It’s difficult to explain exactly why I feel this way, but there’s something exciting – well, relatively speaking – about the decision to make Tommy Hottovy the Cubs’ next pitching coach. Part of it, I think, is because he breaks the mold of the 55-year-old retired player or life-long coach we’re so used to seeing, but there’s more to it than that.
There’s obviously nothing wrong with those types of coaches – I mean, that’s Joe Maddon, more or less, and he’s essentially been the greatest Cubs manager in history (4 consecutive playoff teams, 3 NLDS wins, 2 Turtle doves, and a World Series ring).
It’s also the way Hottovy explains his plans, background, and goals here and here that makes me think he’s the right choice. Indeed, despite my probably off-balanced affinity for anything newer, younger, or different, I can still very much understand and respect the importance of experience. Hottovy, like many pitching coaches, was a former big league pitcher and that certainly matters, especially to the players.
But unlike most pitching coaches, his time in the big leagues – albeit brief – was very recent (he was actually in Cubs Spring Training along with Kris Bryant back in 2014). So he doesn’t just have the ability to connect to the players as a former player himself, but also because he can recognize the shortcomings and gaps in *today’s* game from the perspective of a player. With all due respect to even the greatest pitching coaches or youngest coaches at heart, there’s probably going to be a noticeable difference there.
Hottovy is also in a unique position to take advantage of advanced metrics, not only because of his own admitted personal interest in those topics (he took baseball analytics courses as we was transitioning from a player to an analyst/coach), but also because of his position within the Cubs organization the last few years, while also understanding how those things can too often get lost or ignored in translation: “We have a lot of data and that data will give us information on mechanics and how to make changes, but it’s about simplifying it. It’s about giving them one or two nuggets to focus on and not 10 different things. It’s about, hopefully, in the end, you land in a good position to throw a baseball and execute.” I get the sense from his full quotes – here at NBC Sports Chicago and here at Cubs.com– that his primary goal as the Cubs Run Prevention Coordinator and now as the Cubs Pitching Coach revolve around communicating front office ideas to the players in a way they’ll best be able to absorb and deploy.
But it’s also his big-picture mentality that really keeps me interested. For example, this quote (and his larger point) plays like music to my ears: “To say we’re gonna walk less people, that’s not — in my mind — the right approach to take,” Hottovy said. “It’s process-oriented, not results.”
Without getting too much into the weeds, Hottovy went on to explain that while he sees the Cubs elevated 2018 walk rate as an issue, he can also acknowledge that they were among the higher-ranked pitching staffs in terms of limiting OPS and slugging. So instead of overreacting to immediately improve just the walk rate, he wants to make sure that any changes made are not simply robbing Peter to pay Paul. Put differently, the Cubs can be dead last in walk rate next season for all I care, as long as they’re limiting the overall damage in a sustainable, explainable, repeatable way.
That’s not to say Hottovy will be an immediate success – we liked a lot about Jim Hickey when he first took the job, too – but I can admire and respect a different approach. Head over to NBC Sports Chicago or Cubs.com to see what the new Cubs pitching coach is all about.