Whether Larry Rothschild was a successful pitching coach or not, the Yankees were probably going to move on from him regardless. (Read Frankie Marco’s article on Rothschild’s success HERE.) The writing may have been on the wall when they hired Sam Briend from Driveline baseball as their Director of Pitching last summer.
The Yankees spend a lot on player development and, while I’m sure they’ve always paid attention to detail in the past, the Briend hire certainly signifies that detail will now be a premium asset in the Bronx.
In case you’re unaware of Driveline, it’s company that was founded in 2008 by Kyle Boddy, who wanted to dig deeper into player development after reading Moneyball. What started as a small lab in Seattle has grown into a state-of-the-art facility where collegiate athletes as well as stars of the game (the likes of Trevor Bauer and Tyler Glasnow) hone their craft. At their disposal Driveline offers athletes high speed cameras which dissect every movement in their delivery as well as the spin on their pitches.
Briend is from this environment and that’s why I don’t think a celebrity pitching coach is going to be the answer for the Yankees. That means all your David Cone and Pedro Martinez wishes won’t come true. If they were going to go down the celebrity route, they probably wouldn’t have gone out and hired Briend in the first place.
If I had to guess, the next coach will be proficient in the same methodologies and technologies you can find at Driveline.
One of those high speed cameras Briend has worked with is the Edgertronic camera. On his personal Instagram page, he gives a tiny sample of how he evaluates a pitcher with it.
If you take a second to watch the video, you’ll see what I mean about the Yankees looking to dive deeper into detail. Here we see Briend evaluating a pitcher’s shin angle, hip extension and the rotation of their pelvic area. This is just why I don’t think the way to go is the cool route like a David Cone.
It’s not to say Cone wouldn’t be a good pitching coach. Cashman is probably looking for guys who who have the Driveline mentality in their DNA.
SO WHO SHOULD IT BE?!
A coach the masses haven’t heard of will most likely be the person to land this job. We’ll be hearing about a few unfamiliar names in the coming weeks and we’ve already had one this week. Jeff Passan reported on one of those names and it’s the University of Michigan pitching coach Chris Fetter.
The New York Yankees have interviewed Chris Fetter, the University of Michigan pitching coach, for their open pitching coach job, sources tell ESPN. Fetter is considered a rising star in the industry and has drawn significant interest from major league teams, including the Mets.
Fetter, despite not having his own bobblehead day at Yankee Stadium, fits into this Briend mold well. Here is what Michigan Coach Erik Bakich had to say of Fetter’s ability to communicate to players the data he sees when trying to perfect a young pitcher’s mechanics.
“Well, Chris Fetter is — I’ll get into what makes him special, but just from a teaching standpoint, he’s one of the most talented pitching coaches I’ve ever seen, very similar to the guy that we had at Vanderbilt in Derek Johnson.”
“Chris Fetter has been offered multiple Major League positions. You know, it’s one thing to be able to analyze Trackman and Rapsodo data and understand what the ball is doing and be able to speak that language, but then to be able to convert that language into something that can be easily communicated to our players and understandable to our players, and then to be able to communicate to them based on what the data shows, we think we can help you and make you a better pitcher by these types of adjustments, and he is a master at that.”
So here is a guy who is proficient in some of baseball’s newest toys, such as the Trackman radar system and the Rapsodo camera. Both tools are used to analyze velocity, spin rate and the point at which a breaking ball falls off the plate. Were he to be hired, the Yankees wouldn’t have to wait for a learning curve. He’s already deep into this stuff.
Fetter is exactly the kind of guy I envisioned the Yankees would be interviewing too. He’s personable, educated, and has the resume to back himself up. He spent some time with the Los Angeles Dodgers and was one of the reasons Michigan made it to the College World Series for the first time in 35 years.
Working with young players is another reason why the Yankees could go the collegiate route. Think of some of the names coming up through the organization. At some point, Deivi Garcia, Michael King and Clarke Schmidt will be making their debuts in the Bronx. The Yankees need someone smart that is also an effective communicator with young athletes.
Fetter, or a pitching coach in his mold, could also be great if the team decides to bring Zack Wheeler into the fold. Now if you know Wheeler’s story, he’s a guy who has suffered through inconsistencies his whole career. One day he can give up 7 runs in an outing – something we saw firsthand when he surrendered long balls to Luke Voit and Gio Urshela.
Then, not even a few weeks later, he’ll be shutting down the White Sox. In the snap of a finger, he’s the most dominant pitcher in the world.
Just imagine the Yankees doing to Wheeler what the Astros did to Gerrit Cole. This isn’t that far from the realm of possibility, knowing the direction the Yankees are headed in with player development.
Just like Wheeler, Cole always threw heat. Also like Wheeler, he was inconsistent. Under the Astros though, Cole rose his average spin rate of 2201 RPMs to 2470 RPMs in less than a year. More important than that, he had the results. Cole went from a 4.26 ERA, 4.08 FIP and 8.7 K/9 in 2017 to a 2.88 ERA, 2.70 FIP and 12.4 K/9 in 2018.
Why can’t the Yankees do something similar with Wheeler? They have all the tools the Astros have at their disposal right now. Maybe under Briend’s eye, we get this kind of evolution for Wheeler.
Cole in 2017:
Cole in 2018:
Cole this year:
Losing in the ALCS the way the Yankees did was tough. It still stings and it should. Right now though, there’s definitely reason to be optimistic. Three years ago, we saw just how bright the future was for this team and now, it sort of feels brighter.
I have no doubt in my mind that the Yankees can potentially bring in the DJ LeMahieu of pitching coaches. Just an under-the-radar guy who flourishes in the Bronx.