Non-Judgmental “Hmm” Sound: Cubs’ Pitching Coach Chris Bosio is “Old School”

We went an entire season without ever really getting to know recently-departed pitching coach Mark Riggins. Larry Rothschild had been around so long, and Riggins’ background as a pitching instructor in the Cardinals’ organization was relatively murky, that it was easy to feel like it would take a while to “know” what Riggins was all about. Couple that with Riggins’ marriage to a manager, Mike Quade, whom we all sensed was not long for the job, and it was easy to feel like we wouldn’t have the necessary while to know what Riggins was all about.

So, indeed, here we are with Riggins gone, Quade gone, and Chris Bosio and Dale Sveum in their respective places. I can’t help but feel it would be nice to know more about Bosio than we knew about Riggins. The season will tell us a lot, but, in the interim, it’s time to start getting to know Bosio better.

Dave van Dyke gives us a start, at least:

Yes, Bosio and his pitchers will rely on advance scouts and some computer printouts for tendencies, but, he says, the strategy “is going to be more focused on how do we get them out. Let’s not worry about (what batters hit) on certain counts.

“Don’t write me a book,” he said at the Cubs Convention. “If you want to write a book, stick it in the mail and give it to someone who cares. Just give me some good information on how I can get this guy out. That’s probably in a nutshell what we’re trying to do.”

Then he is a believer in using certain pitches to get batters out?

“Either that or throw at his (helmet) ear hole,” Bosio said with a laugh. “We’re going to do our share of that. I’m an old-school guy. … There’s a way to do it and do it the right way. I know we’re on the same page, Theo and the coaching staff. It’s not rocket science, it’s just old-school baseball.” …

“For the most part, the (pitching coach) philosophies are all the same,” Bosio admits….

When he talks about “inside,” Bosio will be referring to location he wants pitchers to throw, not on some bit of inside information gleaned from a computer.

“We’re going to (do) our share inside,” he said. “We’re going to play a good, hard old-fashioned baseball with fundamental stuff. And try to minimize our walks and mistakes. If we do that, we’ll win our share of games.”

It was easy to sour quickly on Riggins given how terrible the Cubs’ pitching staff was as a whole in early 2012, but, upon reflection, as I’ve said before, he probably got a bum rap. Matt Garza credits Riggins with his change approach (which yielded his best season), and Jeff Samardzija’s evolution as the season went on is almost certainly partially due to Riggins’ efforts.

I’ll do better not to make that same mistake early on with Bosio.

That said, I’d be lying if I said I liked what I was hearing. Downplaying the use of statistical analysis in approaching batters in favor of saying things like “let’s not worry about what batters do in certain counts,” and “just get them out,” well, it makes me nervous. I think it would be naive to say that not all coaching staffs avail themselves of the available data. They do. And I’m sure Bosio, together with Sveum, will do the same.

But “old school” means something, too. It suggests an approach that, when push comes to shove, eschews numbers in favor of “trying harder.” Maybe there’s something to that, at the margins anyway, but it isn’t what I want to hear in January - especially a year after Mike Quade repeatedly and consistently threw out the book in deference to his gut, to disastrous results. And, frankly, while I support an increase in “effort” by Cubs’ players, I think that whole angle has been a bit overplayed this Winter.

We’ll see how things play out over the year, and I plan to go into it with optimistic eyes that expect not to be having this same conversation about the next guy in January 2013.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

51 responses to “Non-Judgmental “Hmm” Sound: Cubs’ Pitching Coach Chris Bosio is “Old School””

  1. TT

    I think the author is important to note here. Personally, I thought Bosio came off very well at the Convention, going out of his way to detail his affinity for video analysis in particular.

    1. Mike

      Had a chance to meet him at the CC, and it was him that initiated the conversation. He showed a great deal of enthusiasm and confidence. Personally, I think it is good to have a guy that can get in there rather than stay meekly in the background. I am interested to see how he gets through to Volstad being that there are some similarities.

  2. Corncub

    It really sounds like this new staff is all about being tough and playing old school baseball, which is great. Hopefully these young players buy into it. Talk is cheap.

  3. JB88

    Bosio’s comments reads a whole lot like the dialogue from “Money Ball” between Billy Beane and Art Howe. *Sigh*

    I’d bet a dollar that Bosio calls Theo and Jed nerds behind their backs.

  4. jr5

    As long as there’s an understanding that the best way to “get guys out” is sometimes knowing what their tendencies are in certain counts, among other things, I’m fine with it.

    But as my first introduction to the guy, it’s hard to be too excited, just based on what he’s saying. It didn’t provoke a good reaction from me, and considering I’m being totally open-minded about this offseason, and I had absolutely no prejudice against Bosio (or, indeed, any knowledge of him at all), that can’t be a good sign.

    For example, Dale Sveum was in the same situation, and I really liked what I heard from him. But these quotes…I don’t know. Not a great start. Not a damning one; my first sentence of this post hopefully makes that clear. But not a great one.

    1. DocWimsey

      Well, where a “stathead” would come to Bosio’s support is to note that the sample sizes on individual pitch counts are too low to mean anything. Moreover, given that batters constantly adjust their stances as pitchers adjust to their current stance, data from April won’t be that predictive come July. It’s a classic “Red Queen” scenario.

      The biggest point to me is cutting down on walks. One thing that typifies playoff teams is that they draw a LOT more walks than they give up: and half of that is pitching.

      1. jr5

        Agreed on the “stathead” position, but my point was more that he was overly dismissive in a general sense. And the fact that he would cite a stat that doesn’t even really matter is the sort of argument that a lot of “old school” guys use. The whole “why do I need to know what a guy tends to do at night in June on a 2-2 count coming off a 3-day road trip?” which is obviously not the point of advanced metrics.

        1. Norm

          For “old school” I’d be most concerned about what that means for amount of intentional walks and usage of “closer”.

  5. aCubsfan

    Brett…are you a manic depressive? The tone of your articles it’s like riding a roller coaster. One article you’re sky high and the next you’re at the opposite end of the spectrum. This article is a classic example.

    So what if Bosio is old school and could care less about all the computer reports. Pitching has always been and always will be about pitch-by-pitch execution and how mentally tough the pitcher is. Outside of Maddox and Fergie, there have been very few Cubs pitcher over the years, especially in most recent years, that I would say are mentally tough.

    Too many ragged on Riggins last year, and before the season has even started you’re ragging on Bosio based on a couple of lines in an article. Take a chill pill.

    Besides do you think Theo and Jed would have allowed Sveum to hire Bosio if they didn’t feel comfortable with him using data at the appropriate times to develop strategy? The answer is no.

    Furthermore, if Bosio was as much of a chucklehead as you are attempting to make him out to be, why then have his AAA pitch staffs had the lowest ERA in the Pacific Coast league?

    1. Dante Hicks

      Wow…”aCubsfan.” You need to slow down before you shoot bullets that are offensive and in some cases wrong (and a couple cases right).

      1) You don’t question Brett as a “manic-depressive.” There millions of people in this country in this suffer from Bipolar disorder as it is known and it is very tough on them. This kind casual tossing around the term is wildly inconsiderate and offensive to some, including some people I care deeply about. Mental illness or “mood disorder” as it is more properly known, is a serious, real, and very difficult thing. It can relate to depression and many more serious issues. However, few have taken the time to remove the stigma that you so easily toss about. The stigma adds to the burden. And can cause people to not take meds, lose jobs, etc. Pioneers like Ian Snell, Zack Greinke, Joey Votto, Dontrelle Willis, and Khalil Greene are among the baseball players/athletes who have dealt with related anxiety, clinical depression and more. People like Milton Bradley who claim to have these issues muddy the waters, but never doubt the suffering. Bipolar itself has been around since Jimmy Piersall. The NFL is just taking on these issues with various players including Ricky Williams.

      Still not convinced? Or just willing to become educated? Read this SI piece from 2010, where I got my names from:

      http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1170866/1/index.htm

      2. Did Garry Maddox pitch for the Cubs when not raking for the Phillies? Greg Maddux has a u not an o.

      3. The lowest ERA in the PCL? Well, if we take performance there, LaHair should hit 40 HRs this year.

      4. Riggins deserved much of the barbs he took.

      5. You are absolutely right that Theo and Jed must like Bosio’s ideas. True. However, our skepticism is fair. It could that Bosio comes from the Sveum school of cliches and saying not much and conveying less. Results matter, not words. It could be worse, he could be Lovie Smith.

      In the end, be respectful and understand that you can really be offensive without meaning it.

      1. Doc Evans

        Dante Hicks. Very admirable post you made. I am currently a psychology student seeking my M.S. in counseling and you could not be more correct. I was mildly offended by the previous post and I thank you for your defense and explanation of manic depression. The only thing I would have changed is that instead of defining somebody as a manic depressive, I’d say one suffering from manic depression. Therefore not letting the illness define the person.

        Well, that’s my rant for the day. Go Cubs!

        1. Dante Hicks

          I like that Doc to be. I’ve heard that from my friends before and like it alot.

  6. Luke

    I’m of the opinion that, at some point, the best thing a pitcher can do is put his best pitch over the plate and dare the hitter to hit it. Not all the time, mind you, but there are times when I think you have to lay the numbers to the side and let the pitcher do what he does best. I think Cub pitchers have been a little reluctant to do that in recent seasons. It seems they’ve tended to stick with a certain approach even if they can’t throw that particular pitch anywhere near the strike zone, and it’s got them in trouble.

  7. MightyBear

    Best thing I’ve heard is “minimize our share of walks”. If he does that, I’m a big fan.

  8. Toosh

    Cubs hitters have been doing that for a long time, the pitchers just need to follow their example.

  9. Mike Foster

    Old School to me means that Matt Holliday would have received the beaning he so richly deserved. Yeah, I know, let it go…..

    1. Cubbie Blues

      That is exactly what I think of when I think old school. Our pitchers have been unwanting to go with a little chin music. I know he is a HOF but Nolan Ryan was feared (partly) for this reason. He would come straight at you. Oh, and NEVER try to bunt on him.

    2. MC2

      I know I didn’t forget and i’m sure that there’s some of the players that remember pretty well also. Even if it’s 3 years down the road Holliday has one coming. Every time he came to bat the rest of the games with against the Cubs he was very uneasy in the box. He knows it’s coming and he deserves it!

  10. Spencer

    I think this sounds perfect.

  11. OHBearCub

    If he said eveything you wanted to hear wouldn’t that be pretty predictable? Pitching is the art of suprise and the application of fundamentals of the game. Its knowledge and establishing control and being on the attack at all times. I think old school is great and new school is great as well. Advanced scouting is veryy helpful when planning your attack as pitcher. If you dont have it might hurt your chances. Some guys can’t afford to be to analytical, it gets in the way their ability to just throw strikes and get batters out. For the most part if you pound the complete strike zone with authority you will win the battle. It takes an aggressive yet artful approach. Thats what seperates starters from relievers. Starters have more tricks in their bag than relievers do. Today pitchers rarely throw deep into games because they dont have bag of tricks they can command 3, 4 amd 5 times through lineup and still get batters out. Jamie Moyer, Greg Maddux and Tommy John are exaples of pitchers who understand the art of pitching. Ferguson Jenkins and Rick Rueschell were masters at it. Garza is learning it. Bosio has to figure where his chess pieces fit on the board and to move them at the right time during spring training or he is going to have some problems. Quade never had a clue he made every classic mistake possible last year.

  12. rcleven

    Old school new school what does it really matter? I relate old school more to the high hard one which MLB frowned on for for years. It backs hitters off the plate & feel a little unease. I think it also gives the pitcher the outside of the plate. Something to be said if you are effective wild.

  13. MrRobbins

    A couple things…

    You don’t need advanced analytics to see where a hitter struggles. Whether they pour over scouting reports or watch some tape, they should have a very good idea of what pitches to throw and where to throw them. Executing the pitches? That’s the important part.

    If getting people out was as simple as understanding their weaknesses and strengths, pouring over stats, and out-smarting the pitchers, Theo would be our ace. I don’t think it’s a matter of “trying harder”.

    I think it’s more about a one batter at a time approach where you take everything into account… You’re pre-game planning AND what you see with your own eyes. Just because usually a hitter has a great eye and sees the ball well doesn’t mean on this particular day and on this particular pitch he is. If he’s expanded his strike zone and rolled out to first and strikeout, you throw it out of the zone.

    While stats are important, the pitcher still beats a hall of fame hitter 65-70% of the time. The hitters have the exact same stats that the pitcher gets. They are trying to figure out what a pitcher is going to throw based on counts and situations also. If you always throw what those stats “tell” you to, the hitters can know too.

    So no matter how stat-oriented and no matter what the game plan, old-school guy feeling is going to come into it much, much more than we think… Even if they throw the pitch they are “supposed” to, it’s because they believe at that moment in time, that’s the pitch that needs thrown.

  14. OHBearCub

    I think Lahair is going to do quite well this year. I think the reason he stayed in Triple A was because we hand a retarded GM and retarded manager. He could easily have been brought up earlier in his career and would have produced. Baseball is politics and he a victim of that part of the game. He never had a sponsor in the cubs system. If you dont have sponsor you are screwed no matter how good you are. Lahair has a sponsor now and that is Theo. So I expect Lahair to do well. They brought him to the winter meetings so they could confirm their sponsorship plan. Thats when the cubs were no longer in on Prince Fielder. They new they had a good enough in house solution for a while. Rizzo is the long term solution. But dont expect Lahair to step aside for him. He.is going to want to stick around. I think he ends being our left fielder in a platoon with Soriano when Rizzo comes up. With Lahair and Soriano covering the DH role and left field. Defensively it might not be pretty. But offensively it will be very productive.

    1. WGNstatic

      I would request that you consider using a different adjective to describe the manager and GM from last season.

      I abhor calling people out for this kind of stuff, but as someone whose life is touched by these issues I get a pit in my stomach when I see people throw around “the ‘r’ word”.

  15. cubfanincardinalland

    All you had to do was watch Marmol digress last year to realize that Riggins was in way over his head. For years the Cubs young pitchers have pitched scared. What I hear is minimize walks(throw strikes and challenge hitters with confidence), and pitch inside(the basis for any success in the big leagues).

  16. juice

    Pitching is simple. Throw strikes early to get ahead. Throw a couple out of the zone to chase and come back with your best pitch. That’s old school and that’s what the Cubs need. Not throwing 0-2 fastballs down the middle like last year. Or start a guy off with 3 straight sliders out of the zone and try and fight back. Bosio has done a great job in the past where he has been. If he can get these pitchers to challenge hitters and force ground balls without giving up walks, the Cubs will be in a lot of games.

  17. DocWimsey

    Actually, a lot of old-school guys say NEVER deliberately throw outside of the strike zone (excepting for pitchouts, of course; or Shawon Dunston!). Trying to get most MLB batters to chase bad pitches is not a good idea. (This excludes, of course, well, most Cubs prospects, it seems…)

    Under Theo’s reign, the Sox strategy was simple. Throw a different strike from the one you just threw and from the one you are going to throw next.

  18. matt

    What I liked about the article, that I think people are overlooking, is his demand to pitch inside. Not only to pitch inside, but if and when hitters are looking away, that it is awfully tough to continue to do so with a fastball in their ribs. To me, I think what he wants are agressive “I own the mound” pitchers. Too often I have seen Cubs pitchers trying for the strike out and running their pitch count up. I think what he wants, and I’m not a mind reader is to get the hitter out….We don’t need to strike everyone out….just get them out. A well placed 0-2 fastball that gets a ground out, is better then an 0-2 count that runs to 3-2 after 12 pitches and looks pretty in the score book after a slider punches the hitter out. Just what I read from the article.

  19. Bren

    call me naive if you will, but I always question how much influence or authority a pitching coach has anyway; its not as if he can bench you, if a pitcher trusts his own ability and has a good rapport with the catcher, i tend to think the effects of the pitching coach are minimal.

    1. matt

      I’d say to minimize the importance of a pitching coach is naive. Dave Duncan is one of the best pitching coaches in baseball. I firmly believe he could make you or I a starting pitcher with the goup of castoffs he’s turned around all by himself. I believe they have to be a combination of psychiatrist, and know what each pitcher needs individually whether it’s a kick in the butt, or whatever…ON TOP of knowing mechanics and opposing pitchers.

  20. MichCubFan

    As far as what hitters hit at what counts…You will want to know the hitters approach, the pitches and locations he likes, and his weaknesses. So you will know where you do and don’t want to throw the ball, what pitches to throw at what times, and have a good idea of what the hitter is trying to do…such as swinging at the first pitch, laying off borderline pitches, or if they swing at 2-0, etc. But that is just the information. You still need to get the batter out which is about the execution of your game plan which is influenced by what you are good at with consideration of the hitter and his tendencies.

    So i think what Bosio meant is that he thinks numbers are important as it pertains to who you are facing. But then you have to know your strengths, throw strikes, minimize walks, and get hitters out. The ball is really in the pitchers court…it is up to the hitter to hit it. So knowing what average a hitter might have against a certain pitch at a certain count is going too far. Which i would agree on. But i don’t think that means that he does’t care about the numbers.

  21. Tommy

    Thanks for this article, Brett. It was great and I have been in the dark about what Bosio is like, so this was real good stuff!

  22. bob

    The last time I can rememver the Cubs owning the inside of the plate was ’03, with Wood, Prior, Clement, Zambrano all pitching inside effectively when needed. It really ticked off a lot of opponents, cleared a couple of benches, and got other teams thinking about more than they should have. Teams didn’t want to face those guys, and it showed. When you can get the hitter bailing out, your curve/slider/splitter all become unhittable, even if they are really just average. That was even part of Marmol’s problem last year…he wasn’t wild inside enough, so guys weren’t as afraid to stand in there, making him more hittable. I say”Own the Inside” should become the motto for the staff!

  23. Kansas Cubs Fan

    I really hope our pitcher aren’t scared to throw inside like they were last year. It was sad and embarrassing when Byrd got beaned and nobody on the Sox was hit back.

    If this team isn’t going to win next year I’d at least like to see one brawl.

  24. CubFanBob

    Agreed, we had so many hits batsman that series. I don’t believe the Cubs hit one Boston player.

    1. Dooglass

      Agreed, in 2003 we were a nasty pitching staff. I’m not sure how many batters we hit that year, but it was a lot. It’s a useful tool in the right situation.