Several weeks ago, I was offered an opportunity to interview former major league pitcher, coach and executive Dave Stewart, who now hosts a show on the fantasy sports site NBX.com. As you recall, I asked BCB readers to submit questions for Dave. Here's the interview; I submitted your questions by email and received the replies in the same way, so unfortunately there wasn't any capacity for followup questions. But I think Dave has some insights on the game and the Cubs, and he doesn't pull punches.
BCB: Can you tell us a little bit about the knowledge-level of players on steroids was during your days with the A's? Jose Canseco claims the steroid use was common knowledge - not even veiled in secrecy.
DS: My opinion on that is drug addicts hang out with drug addicts, alcoholics are usually in the same area with alcoholics so a steroid user would probably be in the same neighborhood with steroid users. Jose would probably know about steroid use but a guy like me who's not privy to that kind of stuff nor using steroids would have no knowledge of it. That would include Carney Lansford, that would be Rickey Henderson, that would be Dave Henderson, that would be Dave Parker. Where you have two guys on our team using steroids out of 25, I would say the percentage of guys on our ball club that knew about it would be two guys vs. 23.
BCB: Over a five year run with the A's (1987-91) you averaged 36 + starts per year, 257+ innings per year and had a total of 43 complete games. No one in baseball today comes close to those numbers. Should top starting pitchers be expected to handle that sort of workload, or is the current preference toward five-man rotations and strict adherence to pitch counts better?
DS: I think there's a responsibility, definitely from at least the #1 starter, no doubt about it. I think there should be a work load for your #2 and your #3 starters. I think your 4th and 5th guys there should be less expectation. The game of baseball today has changed a lot from when I played. A #1 starter in my period of time was expected to start and be ready to start every fifth day or every fourth day if necessary. You had to put in a good pitching work load because complete games in my period were necessary to rest the bullpen. Now starters are expected to throw six innings at best and if you can get seven out of them that's what they call icing on the cake. More teams are developing their bullpens to be better and to be able to come in games in the fifth, sixth, seventh innings to get the ball to your closer and your set up guy. The game is designed differently. In my opinion I can see starting pitching pitch deep in the game and bring back complete games being good for baseball. But the game is different now.
BCB: When you pitched, you were allowed to pitch inside and hitters didn't wear armor like they do now. How would you pitch in today's environment?
DS: I'd pitch the same way. You don't change your style of pitching. If you're known to be a guy that's out there who pitches a lot inside to take control of the inside part of the plate those things don't change whether a guy's wearing a pad on his elbow or not. You still take control of the part of the plate you feel comfortable with.
BCB: How much effect can a coach have on a big leaguer? Does it all come down to their desire and ability to listen and change? Can you talk a little bit about what it's like to be a pitching coach?
DS: The purpose of having a coach is to refine, make better, to be an addition to what a player already has, what a player is already doing. Players get to the big leagues because they're talented already. We're not trying to do anything but enhance their talent and give them a better plan for what they already do, to give them awareness. We're teachers in doing that. It's for better awareness, to fine tune and help skilled players get better.
BCB: Have you ever seen a pitching staff with as many injuries as the Cubs have? What factors do you think contribute to such a disaster of a rotation? Conditioning? Over-use? Bad luck?
DS: I have never seen so many injuries to a pitching staff. What contributes to that, all of the above. Overuse, but that doesn't necessarily have to happen in the big leagues. That could have happened in college ball or high school leading to the minor leagues and getting to the big leagues. Then also some pitchers genetically just aren't able to handle the work load, consequently they break down or you've already got things happening with the arm that eventually will come out at a later time. There are a lot of different reasons for it. Conditioning can be part of it. There are a lot of reasons, but I don't think you can pinpoint one.
BCB: What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the Cubs' organization? What steps would you take to address these weaknesses? Finally, how long would you expect it to take to turn this franchise into a contender?
DS: Now anybody would say their biggest weakness, their biggest hole is their starting rotation. They have the ability there it's just keeping it healthy. They're a much better team when you've got Prior and Wood in their rotation - their top two guys. They're a much better team than they are now.
BCB: Did the Cubs give up on Jerome Williams too early? He's shown potential (especially prior to the Cubs), but was released without enough time to prove himself.
DS: Sometimes that happens. The one thing management or baseball teams don't have is a crystal ball to see what a player's going to be in the future. You put in time with players. In time they think that they have an understanding of what a player's going to be and when I say internally I mean you get together with your coaches, your minor league staff, your big league staff and you evaluate a player. You try to do the best job you can to understand what a player is going to end up being. Nobody is 100% right on a player. I was with Philadelphia in 1985 and was released by the Phillies [the following year]. I was traded by the Dodgers and Texas and ended up having a pretty good career when I got to Oakland. Sometimes it's just getting to the right place and getting to the right environment to bring out your ability.
BCB: What do you know personally about Larry Rothschild and his pitching philosophies and what is your take on his strengths and weaknesses as a pitching coach?
DS: I don't know very much about Larry at all. I knew Larry as a pitcher in the big leagues but I don't know very much about him and his coaching style. People have said he's very good. He's a mental guy vs. a mechanical guy like some of the pitching coaches in the big leagues. I personally don't know much other than hearsay.
BCB: What's your take on Rich Hill? Is he for real?
DS: With young players you just have to wait and see. It's tough to say if he's for real or not. In appearance yeah, you think he's going to be around for awhile, but I think it's going to be a wait and see. I like to wait and see on guys. Ryan Howard came into the league last year and did what he did, but I wasn't willing to say that he was going to do what he did again this year. Now having an MVP year he's legitimate. Most people will say wait after two years and then make the decision.
BCB: Which current Cubs pitcher do you think most closely matches your repertoire?
DS: If anybody it'd probably be Zambrano. I like Wood but he's not close. I like Prior but he's not close. Zambrano is legitimate. He's competitive and he's got a great assortment of pitches. The only difference between me and Zambrano is composure. I don't think he's always composed. I think he's too emotional at times, but just pitching repertoire I'd say Zambrano