In a sport that has weighted the importance of analytics exponentially in recent years, Southern Maryland Blue Crabs veteran pitcher and first-year pitching coach Daryl Thompson has cast aside the focus on statistics during a season in which he leads the Atlantic League in several categories.
Thompson, a 2003 La Plata High School graduate who pitched briefly in the major leagues with the Cincinnati Reds, headed into his scheduled start on Thursday evening against the Long Island Ducks with an 11-6 record and a 3.16 ERA to go along with 11 walks and 115 strikeouts in 128 1/3 innings.
Thompson leads the league in wins and strikeouts and had won nine straight decisions going into Thursday’s contest. Through Wednesday, The 11 wins were three better than High Point’s Ashur Tolliver and the 115 strikeouts were 17 better than Long Island’s Darin Downs, who struck out nine Southern Maryland hitters in a 2-1 loss to the Blue Crabs on Tuesday night.
But Thompson is hardly concerned with the statistical success that he has enjoyed this season and even Southern Maryland manager Stan Cliburn has put more emphasis on Thompson’s role as pitching coach than his statistical success on the mound. Thompson even viewed his role as pitching coach with more substance.
“You know, I haven’t event looked at the stats,” Thompson said. “I have never really been a strikeout pitcher, so I was surprised to hear that I lead the league. I focus on throwing strikes and getting ahead of the hitters and not walking guys. My walks are low and I’m happy about that.”
On several occasions this summer, including his most recent start against the Somerset Patriots on Aug. 3, Thompson has gone deep into several contests with a perfect game intact. Against the Patriots, he was perfect through 5 1/3 innings then allowed a solo homer in the sixth en route to his ninth straight win. But even after that outing Cliburn cited Thompson’s role as pitching coach more.
“I know what Daryl has done this year on the mound and he’s been great,” Cliburn said. “But what I’m really most impressed with this season is his work as the pitching coach. He goes out there and leads by example and interacts with our staff every inning. That’s really important and really impressive. He’s a great pitcher, but what he’s done as pitching coach has been outstanding.”
In addition to working with the other pitchers on the staff, including two former hurlers, Craig Stem and Brandon Cumpton, who have signed with the Mexidan League this summer, Thompson has also enjoyed working with catchers Mike Falsetti and Charlie Valerio throughout the season.
“Those guys do a great job behind the plate framing pitches and calling pitches,” Thompson said. “Charlie and Mike are both excellent back there. We’re almost always on the same page. They put a sign down and the location and I focus on throwing that pitch. It’s amazing the amount of trust that we have in one another.”
In addition to having either Falsetti or Valerio behind the plate when he’s on the mound, Thompson commended the infielders and outfielders behind him. Middle infielders Edwin Garcia and Kent Blackstone have formed a dependable double play combination and right fielder Rubi Silva has negated five singles on assists from right field.
“Those guys behind me do a great job making plays,” Thompson said. “I know my job is to go out there and throw strikes and not walk guys and let the defense do its job. The infielders have been superb all season and Rubi has thrown out a number of guys at every base.”
Blackstone has adapted well to the leadoff role and has made plays at second base and shortstop this season. He has also enjoyed watching Thompson work on the hill throughout the summer and noted that the other pitchers have followed suit on a number of levels.
“Watching Daryl do what he does every five days is just incredible to watch,” Blackstone said. “He just goes out there and does his job. He throws strikes and doesn’t walk anybody and he trusts the defense to make the plays. As the leadoff hitter, it makes me want to work that much harder to get on base and set the table for the offense so we can score some runs for him.”
While a number of battery mates in the Atlantic League are also getting adapted to the Automated Balls and Strikes system, or Track Man, implemented after the All-Star break to assist umpires on balls and strikes, Thompson has maintained his focus on simply interacting with his catchers.
“It really hasn’t changed my approach to pitching at all,” said Thompson, who was one of the first pitchers to test the system when it debuted during the All-Star Game in York on July 10. “I just go out there and look for the sign from the catcher and try to hit my spots. I don’t worry about where the Track Man calls balls and strikes. I just focus on working the hitters.”