Better pitching through science? Red Sox promote Brian Bannister

BOSTON -- A little over three weeks after being hired as president of baseball operations, David Dombrowski is giving the Boston Red Sox a new resource in the team’s quest to improve its pitching.

Dombrowski announced Tuesday that 34-year-old Brian Bannister, who embraced advanced metrics and studied the physics of pitching while still pitching for the Kansas City Royals, has been named to the newly created position of Director of Pitching Analysis and Development.

Bannister had been hired last winter by general manager Ben Cherington and professional scouting director Jared Porter as a pro scout and analyst, but after meeting with Dombrowski and presenting his ideas in a conversation that the club president said lasted a couple of hours, he was given the task of helping the new regime do a better job of identifying and developing pitching talent.

"We sat down and he explained to me what he was all about,'' Dombrowski said Tuesday. "We've created, I think, a unique position. It's a position that's going to talk about developing players through an analytic approach -- and also a pitching philosophy. He'll work very closely with [farm director] Ben Crockett. He'll work closely as we approach guys in the draft. He's already talking to [pitching coach] Carl Willis. We're going to try to see if we can be a little bit better. He'll give us an edge'"

In addition to recognizing the value of such statistics as BABIP (batting average of balls in play) and FIP (fielding independent percentage), Bannister, who in high school scored a perfect 800 on the math portion of his college entrance exam and graduated cum laude from USC, was once referred to by teammate Gil Meche as the smartest player he’d ever met.

"I'm almost the prototype No. 4 starter," Bannister once said while still with the Royals in explaining his interest in analytics and science. "When this is important is trying to get a fringe guy to get the most out of his talent and ability. I'm not trying to reach new horizons. I'm trying to filter out what's applicable to player development. That's what's important to me."

He once identified pitch f/x, , the system that measures the speed of a pitch at the time it is released and its movement to an inch, as “the missing link” in pitching analysis.

Bannister, the son of former big-league pitcher Floyd Bannister, had a modest playing career, going 37-50 with a 5.08 ERA in parts of five seasons with the Mets and Royals. His best season was 2007, his first full season in the big leagues, when he went 12-9 with a 3.87 ERA.

Dombrowski said he was given a heads up by several members of the Red Sox organization that he should become acquainted with Bannister.

"One of the things that we've identified is trying to do some things from a pitching perspective and bring some of that together,'' Dombrowski said. "[We’re] trying to further develop pitchers maybe a little bit better and work together from an analytical and a coaching philosophy and be in a position where we do that from top to bottom.

"When I talk to our people throughout the system, they've all talked that the real strength of our organization [in the farm system] is position players. We do have some pitching prospects, but [position players] are the strength. So [we want to] make pitching a strength, too.'’

Dombrowski readily acknowledged that the Red Sox are not unique in looking at such ways to improve.

"We had this problem in Detroit,'' said Dombrowski. "You have a lot of good arms. What can you do to get them over the hump? What can you do to make them a better pitcher. Sometimes it's an arm angle; sometimes it's the repertoire of pitches they throw; sometimes it's adding another pitch; sometimes it's the analytic approach of the spin rate you're using.

"I'm not saying that we have a magical formula because we don't. But we think this is maybe a way of trying to approach it in a little better way.’’

Dombrowski also announced that Gus Quattlebaum had been promoted to director of professional scouting. Quattlebaum, a native of Andover, Mass., who has been with the Red Sox for the last 10 seasons, had been assistant director of professional and international scouting. Chris Mears, an amateur scout for the Sox for the last eight seasons, has been promoted to pitching cross-checker.