Something I’ll note right up front out of fairness: Carl Edwards Jr. has always dealt with control issues, and there has long been a question about his ability to get himself righted on the mound when things go sideways. I don’t think it’s at all reasonable to suggest that his struggles to start this season were due to the work on his windup delivery this Spring. Edwards’ troubles go way back.
That said, it was one of the early season’s biggest curiosities: how did the Cubs go through all of Spring Training with Edwards rocking a new hesitation in his delivery, only to be informed that the delivery was illegal after the very first regular season game? For a coaching staff that has seen more than its fair share of turnover, including Tommy Hottovy moving from Run Prevention Coordinator to Pitching Coach, that sure seemed like a really bad sign about the communication in the pitching infrastructure, right?
Well, the problem with that theory was pretty obvious if you were watching Edwards this spring. As we noted after his first appearance, the delivery Edwards was using early in the spring was not illegal, and it was only after he full-on stopped his motion in Texas that things looked quite a bit more illegal.
Sure enough, Hottovy confirmed to Jesse Rogers in an interesting Q&A that the change in the season debut was precisely what happened.
“Here is the evolution of that. Back in spring training, that move was built in as a drill, something for him to use to stay over the rubber and drive toward the plate. As he was doing it, it was just a ‘tap and go,’ and as he took it into games, we asked multiple people, multiple umpires about it, and it was fine. What he was doing at the time was fine. As spring training went, we heard nothing. We asked, we checked on the rules – nothing.
“But that first hitter in Texas, the first leg lift, and he held it, and they deemed that illegal. He changed the move. It was a lot for him to think about. So we’ve tried to simplify things for him.”
In other words, if you do the move properly (think gliding like Kenley Jansen and Clayton Kershaw, off of whom Edwards patterned the delivery), it isn’t illegal, even if there’s a little tap of your toe. And, at most, that’s all Edwards was doing when the Cubs kept checking on the legality of the delivery: tapping his toe.
But when the season began, for reasons known only to Edwards, that tap became a total, glaring, really obvious stop and re-set. In a post Carter-Capps-rules-clarification world, you cannot do that once you start your windup, otherwise it’s an illegal pitch.
I think the Cubs are going to be as charitable as possible to their pitcher here, but I think how things played out is pretty clear: everything the Cubs did with Edwards was legal, and they ensured it would be legal in the season. And then, facing an actual meaningful appearance, Edwards changed what he was doing. Maybe the Cubs deserve some blame for not anticipating that Edwards couldn’t properly carry forward the move, but at some point, a big league baseball player needs to be responsible for his own performance on the field. Edwards liked doing the move. He wanted to do the move. And then he messed it up in a way that was illegal. So that’s that.
Hopefully, the experience provided at least some benefit to Edwards’ mechanics, and he takes that with him to Iowa, where he will be for a little while as he works out the command and control problems that have plagued him since early last season. The talent and ability in Edwards’ arm is undeniably top tier to any observer. Actually carrying it forward consistently and mentally into games is the problem, as it is for so many uber-talented AAA/MLB relief pitchers.
It’s more likely than not that we see Edwards back up with the big league pen at some point later this year.