For the third straight year, the Chicago Cubs had a new pitching coach. This year, Tommy Hottovy, a previous member of the front office, transitioned to an on-field role.
Chicago Cubs pitchers had the highest strikeout rate as a staff that they have had in their competitive window with Tommy Hottovy at the helm, striking out 8.97 hitters per nine innings. Pitchers also had the lowest walk rate since 2016 with just a 3.29 BB/9. Walks were a big problem in 2018 with Jim Hickey as the pitching coach, walking 3.8/9.
However, the relief pitching still had the yips at points, walking 4.3/9 in 2019, as opposed to 4.2/9 in 2018. The relievers have struck a few more hitters in 2019, at 9.1 K/9 where it was 8.6 K/9 in 2018.
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Cubs’ pitching was a victim of the juiced ball this year a little bit, with a .284 BABIP in 2018, up to .299 in 2019. A BABIP of .300 is considered league average, so both years the staff has been considered a little bit better than average. The ERA jumped to 4.05 in 2019 from 3.65 in 2018, but the 4.05 ranks 7th in baseball this year with three games to go.
Overall, Hottovy did a masterful job with the staff, given the revolving door in the bullpen and the injuries in the starting staff. Look no further than Yu Darvish for evidence on Hottovy’s effect on the pitching staff.
In the first half, Darvish had a 5.01 ERA in 18 starts over 97 innings pitched and he walked 49 hitters. The second half, however, Darvish became a different animal. He had a 2.76 ERA in 13 starts over 81 2/3 innings, with just seven(!) walks and 118 strikeouts. The overall numbers for the season were 229 strikeouts in 178 2/3 innings. The second half of Darvish looks more like the guy the Cubs signed.
Other than that, Jon Lester showed signs of his age this year, Kyle Hendricks missed a few starts with injury, Cole Hamels might still be injured, Pedro Strop, Craig Kimbrel, Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler and pretty much any bullpen arm that pitched for the Cubs this year got hurt and probably pitched while battling injuries. However, inexperienced guys like Rowan Wick and Brad Wieck were instrumental in the second half and may have earned their bullpen spots for 2020.
Kintzler was nothing short of abysmal when coming over to the Cubs last year. He posted an ERA of 7.00 in 25 games, and it felt like this year would be a sludge through for Kintzler. With Hottovy as the pitching coach, Kintzler had one of the best years of his career with a 2.78 ERA in 60 contests, and became a late inning bullpen piece for this team to use which they desperately needed.
Tyler Chatwood walked 95 batters last year…in just 24 games. In 2019, he cut the walks down to just 37 in 76 2/3 and he became a late inning reliever late in the year. Great job by Hottovy to figure out what was wrong and help him fix it.
It’s hard to forget the work that Kyle Ryan did out of the bullpen as well. Ryan was a bit of a reclamation project for the Cubs, being a (shocker) failed starter from the Tigers. Ryan has just a 3.12 ERA at the time of writing with just a 3.54 FIP. The most impressive thing is he has given up just four home runs over 60 innings with the juiced ball.
Hottovy saw success with a lot of pitchers for the most part after transitioning from an analytics role in the front office to be the pitching coach, so the Cubs are high on his knowledge and ability. He’s not necessarily who fans would pick for manager, but he deserves a chance to be the pitching coach again in 2020.