Somewhat lost in the announcement of the hire of Mark Loretta as Cubs bench coach Wednesday was the simultaneous announcement that former pitcher Bob Tewksbury was named as a mental skills coordinator on the Cubs staff.
Tewksbury was an extreme ground-ball pitcher during his big-league career, which included a 6.4 bWAR season in 1992 with the Cardinals in which he finished third in Cy Young voting.
In that season Tewksbury threw 233 innings and issued 20 walks.
Twenty. Tyler Chatwood issued more walks than that (22) in April 2018, when he threw a total of 28⅔ innings.
It wasn’t just in 1992, though. Tewksbury led the major leagues in BB/nine innings rate that year, walking just 0.8 per nine. He did that again in 1993, and also led the majors in BB/K rate even though he struck out only four per nine innings.
In addition, Tewksbury’s career BB/9 ratio of 1.454 ranks fourth among all pitchers in MLB history with more than 1,000 career innings since 1900. Only Dan Quisenberry among modern pitchers ranks higher (1.397), along with two guys from the Deadball Era (Deacon Phillippe, Addie Joss).
So it would seem that Tewksbury could be a great asset in working with Chatwood — and Carl Edwards Jr., who also has issues with too many walks — on the mental-skills aspect of how to fix that problem. Between Tewksbury, new pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and new associate pitching coach Mike Borzello, the Cubs now have several highly-qualified people who might be able to help Chatwood (and CJ) stop walking so many hitters.
It wasn’t just those two pitchers, either; Cubs hurlers walked 622 hitters in 2018, second-most in the National League. So these coaches/coordinators have their work cut out for them.
Tewksbury is well-known to Theo & Co. He worked for the Red Sox in a mental-skills capacity from 2004-13, and for the last two years has been mental performance coach for the Giants. This is an area that’s been vastly expanding for major-league teams over the last few years as they realize that the mental approach to the game by players is as important as any physical preparation they can do. He recently wrote a book (with Scott Miller) called “Ninety Percent Mental,” on the topic of the mental approach to the game.
Here’s an interview he did last April about the book. At about 14 minutes in he talks about Jon Lester and his throwing issues.
One thing Tewksbury mentions in that interview as a possible cause of something like the throwing-to-first issue that Lester had is that it’s kind of a “PTSD thing,” where one specific incident leads to the problem. In Lester’s case it very likely could have been the 2014 A.L. wild-card game where the Royals ran like crazy on him. As Tewksbury notes in the interview, when Lester was in Boston runners rarely ran on him in American League games. The most steal attempts off Lester in any single A.L. season he had was 29; in his first N.L. season in 2015, 55 runners tried to steal off Lester (and only 20 percent were caught). He’s gotten better at it, and last year only 23 runners tried to steal off Lester, with nine caught (36 percent).
Here’s another interview with Tewksbury done around the same time by Barry Rozner and Joe Ostrowski on 670 The Score, talking about Lester and also his work with Anthony Rizzo, who as you know began his career in the Boston organization:
So these are the sorts of things that a mental-skills coach or coordinator can help with. It might not be easy to get Chatwood’s and Edwards’ walk rates down. But I am convinced the front office now has the right guys in place to begin that process.
Spring training is only about six weeks away.