Brian Bannister’s ties to the White Sox run deep, to when his father Floyd pitched for the 1983 “winning ugly” division winning club.
“I grew up across the street at Old Comiskey Park,” Bannister said, standing in the Sox dugout at Guaranteed Rate Field Thursday.
At 42, Bannister is starting a new job as the Sox’ advisor to pitching. He comes to the South Side after spending the last four seasons as director of pitching with the Giants, who ranked third in the major leagues in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.15), sixth in ERA (3.82), eighth in winning percentage (.546) and ninth in WHIP (1.24) and allowed the fewest home runs (516) and second-fewest walks (1,452) while he was there.
Bannister comes well regarded. Giants pitchers called Bannister a “miracle worker” and “scientist.” All-Star Alex Cobb said Bannister was “the think tank behind it all” in San Francisco.
“This was an opportunity to be a little more empowered and have a little bit bigger impact on the club and the direction and really get involved in every department and every area,” Bannister said. “This is a special franchise, and I’d love to see it be very successful in the near term.”
Bannister, who pitched for the Mets and Royals during a five-year career, spent five seasons with the Red Sox from 2015-19, first as director of pitching analysis and development and then as assistant pitching coach in the middle of the 2016 season. He held the title of vice president, pitching development and assistant pitching coach during Boston’s 2018 World Series championship season. His role with the Sox is less “pure coach” and more advisory on all levels through the organization.
“One of the things I’ve been known for and I believe in strongly is there’s a lot of ways to get hitters out,” Bannister said. “And what we have to identify is what each pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses are. Some pitchers are power-fastball guys, some are sinker-ballers, some throw split-fingers, some are spin guys. And it’s really empowering each department in the organization to know how to take advantage of those characteristics, how to train them on the strength-and-conditioning side, how to refine it on the analytics side, how to educate them on the players-development side and just really get every single coach throughout the organization really up to speed on concepts where they feel like they can coach and the analytics almost fall into the background and it becomes just a 1-on-1 relationship again. I think that’s when you’re firing on all cylinders.”
The Sox pitching staff ranks 29th in the majors in walks per nine innings (4.09), 27th in homers allowed per nine innings (138), 26th in ERA (4.95) and wins above replacement (9.5) and 21st in strikeouts per nine innings (8.54). The farm system has no obvious candidates waiting in the wings to be part of the starting rotation next season.
“You have ingredients in the organization when you get there,” Bannister said. “It’s the drafts that have occurred in previous years, it’s the players that are in the system, it’s the expertise of the staff and what they’re comfortable teaching. But ultimately, you’re looking to bake the best cakes possible. These are the ingredients you have, bake the best cakes.
“In Boston, that was a lot of power pitching, that was a lot of spin. In San Francisco, what we had was a lot of sinker-ballers, and we leveraged that concept. We had the lowest walk rate in baseball this year, the highest ground-ball rate. You do what you can with the ingredients you have available.”
The challenge for Bannister, along with pitching coach Ethan Katz, is molding pitching staffs like the one his father pitched on during the 1983 “winning ugly” era. Bannister considers Ozzie Guillen, Greg Walker, Ron Kittle, Greg Luzinski and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf from that group as friends and “almost family.”
There’s been nothing pretty about Sox pitching in 2023. Maybe Bannister can do something about that.
“Just to have this logo on me again and really build something special for this franchise with people that I care about a lot is very special,” Bannister said.