Pitching Coaches

Monday, August 16 2021 @ 12:00 PM EDT

Contributed by: Magpie

He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.

 - John Tanner, The Revolutionist's Handbook and Pocket Companion (presented as an appendix to Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw, who was of course the actual author)

There are thirty major league pitching coaches. Were any of these guys even half-decent pitchers?

Let me tell you how this little inquiry got started. I was watching the Jays play the Red Sox and there was Dave Bush, who is now Boston's pitching coach, coming out to the mound to talk to his pitcher. I felt old.

Well, of course I felt old, I am old, dammit. But here is the Box Game Thread from Bush's major league debut in July 2004. I'm not the only one!

Dave Bush was never a star, but he was a pretty decent pitcher for a few years there. And then, watching highlights from the other league, I saw Mark Prior visiting one of his pitchers. Prior is now the Dodgers' pitching coach, and one of the great What-Ifs in the game's history. And so I started thinking about the pitching coaches.

Being a decent major league pitcher is hardly a job requirement, of course. Leo Mazzone, whose playing career fizzled out in the minors, was a legendary pitching coach when he worked for Bobby Cox in Atlanta - his charges won six Cy Young awards, although it obviously helps a great deal when your pitchers are guys like Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine. Ray Searage received much praise for his work in Pittsburgh. His coaching career is likely over - he's 66 years old - and his playing career wasn't all that distinguished (seven seasons as a generic LOOGY.)

On the other hand, one of the game's first celebrated pitching coaches was Johnny Sain, who didn't get into the rotation until he was 28 after serving in World War II. He still won 20 games four times and went on to have all kinds of success stories as a pitching coach with the Yankees (1961-63), the Twins (1965-66), and Detroit (1967-69) winning pennants at all three stops. And Mel Stottlemyre was an outstanding pitcher who won 20 games three times and 164 altogether during his eleven years as a Yankee starter. He then worked as a pitching coach for 23 seasons, winning rings with both the Mets and the Yankees.

One of the most successful pitching coaches ever wasn't even a pitcher. Dave Duncan is best remembered for his long partnership with Tony LaRussa. He spent eleven seasons in the majors as a defense-first catcher with some home run power. He made it to an All-Star game and won a ring with the 1972 A's. Duncan spent two seasons as Cleveland's bullpen coach before becoming their pitching coach in 1980. He improved that staff, and then moved on to Seattle in 1982. He improved that staff as well, and asked for a raise. As he told his old teammate Tony La Russa that off-season, he was making $30,000 and hoped to get a 5K bump. The Mariners didn't want to pay it. La Russa offered him $50,000 to join him in Chicago. Ken Harrelson fired the pair during his Reign of Madness in 1986 - they were quickly hired by Oakland three weeks later. The pair moved on to St.Louis in 1996. Duncan retired after the 2011 season to care for his ailing wife. Duncan was not unique - Joe Becker, the Dodgers pitching coach during the Drysdale-Koufax years was also a catcher, and so was Mike Roarke, Whitey Herzog's pitching coach with the Cardinals.

So - back to our thirty presently employed major league pitching coaches. They range in age from 33 to 72. All of them were pitchers, but while one of them spent fifteen seasons in the majors several of the others didn't even play professional ball. A couple of them are even left-handed. They are truly a varied crop, except that every one of them is a white guy. Most of them have never been major league pitching coaches before taking up their present positions. The major league pitching coach who has been at his current post the longest - and I'll bet you didn't know this - is Pete Walker of the Blue Jays, who replaced Bruce Walton for the 2013 season, and is now in his ninth season. 

Walker is one of 22 current pitching coaches who had never held the position before. Five are in their first season on the job, eight are in their second. As for the eight coaches who have done this work before, most of them have made multiple stops along the way: Rick Kranitz, Mike Maddux, and Jim Hickey are now with their fourth teams as pitching coach. Cleveland's Carl Willis is on his fourth job, but with his third team  - this is his second stint as Cleveland's pitching coach, with stops in Seattle and Boston coming in between. Mike Maddux has been somebody's pitching coach every season since 2003, which makes Maddux both the man with the most experience in the post as well as the man with the most consecutive years of service. San Diego's Larry Rothschild is the only one who has ever worked as a major league manager, which he did in Tampa Bay between stints as pitching coach for the Marlins and Yankees. Brent Strom, at 72 is the oldest current pitching coach and second only to Walker in tenure with his current team. He's had the Houston job since 2014. Strom  did two short stints twenty years ago as pitching coach with Houston and Kansas City. Mel Stottlemyre Jr of the Marlins is on his third major league job, and Derek Johnson of the Reds his second.

Four of our current coaches didn't play pro ball - they went into coaching directly after finishing college. Matt Blake of the Yankees started out coaching high school, worked as a scout, and then worked in pitching development before becoming a major leaguer in 2019 at age 34. Wes Johnson of the Twins also began coaching high school kids and had jobs with a number of different college programs before getting his first professional position as the Twins pitching coach in 2018. Oscar Marin of the Pirates began his coaching career in 2005 at the University of Arkansas, where he had just played the two previous years - he moved into the pro ranks in 2010 in the Arizona League for the Texas organization. He made it to the majors as the Texas bullpen coach in 2019 and was hired by the Pirates for 2020.  And Derek Johnson of the Reds remained at Eastern Illiinois as a coach after graduating, coached in several different university programs, and came to the pro ranks in 2012 as a pitching coordinator for the Cubs. He then spent three seasons (2016-18) as Milwaukee's pitching coach before moving to Cincinnati.

We have six more pitching coaches who played pro ball but never made it to the majors. Rick Kranitz was a fourth round pick by the Brewers in 1979 - he spent five years in their system, but had an ERA of 5.17 in AAA and probably hurt his arm. He spent two years in the Cubs system as a player-coach, and worked in the Cubs system for the next fifteen years. He had one year with them as a bullpen coach and got his first MLB pitching coach job with the Marlins in 2006. He's since worked for Baltimore, Houston, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia before his current post in Atlanta.

Jim Hickey was drafted by the White Sox in 1983. His playing career stalled out at AA in 1989 and his pro coaching career begins in 1996 in the Houston system. He made it to the majors as the Astros pitching coach in 2004. He moved to Tampa Bay in 2006 and spent eleven season as the pitching coach with the Rays. He spent one year (2018) with the Cubs, and took the Washington job this season.

Scott Emerson, one of our southpaws, was a 40th round pick by the Orioles in 1991 but he barely made it past A ball as a player, and finished playing at age 25 in 1997. His coaching career began in 2001 in the Pittsburgh system. He's spent most of the last fifteen years at various places in the Oakland system, making it to the majors as bullpen coach in 2015 and pitching coach in 2017.

Ethan Katz was a 26th round pick by the Rockies in 2005. He pitched in their system for five years, never got above A ball, and began coaching high school in 2009. The Angels hired him as a minor league coach in 2013. He spent some time working for the Mariners and the Giants, and made it to the majors with the White Sox this season.

Pete Woodworth, at 33 the youngest MLB pitching coach, went undrafted in 2010. He signed as an amateur free agent and spent a season in rookie ball in the Tampa system, before going back to his Florida alma mater as a volunteer coach. He worked as an area scout for the Rays, took a couple of university pitching coach jobs, and then spent several years coaching in the Seattle system before becoming the Mariners' pitching coach in 2019.

Finally, Chris Fetter was drafted in the ninth round by the Padres in 2009. His first pro year was pretty good, but his his next two years at high A ball were pretty bad. He coached in Texas and scouted for the Angels before becoming a college pitching coach at Ball State and then at the old alma mater, the University of Michigan. The Tigers made him a major leaguer this season.

And that leaves us our twenty men who actually pitched in the majors. Three of those MLB careers were glorified cups of coffee, just a couple of months in duration: Larry Rothschild was a September call-up with Detroit in 1981 and 1982. Tommy Hottovy was a left-hander who got trials with Boston in 2011 and the Royals in 2012. Mel Stottlemyre Jr spent the second half of 1990 with Kansas City. Only Stottlemyre would have a major league decision (a loss) - they pitched just 53 innings between the three of them.

At the other extreme, we have two NL career relievers who spent lengthy careers wandering from team to team. Matt Herges actually pitched in more major league games (567) than any of our current pitching coaches, in an eleven year career spent with eight different teams. And Mike Maddux, elder brother of you-know-who, played in fifteen different seasons for nine different teams.

There were better pitchers than Herges and Maddux. Two current pitching coaches were good enough to be named to All-Star teams, one of them twice. He also won one of the year's major awards. Alas, injuries brought his career to an early end. No, not the famously star-crossed Mark Prior. (When Dr Andrews carried out an exploratory surgery on his shoulder in 2007, he found "vast structural damage" - tears in Prior's labrum, anterior capsule, and rotator cuff.) Prior may have been the best actual pitcher of them all during his brief moment of glory, finishing third in the Cy Young voting and being named to the All-star team (he missed the game because he hurt his shoulder in a collision while running the bases. The Mark Prior story, folks.) But it was Andrew Bailey who was actually our award winner, being named the 2009 AL Rookie of the Year with Oakland. Bailey was an All-star both that year and the following year. He slipped a bit in 2011, was traded to Boston, and then came the injuries and the surgeries and the rehabs....

The pitching coach who won the most games and threw the most innings was Cal Eldred, who came up to stay in July 1991, and was dominant in his first full time taste of the majors, going 11-2, 1.79 and earning some Rookie-of-the-Year votes. But he was just a .500 pitcher over his next two seasons, hurt his arm, and scuffled for five more years in Milwaukee. He had a brief burst of glory with the White Sox in 2000, lost another year to injury - and finished up with three pretty good years in the St.Louis bullpen.

And the pitching coach with the second most career wins? It's our old friend Dave Bush. Which was where I came in. Let's wrap this up with a Data Table, the MLB careers of our twenty pitching coaches. (The Age and Team columns refer to their present employment and have nothing to do with their playing careers. I'm sure you all figured that out, but it confused me when I looked at it, and I put it there.)
                   Age    Team   W    L    W-L%    ERA    G    GS   CG   SHO  SV    IP      H    R    ER   HR    BB    SO     ERA+
Steve Foster    54    COL    3    3    .500    2.41   59    1    0    0    2    89.2    82   29   24    6    22    61     159
Andrew Bailey    37    SFG   16   14    .533    3.12  265    0    0    0   95   274.1   212  101   95   29    91   276     136
Mark Prior    40    LAD   42   29    .592    3.51  106  106    5    1    0   657.0   582  277  256   77   223   757     124
Matt Herges    51    ARI   43   35    .551    3.91  567    4    0    0   34   691.0   735  335  300   66   257   473     111
Tommy Hottovy    40    CHC    0    0    .000    4.05   17    0    0    0    0    13.1    15    6   6    2     8     8     109
Matt Wise    45    LAA   17   22    .436    4.23  209   18    0    0    2   317.0   298  164  149   40   106   244     107
Cal Eldred    53    KCR   86   74    .538    4.42  341  192   19    4    9  1368.0  1340  716  672  173   576   939     103
Mike Maddux    59    STL   39   37    .513    4.05  472   48    2    1   20   861.2   873  428  388   67   284   564     102
Pete Walker    52    TOR   20   14    .588    4.48  144   35    0    0    4   339.1   362  181  169   48   133   191     102
Carl Willis    60    CLE   22   16    .579    4.25  267   81    0    0   13   390.0   424  210  184   28   115   222     100
Doug Mathis    36    TEX    3    3    .500    4.84   45   23    0    0    1    87.1   106   52   47   14    35    44      95
Chris Holt    49    BAL   28   51    .354    4.76  133  9    4    1    1   736.2   853  426  390   69   253   426      93
Dave Bush    41    BOS   56   69    .448    4.73  211  10    6    3    0  1144.1  1199  657  601  170   296   768      92
Brent Strom    72    HOU   22   39    .361    3.95  100   7   16    3    0   501.0   482  265  220   51   180   278      89
Kyle Snyder    43    TBR    8   17    .320    5.57   93   24    0    0    0   237.2   283  165  147   34    85   157      86
Mel Stottlemyre Jr  57    MIA    0    1    .000    4.88   13   3    0    0    0    31.1    35   18   17   3    12    14      80
Jeremy Hefner    35    NYM    8   15    .348    4.65   50  6    0    0    0   224.1   242  130  116   29    55   161      79
Larry Rothschild    67    SDP    0    0    .000    5.40   7    2    0    0    1    8.1    8    5    5    1     8     1      78
Chris Hook    53    MIL    5    2    .714    5.89   55   17    0    0    0   65.2    71   46   43   10    43    44      69
Caleb Cotham    33    PHA    1    3    .250    7.15   35    7    0    0    0   34.0    46   28   27    7    13    32      60

I didn't remember Steve Foster either. He was a Reds reliever, who started out pretty good, although they kept sending him back to the minors. Before he hurt his shoulder, something he did while throwing baseballs at milk bottles on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Which goes to show that if you really want to do Stupid Human Tricks, you have to go to the proper venue.

The average MLB career of an MLB pitching coach? Some guy who went 21-22, 4.30 in 159 games.