Larry Rothschild has been the New York Yankees pitching coach since 2011 and his recent shortcomings have fans clamoring for a change.
Let me start this off by saying that I don’t know exactly how New York Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild operates in his role. I don’t shadow him during bullpen sessions, I don’t sit next to him while he’s going over film, and I don’t stand in the dugout with him while he’s talking to manager Aaron Boone. Rothschild has forgotten more about pitching that 99 percent of us will ever learn during his extensive time in Major League Baseball.
What I do know is what has been reported about Rothschild and what I can see from afar with my own eyes. Based on that, I have to believe that the longtime pitching coach is nearing the end of his line of slack with the team.
Sonny Gray’s comments this week about his brief time with the Yankees is only further evidence that Rothschild may not be the best fit.
According to Chris Cwik of Yahoo! Sports, the Yankees pushed Gray to throw a slider that he had very little confidence in throwing. Gray spoke to Eno Sarris of The Athletic and had this to say about the pitch choice.
“I can’t command my slider that well. I want to throw my slider in the dirt with two strikes, and that’s about it. I don’t have that type of slider, like Tanaka’s slider. His slider, the catcher will catch it, and the batter will swing and miss. If I get a swing and miss, the catcher is blocking it in the dirt.”
Now regardless of whether you believe that Gray is being truthful about his very public struggles or just trying to spin the story so it isn’t his fault, Rothschild had a negative effect on the former Cy Young finalist.
In fact, there were some rumors floating around during the 2018 season that Rothschild wasn’t really working with Gray the way you would assume a pitching coach would work with a guy with ace stuff but spot starter results.
The Sonny Gray saga has a great deal of fault on both sides but that’s not the most concerning thing about Rothschild’s tenure as the Yankees pitching coach.
The thing that bewilders me the most is that Luis Severino was admittedly tipping pitches and suffered through an abysmal second half of the season. There were times it seemed that every single person in Major League Baseball knew Severino’s tell except the person whose most important job is to monitor the ace of his team’s staff.
.@LouMerloni just nailed it. Red Sox had a beat on what was coming as early as the second inning. JBJ says "Fastball…" to Mookie before an 0-2 pitch to Holt, Severino pumps in 98 MPH fastball that Holt fouls away. pic.twitter.com/wLGR5dVDys
— Dan O'Mara (@Dan_OMara) October 9, 2018
This is clear evidence that the Red Sox knew what pitches were coming from Severino in the ALDS.
If it was so obvious that Severino was tipping pitches, why wasn’t his pitching coach able to identify it?
Let’s not forget Masahiro Tanaka‘s start to the 2017 season when he was giving up bombs left and right and went from a Cy Young candidate in 2016 to not being able to get his ERA lower than 4.20 for the entire 2017 season. That steep drop off brings up the biggest issue with the Yankees pitching staff under Larry Rothschild.
The Yankees’ analytics department leans away from having pitchers throw fastballs.
According to Fangraphs, in 2017, Tanaka only used his four-seam fastball 11 percent of the time. To correlate with that absurdly low fastball percentage, Tanaka ended the season with an ERA nearly a full run higher than any other season in his career.
That isn’t a coincidence.
The analytics department probably showed that his most effective pitches are his slider and his splitter so that’s what the team told him to throw. He threw a lot of sliders and splitters and he got knocked around.
Tanaka needed to work his excellent breaking stuff off of his average fastball because that’s how you set up hitters outside the computers. If you show hitters that you’re not willing to throw the fastball they’ll sit on the breaking stuff. That’s basic pitching.
Old man Rothschild probably didn’t go over the analytics too deeply because he’s an old school guy. That being said, conversations must have been had regarding this pitching philosophy. There’s no way that the pitching coach of the New York Yankees didn’t have the opportunity to tell a room full of analytics guys that basic baseball says you need to work the fastball for the breaking stuff to be effective.
So to conclude my rambling, are pitching struggles all on Larry Rothschild? No. But he’s the man in charge of the pitching staff so the responsibility is on him. If his ace is tipping pitches, it’s on him to figure out what the tell is. If a top starter is getting knocked around when the numbers say his pitch selection should be making him more successful, it’s on Rothschild to implement that adjustment. And if a pitcher on his staff is clearly uncomfortable with a pitch he’s being told to throw anyway, it’s on the pitching coach to either get him comfortable with it or change the plan.
If he has pitchers with Cy Young level stuff and he can’t figure out a way to harness their abilities, it might be time to start considering other options.