There has been a lot of discussion about Orioles GM Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde building out 2019’s on-field coaching staff, which has yet to be formally announced by the club. This is because there is a new regime in town and fans are curious to see what type of people are chosen for these coaching positions. Also, we can’t discuss the non-existent signings of actual players.
Either way, we found out on Tuesday that former Rangers pitching coach Doug Brocail was chosen as Roger McDowell’s replacement as pitching coach in Baltimore. Fans may remember him from his playing days, which spanned 15 MLB seasons. Prior to coaching in Texas for the past three seasons, he served as a coach in the Houston organization and met Mike Elias there.
Brocail inherits a pitching staff that is coming off of a, shall we say, poor 2018 season. The staff’s ERA was a putrid 5.18, marking the second year in a row in which they finished last in that category. Their WHIP was a league-worst 1.50 and they gave up a league-worst 234 home runs. It wasn’t pretty.
Will Brocail’s wisdom and teaching help the staff improve? The question of just how much impact coaches have on a team’s performance was tackled by our Tyler Young earlier this week. Good coaches obviously help. But at the end of the day, players are the ones hitting and pitching.
Until we see how current Orioles progress under Brocail’s tutelage, the best we can do is analyze how his staff fared at his most recent job. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t paint a great picture. The Rangers’ team ERA was 4.37 and 4.66 in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Both of those placed Texas firmly in the bottom half of the league. If that isn’t bad enough, the 2018 ERA ballooned to 4.92, third worst in all of baseball.
Sadly, the Rangers defenders are not the reason for these high numbers. Texas pitchers posted a FIP of 4.79 last season, suggesting that their pitching was slightly better than their ERA. But during Brocail’s first two seasons, the staffs actually posted FIPs higher than their ERA. It appears as though the defense made their pitching friends’ ERAs better than they should have been.
One statistic I was particularly interested in was how well Brocail’s staffs threw strikes. Most Orioles fans would agree that Baltimore’s pitchers walked far too many batters in recent years. Giving offenses free baserunners is not a recipe for success. I was encouraged by what I saw from the Rangers 2018 staff. Despite pitching to an unsightly ERA of 4.92, they walked 3.1 batters per nine innings, good for eighth best in the majors. Not bad! Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case in 2017 and 2016. The Rangers walked more batters per game than the league average in both of those seasons.
Perhaps the most troubling statistic from Brocail’s time in Texas is how many batters his staff struck out. In each of his three seasons, the Rangers ranked last in the MLB in strikeouts per nine innings. That included a 2017 mark of 6.9. The trend in baseball is moving quickly towards more strikeouts; the MLB average last season was 8.48. That number has rapidly increased. It is concerning that Brocail’s pitchers have not followed that trend.
The Dallas media did not look on Brocail’s tenure favorably. When writing about the Rangers’ decision to move on from Brocail in November, Dallas Morning News’ reporter Evan Grant said that “he was brought in to help implement then-manager Jeff Banister’s determination to pitch more inside and with an edge. Though the Rangers won the AL West in 2016, the pitching performance has, statistically-speaking, been an abject failure over the last three seasons.” Grant cites the fact that those poor numbers were posted despite having Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish on the roster for much of his tenure.
The failures of the Rangers’ staff caused many fans to target Brocail. One fan even started a change.org petition to fire Brocail. And 17 people thought it was worth their time to sign it.
So while Brocail’s staffs didn’t fare that well in Texas, it is worth repeating that he was not the person on the mound pitching. Major league players get to the highest level for a reason and it is the coaches job to tinker, not drastically remake. When assessing his work as Rangers’ pitching coach, one has to consider the ballpark in which his club played half of their games. Globe Life Park is among one of the better hitters parks in baseball. ESPN’s Park Factor ratings say it is by far the best offensive park in 2018. Also, while Darvish and Hamels were in Texas during this period, it isn’t as though the rest of the pitching staff was filled by Cy Young clones. A look at those rosters show that those Rangers pitchers weren’t oozing with talent.
And it is not as though Brocail’s time in Texas was without any successes. Andrew Cashner, who he will reunite with, had one of the finest seasons of his career while working with Brocail in 2017. There were some concerns about his peripheral stats, but he pitched to an ERA of 3.40 in a very hitter-friendly ballpark. Let’s hope Cashner rediscovers what worked for him after a disappointing 2018.
Rich Dubroff at BaltimoreBaseball.com reported that a keen observer of the Orioles said that “Dylan Bundy will have a breakout year under Brocail.” I wish Dubroff would have elaborated, but it is clear that this “observer” has a positive view on what the new pitching coach can do.
Luckily, the Orioles aren’t in a position where they are expecting Doug Brocail’s presence to put them over the hump and into the playoffs. He will be expected to help a young pitching staff grow and improve. Hopefully the new front office builds a talent pipeline that will give him legitimate major league pitchers to make his job easier in a few years.