SF Giants lose the ‘miracle worker’ for their pitching staff

The Giants have a significant hole to fill after their director of pitching accepted a job in the White Sox front office

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Brian Bannister, who almost always hid his stoic expression behind a pair of dark-lensed aviators, resembled a secret agent as much as a pitching coach. His role with the San Francisco Giants, however, would be better represented by a lab coat.

Reliever John Brebbia described him as a “miracle worker,” a description shared by all pitchers polled by this news organization.

“I look to him like a scientist with a baseball,” reliever Scott Alexander said.

“He’s the think tank behind it all,” said starter Alex Cobb, one of the Giants’ numerous reclamation projects who benefited from Bannister’s advice.

Overall, the news of Bannister’s departure last week sent shockwaves through the Giants’ pitching staff. Bannister accepted a new position in the White Sox front office after serving as the Giants’ director of pitching for the previous four seasons. He will be the senior pitching advisor in Chicago, where he will reunite with former Giants assistant pitching coach Ethan Katz and a former teammate of his, Chris Getz, the team’s newly appointed general manager, who made Bannister one of his first hires.

“I can’t believe he’s gone. “I’m not sure why they let him go,” Alexander explained. “They should’ve offered him a better role.”

“It’s a huge loss for us,” said Cobb.

In an interview with The Athletic, Giants president Farhan Zaidi stated, “I told him we wanted to keep him, but we weren’t going to stand in the way if there was an opportunity he preferred for whatever reason.”

When Bannister was hired away from the Red Sox before the 2020 season, he was given the title. Nonetheless, manager Gabe Kapler stated that the Giants will look to fill the position. Between pitching coach Andrew Bailey and assistant pitching coach J.P. Martinez, there is no shortage of capable minds in the clubhouse.

“Maybe it’ll come in the form of backfilling that exact title or somebody that combines multiple skill sets,” Kapler stated. “We’ll look at giving somebody on our staff more responsibility.”

Since 2020, Giants pitchers have a 3.81 ERA, which ranks sixth in the majors, behind the Dodgers (3.25), Rays (3.64), Astros (3.65), Yankees (3.74), Brewers (3.75), Guardians (3.85), and Braves (3.88).

That success, thanks in no small part to Bannister’s efforts, has made San Francisco an appealing destination for pitchers looking to rehabilitate their careers on short-term contracts. Cobb and Kevin Gausman are two of the most successful players in a group that also includes Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, Sean Manaea, and Ross Stripling.

“I think that a lot of the success that you guys have seen, all the reclamation projects that have happened, myself included,” Cobb stated, “he’s seen diamonds in the rough and understood how to incorporate what he saw into the product that we turned into on the field.”

Bannister’s most significant contributions were in the area of seam-shifted wake, which is essentially how aerodynamics can be used to manipulate the baseball. While that knowledge has been built over the last four years, Bannister’s unique expertise — a former pitcher who could relay scientific information in terminology pitchers could understand — will be difficult to replace.

“He just talked about pitching in ways that I’ve never heard,” Cobb stated. “He taught me a lot about seam shift.” Why my two-seam is so uncomfortable. And how the movement of the ball takes on the identity of the body. As a result, if the body moves, the ball will follow. Some truly profound material… It’s unusual to find a guy who is analytically inclined and can explain it while also relating to pitching. That is extremely unusual.”

Several Giants pitchers describe Bannister’s influence on them in their own words:

“He definitely helped me out in my minor-league career, just in terms of guys he came up with and who he saw,” said LHP Kyle Harrison. He began with (Chris) Sale, who is one of my favorite pitchers. He was simply a reliable source of support. He was the guy to ask about mechanics, analytics, or anything else.”

RHP Ryan Walker: “My slider was kind of spinning a couple months ago.” I wasn’t seeing much movement on it. I was leaving it by my arm. Almost immediately after I told him, he understood what was going on, what it was, and what I could do to change it with a simple movement of (my arm slot) being here instead of being here. Just that small change, a difference in arm slot, brought me right back to where I was. … It’s things like that, and he’s very good at it. It’s not like you have to sit there and let him analyze everything. He is already aware.”

“A lot of it has to do with aerodynamics that allow you to do that,” says LHP Scott Alexander. So being able to communicate with him when I get a little off track, being able to get back on track and know what you’re dealing with. I never had a pitching coach tell me about seam shifting or anything like that. … August was especially difficult for me. I just got away a little bit mechanically. So I spent about four or five days with him just talking about it and doing some reps, feeling it out and figuring out what part of my mechanics was off that wasn’t allowing my sinker to do what it wanted to do. That was the end of it. His understanding of how the body must move to achieve what we’re attempting to achieve in terms of spin. He simply understands how the body must move and what must be done to make pitches.”

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