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Desired Traits of a New D-back Pitching Coach

Mike Butcher talks with Robbie Ray.
Mike Butcher talks with Robbie Ray.
Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Mike Butcher knew how to improve the Diamondback pitching.

”Certainly, when you’re interviewing, you want to hear [location, going deeper in games, eliminating the home run] mentioned. And he’s been able to get that done in Tampa and Anaheim. He’s taken young, ‘okay’ pitchers - Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker - and turn them into one of the best staffs in the league.” — Chip Hale

”Starting pitchers should have plans designed and made for them as individuals [something that Stewart said didn’t exist last year]. ”To be honest, I’m not too sure the starting pitchers were going in with any plan of attack... I don’t know whether they were all doing the same thing, or all doing nothing. I just wanted more out of the staff.” —Dave Stewart

Mike Butcher’s report card was graded C (average).

Starting Pitching. Graded as average.

  • Comparing 2019 to 2015, starting pitching got better, with Wins Above Average (WAA) ranking 15th in the Majors compared to 24th. However, without the acquisition of Zack Greinke , with 4.1 WAA in 2019, it’s doubtful the ranking would have changed.
  • Comparing 2019 to 2015, two of the 4 primary starting pitchers improved their FIP (Greinke from 4.12 in 2016 to 3.19 in 2019, and Corbin from 3.35 in 2015 to 2.47 in 2018). The other two starting pitchers had worse FIPs (Ray from 3.53 in 2015 to 4.29 in 2019, and Godley from 4.33 in 2015 to 5.28 in 2019).

Relief Pitching. Comparing 2019 and 2015, relief pitching got worse, with WAA ranking 21st in the Majors compared to 18th. Graded as below average.

Pitching Command. Comparing 2019 to 2015, the ratio of strikeouts to walks increased 14%, from 2.43 to 2.77. This is evidence of better pitching command. I did not look at home runs because this season’s different baseball. Graded as above average.

Performance Gaps. “Yoshihisa Hirano perhaps had the most obvious decline in performance from last year, but T.J. McFarland and Andrew Chafin also saw their FIP increase. And then there was the whole Zack Godley disaster, where he proved to be no more fixable by Butcher than Miller had been before him.” — Jim McLennan. Graded as below average.

A new pitching coach could better align philosophy and explore different angles.

“It was a very tough decision for me. He [Butcher] and I have had a long relationship. I’ve known him for over 30 years, and he’s done some wonderful things for this organization. I want to make sure that I throw that out there before I explain that I just think philosophically, there were some differences that were happening. I wanted to explore some different angles, and I wanted to see what we could get into to make us a little bit better.” — Torey Lovullo

A new pitching coach could have a better set of skills.

“He [Mike Butcher] knows all about it [the newest technology tools] and is inclined and was conversant.”— Mike Hazen

“There’s a lot of different skills that need to be brought to the table. That’s one of them [applying newest technology tools], in terms of having some understanding of that. Most pitching coaches now have an understanding of that. It’s not unique to any of the 30 teams in a lot of ways. It’ll be a piece that will go into the calculation of the skill set, the entire skill set.” — Mike Hazen

“I still don’t know that it’s changing the building blocks of what makes a great coach. I still think those things have remained fairly static in a lot of ways.” — Mike Hazen

What are some desired traits of a new pitching coach?

I was curious. With the caveat that I lack inside information about how the D-backs coach, let’s look at eight desirable traits of a new pitching coach.

  • I’m certain that the D-backs changed. They are better positioned to sustain yearly attempts to reach and win the World Series. One example of better positioned is greater depth in starting pitchers. With that changed position, perspectives are changed. Likely, they see things they previously did not see. Perhaps, as the perspectives of the D-backs evolve, the new pitching coach’s perspectives need to evolve with the team. “We suffer when we hold on to perspectives that no longer serve us and fail to see a new way to reframe our lives.” — Chip Conley.
  • The new pitching coach needs to be an enemy of “good.” Let me explain. When an individual pitcher has a streak of lucky pitching (translate that as “good”), he might be reluctant to make changes that could have propelled him from good pitching to great pitching. If that happened, “good” would prevent great. When Mike Hazen said, “I think there’s a lot of good individual performances that happened this year,” that translates to “good” performances did not get the team very close to the World Series – we need to be better than “good.”
  • The new pitching coach needs to be curious with a deep desire to know why pitchers are successful (idea from page 296 of Coaching Better Every Season by Wade Gilbert). He needs to be curious about how to pitch better. This philosophy would be consistent with Mike Hazen who daily asks himself questions about how to improve the team.
  • The new pitching coach needs a broad perspective. One interpretation of broad perspective: “Pitcher development shouldn’t focus only on mechanics; it should also focus on how mechanics play a role intertwined with mobility, strength, and other factors.” — Comparing Coaching Philosophies. Another interpretation of broad perspective: Pitcher development should focus on performance, injury prevention, and overall health.
  • The new pitching coach needs to know when each tool (high-tech tools and low-tech tools) is appropriate to use. Instead of offering resources, he/she knows situations that can be improved by each tool.
  • Be like Mikey – “Try it, you’ll like it.” Instead of offering high-tech tools, the new pitching coach should be an advocate for them. He/she should offer an environment where it is easy to use a new tool, and he/she should provide quick feedback to help the pitcher decide whether it helped him.
  • Like Mike Butcher, the new pitching coach should develop plans for each pitcher. Each plan should be tailored to the strengths of each individual pitcher instead of a few “super-star pitchers.” Nevertheless, there may be some overlap, similar to the overlap in ground-ball skills and strikeout skills demonstrated by starting pitchers and relief pitchers on the Cardinals.
  • The new pitching coach should make coaching part of the pitching process instead of a resource. The success of the pitcher and coach would be inseparable. Perhaps this link could be improved by incentives in the contract for the pitching coach.

Bottom Line.

Mike Butcher changed the coaching process for pitching. The changed process did not significantly improve the overall D-back pitching. However, the lack of improvement was not the stated reason for replacing him. Instead, it seems the reasons were philosophy differences, exploring new angles, and acquiring a great coach with a better set of skills. If the new pitching coach has eight desired traits, he/she will be mighty.