You typically hear the word “stuff” as a catch-all euphemism for an otherwise unimportant collection of items or tasks, so someone who is working on stuff may not be doing anything at all. “Stuff” could also be expressed as “junk,” in which case the nebulous blob has been denigrated beyond merely a lack of itemization. But in baseball parlance, stuff and junk take on far sexier and more specific definitions.
New assistant pitching coach Daniel Moskos was hired specifically to work on stuff, or pitch design, as the Cubs look to advance the way they develop their staff. Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy will take on even more of the strategic responsibilities that had been the purview of Mike Borzelo, giving Moskos a relatively narrow focus for his efforts.
“If [Hottovy’s] going to dominate mechanics, throwing programming and game-planning,” Moskos told Tim Stebbins of NBC Sports Chicago, “and then I get to dominate the work in the bullpen on a pitch design front, all of a sudden, the sum of our parts is far greater than the individual.”
That propensity for pitch design is something Moskos picked up at the conclusion of his career, which may have faltered in part to the Cubs failing him on a physical in December of 2016 after he signed a minor league deal. While he still refutes the results of the physical, the burly lefty was set along a new path that included an extended stay at Driveline, first as a student and then as an instructor.
“I fell in love with their philosophy on development and kind of that holistic approach to pitching or to development,” Moskos explained. “It’s about knowing the biomechanics side of things, the pitch package side of things, the strength side of things, and the throwing programming.”
If hiring a guy specifically to work on pitch design seems inconsequential, consider just how razor-thin the margin between success and failure is at the big league level. Fractions of seconds and inches determine whether a guy is making $150 million or navigating the transition into a new phase of his life. In more common cases, it’s the difference in having a regular spot in the bullpen mix or riding the shuttle from Triple-A to the bigs.
For Moskos, then, the big task is finding out how to add or maximize specific pitches for certain pitchers, which is incredibly important because not everyone moves the same way and can have the same repertoire. Some pitchers may not be able to pronate well enough to throw an effective changeup, let alone spin an Airbender like Devin Williams. Then you’ve got cases like Tyler Glasnow, whose carpal tunnel issues as a teenager left him unable to throw a traditional four-seam fastball.
Some issues may be less about biomechanics and more about simply throwing with proper intent or finding the right grip. Codi Heuer came to the Cubs at the trade deadline sporting an inflated ERA as the result of a hybrid fastball that wasn’t working very well at all, so Hottovy set to work making some alterations.
“We’re just trying to maximize how the ball comes out of my hand,” Heuer told Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic back in August. “Maximize the spin and how I throw and really utilize the baseball the best we can. It’s about maximizing my stuff, really. Nothing too crazy, just a couple slight tweaks here and there with the ball and how it’s coming out of my hand.”
The initial result was a sinker that had Heuer back to looking like a legit late-inning specialist, thus ensuring the Cubs won the Craig Kimbrel trade before Nick Madrigal even got a chance to work any of his two-strike magic. However, there’s still more to be done as the righty now needs to develop his four-seamer. That’s the kind of area in which Moskos is expected to have an impact in 2022 and, ideally, beyond.
Looking to potential free agent targets, you have to wonder whether Moskos might be able to help former Mariners righty Yusei Kikuchi improve his breaking balls. Projected by some to land with the Cubs, who could sure use someone with a mid-90s fastball, Kikuchi got less than stellar results last year on the slider and cutter that make up nearly 54% of his total offerings.
Hypotheticals aside, most of what Moskos does will take place behind the scenes and may not come up very often if at all. But when you hear a broadcaster talking about a pitcher using a slightly different grip or adding a new pitch to his arsenal, you’ll have a pretty good idea who was at least partially responsible.