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Pitching 101

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Courtesy of Yale Alumni Magazine
Stephen Eschenbach, Contributor
Photo credit -- Topps Company, Inc.

In 16 seasons as Yale's baseball coach, John Stuper has won two Ivy championships and enough games (302) to trail only Ethan Allen (333), who coached George H. W. Bush '48. Yet Stuper's most remarkable accomplishment may be the 22 players he's coached who have been drafted by major league baseball -- the most of any Ivy baseball coach. For comparison, Yale had only six draftees in the 27 years before Stuper took the helm.

Ask Stuper why he is so successful, and the Mazzuto Family Head Coach for Baseball mentions an "outstanding coaching staff" and Yale's support. But he also offers another reason: "It's easier to get pitchers drafted."

About half of the players on a major league team are pitchers. But pitchers account for 80 percent of the major league draftees whom Stuper has recruited over the past ten years.

That he would have particularly good luck with hurlers makes sense. Stuper pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds during 1982-85, going 32-28 with a 3.96 earned run average through 111 games. His most memorable performance came with the Cardinals during his first year in the majors. In the 1982 World Series against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cardinals were down three games to two; Stuper started the pivotal sixth and threw a complete game, a 13-1 masterpiece that Sports Illustrated has called one of the ten best performances by a rookie pitcher in the history of postseason play.

Stuper is Yale's pitching coach as well as its head coach, and "he's phenomenal with pitchers," says Josh Sowers '05, an Ivy League Pitcher of the Year who was chosen by the Toronto Blue Jays in the tenth round of the 2005 draft. Stuper helped him develop an essential pitching tool -- the slider, a pitch that breaks down and out of the strike zone. "He made the slider my go-to pitch," says Sowers. "I wouldn't have made it to the next level without it." Stuper's ability to teach the slider also made a difference for Jon Steitz '02, '07JD, who was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers and calls the slider his "greatest weapon."

For Eschenbach's complete story, head to the online edition of the Yale Alumni Magazine.

- A.S.