At 6-3, 205 pounds, Wichita Wingnuts starter Tim Brown poses quite the formidable figure 60-feet, 6-inches from home plate. What many don’t realize is that it is what is going on in Brown’s head that makes him even more imposing. Here is where the Wingnuts starter is truly beating opposing hitters, and establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in independent league baseball history.
Wichita Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper describes his pitcher as very “Greg Maddux-like.” The assessment is not only a supreme compliment, but an accurate one as well. Maddux spent his career out-thinking opponents, and using his pin-point accuracy to dominate games. That led to 355 career wins and his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Brown may not be headed for Cooperstown but, much like Maddux, no one will ever say that he beat himself on the mound. The right-hander has proven that he is careful with his pitches and he isn’t giving anything away to hitters. If they are going to score they are going to have to beat him to do so; he isn’t just giving them runs.
Over his career, the Wichita Wingnuts starter has averaged a paltry 1.7 walks per nine innings pitched (BB/9). How Maddux-esque of him. This season he has taken those numbers to an even more impressive level, walking just one batter in the first 27 innings he has pitched in 2015. Add to it the fact that he has yet to give up a home run ball, and it is easy to see why he is doing so well. Without walks and home runs, opponents are going to have to find their own way to get on base and score. They are going to need at least two hits to do so, and with an opponent batting average of .288, not many teams are finding two and three hit innings against the right-hander.
Brown’s approach to pitching is easy to trace. His love of the game began when he was young. Growing up in St. Louis, he came to quickly embrace America’s past-time as his favorite sport, and found that it was the fun he was having playing the game that was his prime motivator.
His pitching coach from the time he was 12-years-old had the biggest impact on his approach to pitching. “Keep it simple, attack hitters, throw a lot of strikes, down in the zone, don’t throw a lot of pitches. That’s about it. The more simple, the more basic you can keep it the better off you are going to be, and that keeps it from getting too complicated out there,” Brown explains of his lessons.
Those were lessons that Tim embraced fully. They may sound easy to follow, but the reality is that most pitchers try to overthink. They are not satisfied outsmarting opponents. They need that opponent to believe they were outsmarted, so they get away from what they do best. Brown trusts his stuff, and is more than willing to let opponents make contact.
“Like Hoop (manager Kevin Hooper) says. This is a game of failure. A lot more times than not they are going to get out, so it’s my job to ensure that they get the opportunity to get out.”
That is why his approach to hitters has been so successful. Tim isn’t throwing 99-mph. He is throwing strikes to the places he wants his pitches to go, then relying on his fielders to make the plays. A strategy that is working quite well for the Wichita Wingnuts starter.
This is Brown’s seventh season of professional baseball. At least parts of every one of those seasons has been spent in independent baseball, with five of those in the American Association. He has a 59-21 career record with a 3.10 ERA. His 34 wins with Lincoln, Grand Prairie and Wichita ranks him just two away from fifth place in the league’s all-time wins list. Tim has won at least ten games in each of the last three seasons, and with three already this season it is likely he will eclipse that mark. Seven more wins this year will make the Wichita starter No. 3 on the American Association career wins list, and just eight behind becoming the winningest pitcher in league history.
Those are gaudy numbers for any pitcher in any league, but they are in no way the driving force behind Brown and his dedication to the game. This is a guy playing baseball because he enjoys doing so. It is likely that even if he was having success, he would walk away if it was lacking joy for him.
“From the time I was five I enjoyed playing it and I’ve always said if I come out here and I am not having fun I will quit that day. I’m still having a blast, I’m still loving coming out here every day, and so that day is a long way off.”
That is sad news for his opponent’s in the American Association. They would gladly see the starter walk away than watch him constantly shut them down. This season he is already 3-0 in four starts, with an ERA right at 2.00. His only no-decision came in a game where he shut out Grand Prairie for seven innings, only to see his team fail to hold a two-run lead.
Brown has yielded just 31 base runners in 27 innings pitched this season, but 30 have come from hits off the big right-hander. Most pitchers who give up more hits than innings pitched find their ERAs climbing. Not Brown. He shows his ability to be smart and pitch in a way that stops opponents from scoring runs.
“Mentally I do most things well, not showing too much emotion. Work ethic wise I think I come out and do what I need to prepare properly and put in the work that it takes to succeed.”
On a pitching staff full of thinkers who understand that pitching is as much of an art form as it is a one-on-one confrontation, Brown may be as good a student of that knowledge since, well, Greg Maddux. It was a Hall of Famer who once said, “It doesn’t matter how many hits you allow; all that matters is the amount of runs you don’t.” That is the model that that Maddux lived by, and that is the model that Brown has laid out for himself as well.
Maddux was known for his uncanny ability to stay cool no matter how things in the game were going. Hooper sees this same kind of ability in Brown, something the right-hander values as one of his most important assets.
“If I give up 20 runs in one inning or am throwing a no-hitter, I try to make it so no one can tell. So if things aren’t going my way or if they are going my way, I just try to stay at the same level, don’t get up, don’t get down and try to maintain that same level. It’s important that opponents see that you have a business-like approach and just go at it from there.”
There is one area where Brown wants to improve his skills; that is to become more patient when things are getting more intense. “I need to slow things down more at times which is something that everybody should do at certain points, because it is easy to let things get away. If you aren’t careful, you can quickly let two or three runs score in an inning, and you are out of there, so slowing things down is important.”
For many pitchers that may be a challenge, but this is Tim Brown after all. Any alteration in the way that a player must approach the game mentally is the kind of thing that the Professor excels in. It’s why he has become such a dominant presence at Wingnuts University.
This season the Wichita Wingnuts are in a bit of a flux of sorts. Eight of their nine starting position players from last season are no longer with the team. Only David Espinosa remains. That has made it incumbent for Brown, Jason Van Skike and Anthony Capra, holdovers from last season’s pitching staff, to take charge and keep this team in games. The three have responded masterfully, but none more than Brown.
Early on this season the club was having difficulty scoring runs, and so there was a sense of added pressure on the staff to keep games low scoring. Some might have cracked under the pressure, but Professor Brown proved that overcoming pressure and delivering toward the team’s success comes from trust; trust in yourself, trust in your teammates, trust in your organization.
“Knowing Hoop and knowing how he can get guys I just know he is going to be putting a quality lineup out there. You would love to have Clev (Brent Clevlen) in the lineup or Carlo (Testa) or a lot of those guys, but the guys that are in there are going to come in and do a great job as well. So I don’t think there’s a lot of extra pressure.”
And for his own role, Tim adds, “When you start adding a lot of extra pressure you start getting into your head. So the more relaxed you can keep it, the more sort of suave you can keep it, the better.”
Suave is just what Tim Brown has kept it. The right-hander allowed just two runs through his first three starts in 2015, critical performances at a time when his club needed the starter to keep scores low. The Wichita Wingnuts are 14-7 early on in the season, and it has been outings like Brown’s that have allowed the club to have so much success.
Tim Brown’s ultimate goal is to be seen as a ballplayer. A guy who respected the game and played hard for his team and his teammates. The problem for the righty is that, like Maddux, it simply looks too effortless for him. He makes the tough look simple and the difficult look routine. That’s part of his brilliant strategy.
The Wichita Wingnuts are looking to become the first team in the American Association to repeat as champions since the Fort Worth Cats in 2006-2007. It will take all kinds of talent and will to duplicate the success of the previous season. It takes intelligence, skill, commitment, and desire. Those are all adjectives that made Greg Maddux a star in the Major Leagues. They are the very things that make Tim Brown the Greg Maddux of independent baseball.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA