out 87 batters, and they have a combined WHIP of 1.16.

Even though some people may say or think otherwise, Ray Searage is still the pitcher whisperer. Yes, the Pirates’ pitching staff has regressed this season. However, a lot of that was due to pitchers such as Francisco Liriano, Jon Niese, Kyle Lobstein, and Rob Scahill who are no longer on the roster. To say Ray Searage has lost his touch or needs Jim Benedict is ignorant, incorrect, and it ignores the success that Searage has had this season.