The Giants have built as sophisticated a pitching infrastructure as there is in the big leagues, a big reason why they surprised last season and have been in first place much of this year. But not every pitcher can reach new heights with a data-driven change in pitch usage or an increase in spin rates. For Sam Coonrod, the fix was much more old-school.
Coonrod gave up 16 runs in 14 2/3 innings last season, allowing opponents to bat .283 against him as he averaged 4.3 walks per nine innings. After an offseason trade to the Phillies, Coonrod has slashed that walk rate in half, cut the opponents' batting average by 40 points and put up a 3.29 ERA through 26 appearances.
What has allowed him to harness his 100 mph fastball and hard slider?
"Brandon Kintzler taught me how to play catch right," Coonrod said, smiling. "I know it sounds funny."
Kintzler, a veteran of 12 big league seasons, showed Coonrod that he was taking bad habits from more informal pregame warm-up sessions to the mound. It was a simple fix, one that has allowed him to pitch high-leverage innings for a Phillies team that desperately needed reliable relievers.
The Giants hoped Coonrod could fill that role for them last year, but after a rough season all-around they dealt him to Philadelphia for pitcher Carson Ragsdale, who has a 3.27 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 33 innings for the Low-A San Jose Giants this year.
It has been a win-win for both sides, and there are certainly no hard feelings. Coonrod met with some former teammates before batting practice Friday and manager Gabe Kapler ran over to shake hands. Kapler said he has watched a lot of Coonrod's outings while preparing for the Phillies.
"He's been a pretty good strike-thrower and obviously he continues to have great stuff," Kapler said. "We saw that when he was here with us."
Kapler said he told Coonrod he was happy for him and wished him luck. On the other side, Coonrod said he has marveled at just how good the Giants have been through two-plus months, but he's not surprised. He could see success coming last year and still keeps in touch with a lot of his former teammates. A few weeks back, he texted Buster Posey to tell him he's playing like he's 26 years old.
The offseason trade surprised Coonrod, but he said the Giants handled it perfectly.
"I don't think anybody expects to be traded but they were great about it. Farhan, Kap, (Andrew Bailey), they all called me and thanked me," he said. "I said very good things (back) about them. They were great to me. I have nothing but good things to say."