Yes, the Cubs do have an actual position titled “run prevention coordinator,” and Tommy Hottovy‘s done such a good job in that role that he might be ready for a promotion. According to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, who joined David Kaplan for a brief radio hit Wednesday afternoon, Hottovy is the top name to watch when it comes to replacing Jim Hickey as pitching coach.
Former Red Sox manager John Farrell has been mentioned more than once, but bringing in someone of his ilk just seems like a recipe for some killer awkward-sauce. Same goes for former Reds manager Bryan Price. Giants pitching coach Curt Young is another name that’s come up, though it’s more than fair to question how willing he’d be to leave his current gig for one that isn’t guaranteed beyond next year.
So it makes sense that the Cubs would be looking for a younger, less established individual, particularly one who’s already part of the organization. Enter Hottovy, a former minor league pitcher who fortuitously fell into his current role as his pitching career petered out.
“I was in spring training with the Cubs in 2014, playing, and blew out my shoulder,” Hottovy told David Laurila of FanGraphs in December of 2015. “I had a feeling I was done, but I spent the summer rehabbing, anyway. Along the way, I took the online Sabermetrics 101 course from Boston University. I was a finance major with an economics minor at Wichita State, so I have a numbers background. I wanted to refresh my statistics knowledge, and the sabermetrics course, which is obviously about baseball, helped with that.
“I started talking to teams. I told Theo (Epstein) and (Director of Video and Advance Scouting) Kyle Evans what I was interested in, and once we signed Joe Maddon, we discussed how the whole dynamic may work. They were in and we kind of ran with it. ”
Hottovy works very closely with catching instructor Mike Borzello to develop strategies for Cubs pitchers, including overall pitch sequencing and uncovering matchup-based leverage points. So while there’s a sense that a pitching coach’s duties involve mostly working on mechanical adjustments and strolling out to the mound to calm a guy down after a rough patch, most of the real work is done behind the scenes.
Rogers mentioned that he would almost always see Hottovy in front of a computer, and his current role is such that he’s generally watching film or viewing the game from the stands or the booth. Hottovy’s data and observations would be discussed with the individual coaches, who would then apply them in their more hands-on duties. How such a transition would work, then, is a bit of a question mark.
Hottovy, a side-arming lefty, pitched at Wichita State and was selected in the fourth round of the 2004 draft, after which he spent parts of 11 seasons in the professional ranks. He toiled almost exclusively in the minors, logging a total of 13.1 major league innings across 17 appearances in 2011 and ’12.
So the pedigree is there, but being able to relate that to the members of a pitching staff in a more direct manner without much experience doing so is a different animal. Then again, Hottovy knows the Cubs pitchers very well and has a rapport with them and the rest of the staff. He’s surely earned the trust of veterans like Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks and he’s still young enough (37) to relate well to those darn millennials — which is literally every pitcher they have — who gave Chili Davis such trouble.
If there’s any concern with Hottovy’s ability to affect mechanical changes, Borzello and other members of the staff could surely lend some assistance. And in some cases it’s a simple matter of tweaking things by fractions of inches here or there, which Hottovy’s résumé says he should be able to recognize and relay. Besides, we’re talking about a veteran group that doesn’t need much in the way of overt tutelage. A little suggestion and some insightful scouting info here and there can go a long way.
And if you’re searching for another little angle on Hottovy that might give him a leg up on the job, look no further than that 2004 draft. The team that selected him was none other than the Boston Red Sox, who were presided over at the time by a man named Theo Epstein. Hottovy spent parts of eight season in the Red Sox organization before eventually making his big league debut with them in 2011, which is how he was on Epstein’s radar three years later.
Despite his lack of coaching experience, Hottovy seems like a better fit for the Cubs at this particular moment than someone like Farrell or Price. The organization’s inability to develop young pitchers has forced them to rely on veterans, but that may actually provide a softer landing for someone new to the role of pitching coach. Maybe a bigger name guy coming in with static ideas on how things should be would have a harder time getting through to pitchers who are confident in their own ways already.
If nothing else, this presents a very different option from the one that’s been most prominent to this point. And I like it for several reasons, one of which is the reaction it’ll get from people who don’t like it. It’ll also be fun to hear sports radio callers trying to pronounce “Hottovy” (HOT-uh-vee). Don’t count on the Cubs making a move until after Thanksgiving, but they’ll want to get things settled pretty quickly so they can get on with the rest of the winter.