In Ken Burns' epic documentary, Baseball, the filmmaker sheds light on a little-known fact about arguably the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time, Sandy Koufax.
The documentary shows that before Koufax became one of the most dominant hurlers baseball has ever seen, he had terrible control issues. He was, in fact, a losing pitcher for the first six seasons of his career.
From 1955-1960, Koufax went 36-40 with a 4.11 ERA. Over that span, he walked roughly six hitters for every 10 he struck out.
Not the Koufax we remember, is it?
No, the Koufax we remember went 25-5 in 1963, 26-8 in 1965 and 27-9 in 1966. The Koufax of our collective recollection led the league with 27 complete games in both 1965 and 1966.
Our Koufax struck out 382 batters in 335.2 innings pitched in 1965, to lead the league. (By comparison, Tim Lincecum's season high in strikeouts is 265.)
The Koufax of baseball legend won three National League Cy Young awards and a National League MVP award.
So what happened?
According to Burns' documentary, one of Koufax's catchers with the Dodgers told him one day that he didn't have to throw hard to be effective on the mound.
As simple as that.
Koufax began to mix speeds and utilize his repertoire of pitches to make hitters look silly, and the results were remarkable.
From Sandy to Jonny
So, why should all this matter to a Giants fan?
With everyone trying to figure out what's wrong with Jonathan Sanchez, maybe it's worth it for the Giants' lefty to experiment the way Koufax did five decades ago, taking some velocity off and mixing speeds in order to gain more command of the strike zone.
If it doesn't work, oh well. But if it does, it could change Sanchez's career and make what have up until now been flashes of brilliance from No. 57 into consistent success.
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