The next Red Sox pitching coach will have a full plate of responsibilities

The Boston Globe Sports 4 days ago

HOUSTON — The Red Sox have now gone five weeks without a general manager since firing Dave Dombrowski and that isn’t expected to change any time soon.

Eventually, we assume, somebody will be put in charge of baseball operations.

Besides, the Sox actually have a much more interesting hire to make.

They’re also looking for a new pitching coach after reassigning Dana LeVangie to the pro scouting department. Who lands that position will reveal much about the direction the organization is heading.

Long gone are the days when the pitching coach was some old buddy of the manager.

Houston Astros righthander Justin Verlander, who has pitched in the majors since 2005, expects a lot more from a pitching coach than he once did.

“It’s changed a lot. I think you have to be willing to change with the times,” Verlander said Saturday before the Astros played the Yankees in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

“You have to be willing to adapt. And you have to be able to embrace some analytics and the numbers. There’s so much data out there now, not just when it comes to scouting, but when it comes to pitching mechanics and tracking the body and how it’s moving and release points and all of this different stuff.

“You kind of have to be able to blend it all and at the same time remember the pitching side of it.”

Teams often struggle with defining the role and finding the right fit. Only four pitching coaches in the American League have been in their current positions for more than three seasons.

The next pitching coach of the Sox will be the forth in a span of six seasons. Major league coaching or pitching experience is not a pre-requisite as they screen candidates, a process they are already deep into.

It’s possible the Sox will have a new pitching coach before they settle on a new GM so their pitchers can start getting acclimated. There are a wide range of possibilities in what is an active search.

When the Twins hired Rocco Baldelli as manager last winter, their choice as pitching coach was Wes Johnson. All of his prior coaching experience was at the college and high school level and he had no professional playing experience.

The assistant pitching coach, Jeremy Hefner, had pitched in the majors but never coached before. He had been an advance scout with the Twins.

The Twins finished sixth in the American League with a 4.18 ERA — a 7.1 percent decrease from 2018 — and won 101 games.

The Astros have a traditional pitching coach in Brent Strom, who turns 71 on Monday. He pitched parts of five seasons in the majors and worked his way up as a coach through the minors.

Bullpen coach Josh Miller, who is 40, joined the staff this season after being the organization’s pitching coordinator. He’s essentially the assistant pitching coach.

Houston also has baseball operations staffers in charge of major league advance information, major league video, pro scouting analysis, and research and development. All play some role in preparing pitchers for games.

“Supplying information comes from a lot of different ways, [from] our front office and our pitching department” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.

“The application of the game planning and how you go into a series knowing where you’re going to exploit hitters or where your best weapons are, there’s great knowledge that’s been deployed to these players more so than ever before.”

That’s what the Sox have to figure out, how to structure the job and the flow of information. At a time when analytics often dictates game planning, the pitching coach has to find a way to present the information in a way the pitcher can best use it.

The Sox never quite made that work this season. It was common to hear a starter say he junked the game plan after the first inning and fell back on something else.

“We’re not robots,” Verlander said “The best pitching coaches I think are able to take the new wave and combine it with the old. I think that’s the best recipe for success.”

That mix is forever changing. A day after the Red Sox season ended, they had staff members on the field at Fenway Park testing equipment that would provide bio-mechanical feedback on pitchers.

Players from a local college wore jerseys embedded with sensors while they pitched and the data came back instantaneously to the medical and sports science staff.

The Red Sox also have invested in portable high-speed cameras and other devices that measure the spin and movement of pitches.

Their next pitching coach doesn’t need to be an expert in all of these fields. But he does need to tie them all together in such a way that the pitcher benefits when he’s on the mound.

“Once you get out on the field we want our guys to compete,” Hinch said. “They’re not analysts out there on the mound. We’re not generating a lot of computer reports trying to overcomplicate the game. But we prepare them much better today.”


Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.


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