Chris Young

Phillies are down with the fastball again and Jake Arrieta couldn’t be happier

Phillies are down with the fastball again and Jake Arrieta couldn’t be happier

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Jake Arrieta is encouraged.

The down-and-away fastball is back in Phillies camp.

"There's an emphasis on that," he said. "It's refreshing to hear it promoted. It's been good in this game forever and it will continue to be good as long as the game of baseball is played."

Arrieta won a Cy Young Award and pitched two no-hitters by pitching down in the zone with two-way action on his pitches.

But too often in recent seasons, he has seen guys try to blow high four-seam fastballs by hitters. It works for some, the elite pitchers with exceptional power and location, but not for others.

"There was a weird transition there for like three or four years," Arrieta said. "As smart as a lot of these analytical teams are, they miss some of the most obvious signs of not needing to do that as often. Guys that don't have mid- to upper-90s fastballs, guys that don't have a 12-6 or an above-average curveball. Taking guys that throw sinkers and transitioning them to a guy that throws four-seamers up. It's happened all around baseball and it's foolish.

"Look, we're the guys out there on the mound with the ball. We know what our stuff is, we know how it works. We should know what works best. And if you don't, you need to figure it out. You shouldn't have to have somebody tell you that."

Baseball's information age has some players walking a tightrope. They want to absorb and employ all the data and technology they can, but sometimes it comes at the cost of Charlie Manuel's favorite line — know thyself.

"Young guys want to be coachable," Arrieta said. "I've been in similar situations. You believe that everybody has your best interests in mind but sometimes those things aren't meant for you. So, you have to be able to filter the information you are given, be realistic with yourself and self-evaluate."

The Phillies have a great example of a pitcher who walked the aforementioned tightrope last season. Zach Eflin, who got to the majors throwing a sinking fastball and pitching to early contact, was encouraged to power guys up in the zone with a four-seam fastball. In fairness to the Phillies' analytics team, former manager Gabe Kapler and former pitching coach Chris Young, he did have some success with the approach. But Eflin's effectiveness nose-dived by mid-season and he lost his spot in the rotation amid questions about durability that arose when Kapler revealed that the pitcher felt as if his legs were heavy.

Turns out, Eflin's legs might have just been tired from backing up third base because he returned to the rotation for the final five weeks of the season and pitched well. He made eight starts in that span and allowed two or fewer earned runs in five of them. The key to Eflin's success down the stretch was his decision to go back to the style of pitching that got him to the majors — sinkers, early contact, show the big fastball up occasionally.

Arrieta was thrilled to see Eflin have success late in the season, thrilled to see him pitching in a way that looked more natural to him.

"Absolutely," Arrieta said when asked if he advised Eflin to take control of his own style of pitching. "Absolutely."

He went on to say it's important that all players take control of their careers because "when they send you to Triple A, no one is going with you."

Arrieta added that he believed Eflin looked uncomfortable riding fastballs up in the zone "from Day 1."

"It was a period of time that was frustrating not only for him last year but for all of us watching it happen," Arrieta said. "Watching him go from a sinker-slider-cutter guy, occasional curveball-changeup, to up with a curveball underneath. Look, say you're a center in the NBA and they want you to be a point guard. It's probably not going to work out. It's not who you are. 'I can't (bleeping) dribble, I can't shoot three-pointers.' It's not going to work."

Arrieta stressed that Young, the former pitching coach who is now the Chicago Cubs bullpen coach, "did a lot of good here and there was a lot of great information that he gave the guys and it definitely wasn't just him." But Arrieta made it no secret that he doesn't like some of the trends he's seen in pitching the last few years, especially when it comes to pitching up in the zone for those who aren't comfortable with the practice or precise with their control.

"Look, you don't want a guy in the box to focus his eyes on a certain area, so you have to elevate at times to raise the eye level," Arrieta said. "I'm so sick of seeing guys go fastball up 0-0, fastball up 1-0, 0-1, 2-1. I'm (bleeping) sick of seeing it. And it doesn't work as well as people think it does. It just flat-out doesn't. 

"There's a ton of damage up if you can't locate it."

That's why Arrieta is glad that new pitching coach Bryan Price is talking about the importance of the down-and-away fastball.

"The message has been sent that we're all going to be good at down and away," Arrieta said. "It's the hardest pitch to hit in the game and it always will be. I don't care what new guru comes along and tries to say that the evidence shows the cutter is the only pitch you throw. I'm not going to listen or believe any of it. Down and away is and will always be good."

Arrieta and Aaron Nola are pitchers who naturally work down in the zone. Now, Eflin is back in the fold and Arrieta thinks the soon-to-be-26-year-old right-hander is on the verge of big things.

"It's not an easy situation to deal with when you're being pulled in a couple of different directions and you're unsure what to do, but he's in a better place now," Arrieta said. "He's got beautiful mechanics. He's got really good command and action on everything. It's real stuff.

"This is nothing against (Zack) Wheeler or Nola because they're both great, but Eflin is just as good. There should be excitement about this guy."

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Former Phillies pitching coach Chris Young joins Cubs as bullpen coach

Former Phillies pitching coach Chris Young joins Cubs as bullpen coach

After being let go as pitching coach, the Phillies offered Chris Young another position in the organization and he declined, according to sources

He had something else cookin'. According to Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic-Chicago, Young will be the Cubs' new bullpen coach.

Young was a scout for the Houston Astros and San Diego Padres before joining the Phillies in 2018 as assistant pitching coach. After one year, the Phillies fired Rick Kranitz and promoted Young to the lead role. The results were not good. The Phillies' pitching staff struggled in 2019 and there were many factors, but chief among them were issues with location and game-planning.

Young's former colleague, Gabe Kapler, may land another gig quickly too. Kapler is one of three finalists for the San Francisco Giants' managerial vacancy, which is expected to be filled in the coming days. 

The staff Young joins is led by first-year manager David Ross. The Cubs' pitching coach is 38-year-old Tommy Hottovy, who pitched in the majors for the Red Sox in 2011 and the Royals in 2012.

The Phillies filled their pitching coach opening with the experienced, highly-regarded Bryan Price.

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Phillies Phodder: Next hitting coach? Why the sudden push for experience? What about Maikel Franco?

Phillies Phodder: Next hitting coach? Why the sudden push for experience? What about Maikel Franco?

At a news conference announcing his appointment earlier this week, new Phillies manager Joe Girardi talked about the importance of filling the open pitching and hitting coach roles with the right people.

The Phillies locked down Bryan Price as pitching coach. He’s been pitching coach with Seattle, Arizona and Cincinnati — he also managed the Reds — and is about as highly regarded in baseball circles as they come

It’s not known who the Phillies are targeting for hitting coach, but here’s a thought:

Kevin Long was hitting coach for much of Girardi’s time as manager of the New York Yankees from 2008 to 2017. Girardi has admitted publicly that he is a fan of Long’s work.

It’s doubtful that the Phillies could orchestrate a Girardi-Long reunion in Philadelphia. Long just completed his second season as Washington Nationals hitting coach by raising the World Series championship trophy over his head. No way the Nats let him go.

But how about his assistant?

Joe Dillon is the Nats’ assistant hitting coach and he’s gaining recognition around the game for marrying new-age science with old-school principles in coaching hitters. Long, in fact, has called Dillon “the best assistant hitting coach in the baseball.” Anyone of that distinction, coming off a World Series title, would seem to be in line for advancement in the game.

Would Long talk up his trusted assistant to his old pal Girardi for an opportunity in Philadelphia?

You never know. Maybe something to watch.

• It’s remarkable that just two years after hiring first-time manager Gabe Kapler and one year after hiring first-time pitching coach Chris Young, the Phillies have done a complete about-face and hired a manager and pitching coach who are both loaded with big-league experience.

General manager Matt Klentak said experience was prioritized in hiring Girardi because, “We’ve reached a place where it is time to win … and that lends itself to a guy who has done that … and that’s by and large why we placed such a premium on prior experience.”

The Phillies improved by one game from 2018 to 2019 to finish .500 and in fourth place in the NL East. With their lack of top starting pitching and overall lack of starting pitching depth, it’s difficult to envision them competing for the division title next season — barring a major upgrade in pitching this winter, which we would not rule out given owner John Middleton’s hefty checkbook and desire to improve.

Regardless, the Phillies’ sudden obsession with experience in important field-level leadership roles seems to be tacit acknowledgment that previous hires were viewed as mistakes. 

The firing of Kapler was engineered at the ownership level and Klentak was against it. He admitted that he was a big fan of Kapler at that remarkable press conference announcing the manager’s firing. The mandate to seek experience in the new manager clearly came from above, and it appears two other significant hires this offseason were encouraged from above, as well. Pat Gillick, who owns a small piece of the team and still serves as an adviser in the organization, is a big believer in Price, who was the Mariners’ pitching coach when Gillick was that team’s GM. Sources say Gillick pushed for Price. Girardi and Klentak were very much on board with the hire, but it is notable that Gillick flexed some influence.

Earlier this month, the Phillies hired Brian Barber for the important position of amateur scouting director. Barber, a top scout with the Yankees for many years, beat out in-house candidate Greg Schilz, who had seemed to be in line for the position when he came aboard as the No. 2 man in the department in the fall of 2016. Passing over Schilz was a surprise to many observers, but in this case the Phils went outside the organization and, again, appeared to rely on experience, or at least experienced eyes, in making that call. Word is Barber came very highly recommended from well-regarded Yankees front office man Jim Hendry. Hendry is very close with Phillies president Andy MacPhail. The two were together in Chicago when MacPhail was president of the Cubs and Hendry was GM. In fact, Hendry was mentioned as a candidate for the Phillies’ GM job after MacPhail joined the organization in 2015. Ultimately, the Phillies, at the behest of an ownership group looking to move into baseball’s new world, targeted a GM with more of a background in analytics.

That ended up being Klentak. His job is now on the line and he needs these new hires to help save it.

• Sources have confirmed multiple reports that infield coach Bobby Dickerson is headed to San Diego, where he will become bench coach. It’s not a surprise as Dickerson was a personal mentor to Manny Machado when they were together in Baltimore.

Dickerson’s departure is real loss for the Phillies. He’s an outstanding baseball man and tireless worker.

In other coaching matters, Young had a year left on his deal when the Phillies dismissed him as pitching coach. He was offered a chance to stay in the organization in another role, but sources say he will move on.

• Curious to see where Maikel Franco ends up. The Phillies will need spots on the 40-man roster soon and Franco’s time is clearly up in Philadelphia. A team like Texas, Baltimore or Detroit could look to acquire Franco in a deal. The Tigers scouted the Phillies extensively over the final weeks of the season, making you wonder if something possibly bigger could be brewing between the two clubs.

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