Tommy Hottovy begins the 2019 season as the youngest pitching coach in the major leagues. He’s 37, just a couple of years older than two starters who will be under his tutelage, Jon Lester and Cole Hamels.
After the shoulder injury sidelined Hottovy in the spring of 2014, he began researching possible steps to get his foot in the coaching door. His wife, Andrea, found an online course offered by Boston University called “Sabermetrics 101: Introduction to Baseball Analytics,” and Hottovy enrolled. Soon, he was spending his days not only rehabbing his arm, but studying up on the history and application of analytics.
Going through that course -- one that included original research projects -- helped expedite Hottovy’s learning curve for his next job. Prior to the 2015 season, when manager Joe Maddon was hired by the Cubs, Hottovy was enlisted as a coordinator in the team’s Major League scouting department. His unofficial title was “run prevention coordinator,” and he held that role for the past four seasons.
The article goes on to say that Hottovy and catching coach Mike Borzello have worked closely over the four seasons they’ve been together with the Cubs. Borzello, who had a similar role with the Dodgers and Yankees before coming to the Cubs in 2012, has added the title “associate pitching coach” for 2019, so he and Hottovy will be working even more closely on helping the pitching staff.
In this video which begins with a few comments from Jed Hoyer about the slow offseason market, there are some thoughts from Hottovy about how he will approach working with pitchers he’s played with (Jon Lester, Mike Montgomery) and against (Brian Duensing):
You can see in that video, I think, someone who’s open to new ideas, someone who will be easy to work with, but who will also be honest with Cubs pitchers about what needs to change in their approach, if anything. And he’s strongly into analytics:
Hottovy plans on meeting with as many pitchers as he can -- whether in person or via FaceTime -- before the group convenes at the Cubs’ Spring Training complex in Arizona. He wants to begin discussing strategies for improving the team’s walk rate, which has risen steadily over the past three seasons (9.9 percent in ‘18, 9.1 percent in ‘17, 8.3 percent in ‘16 and 6.8 percent in ‘15).
Hottovy also wants to continue to be data-driven in everything the Cubs do -- whether it’s mapping out in-game strategies, building matchup based scouting reports, tackling mechanical changes or altering pitches. Within that, Hottovy wants to make sure he is armed with reasoning for anything he and the rest of the coaching staff present to the pitchers.
”It’s not just telling them, ‘You do this and this is going to help,’” Hottovy said. “We’re walking through, ‘Why?’”
It’s an unconventional choice, to be sure. But I wonder if Cubs pitchers might find it easier to relate to someone of their own generation than an older pitching coach like the ones they’ve had the last several seasons, Chris Bosio and Jim Hickey.
If Hottovy can help get that walk rate down, it could be a great season for the Cubs pitching staff.