When Does Pat Hentgen Take Over As Pitching Coach?

Feb 18, 2013; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays bullpen coach Pat Hentgen (41) during photo day at Florida Auto Exchange Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Call me a bit biased.  Maybe that’s the kind of effect having a stellar Toronto Blue Jay career and being part of three consecutive Blue Jay Cy Young awards (Hentgen 1996, Roger Clemens 1997 & 1998) will have on a person.  Maybe it’s the 107-85 in a Blue Jays uniform.  Maybe it’s the 264+ IPs two consecutive years, including 19 complete games during that stretch.  Maybe it’s the “Ace” title that he once held.

Current Blue Jays Bullpen coach Pat Hentgen has a list of great stats and achievements during his time as a Blue Jay.  Certainly, they are greater than that of Pitching coach Pete Walker.  Walker, also a former Blue Jay, cannot hold Hentgen’s jock when it comes to Hentgen’s list.  And if winning breeds like-ability for fans, well, Walker isn’t going to win that battle either.  As a Blue Jays’ starter, Walker is 10-8 for his career while Hentgen is 126-110 (and when you like somebody more than somebody else, you come up with excuses like, “but most of Hentgen’s 110 losses came when his arm was about to fall off later in his career”).  Honestly though, the individual “d*ck measuring” stats are not the point.

The point is Walker oversaw a pitching staff that was 25th in ERA (4.25, 4.67 for SPs),  28th in Quality Starts (67 OR only 41% QS%), and 25th in WHIP (1.34).  Even with 4 CG and 11 ShO, Toronto starting pitching only lasted, on average, 5.6 innings.  Not really surprising with that QS stat.  This Joshua Menezes article from way back in April pretty much summed up the season.  baseball-reference.com has a funny little number called Cheap Wins.  It’s when a team gets the win despite a team’s starter not going 6+ innings.  Toronto is in the middle of the pack with 14 cheapies.  The more telling stat, however, is Tough Losses.  That’s when a team’s pitcher produces a QS and the team loses the game.  Not surprisingly, Toronto was in dead last with only 7.

So how come former Blue Jays Hitting coach Chad Mottola was given such a short leash after one season, but not Walker?  Mottola had Jays hitters in the middle of the pack or better in all hitting categories.  Walker isn’t even close.  Both coaches had to deal with slumps and injuries, so that method of reasoning is null.

Just looking at Walker’s own stats again, as well as his scouting report from his playing days, there’s nothing that stands out.  He didn’t have the stuff to strike batters out (5.2 Career K/9).  Some would say with a career BB/9 of 3.5, he might lack the understanding to teach control.   His average velocity on his fastball was 88 MPH, so it’s unlikely he’ll be able to show somebody how to get more cheese out of their arm.  It’s not like Hentgen’s stuff was all that better at making hitters miss, but the man knew how to pitch.  In David Lauria’s excellent Q & A session with Hentgen, it shows you the preparation of the former Cy Young pitcher.

Hentgen wasn’t a “phenom” with can’t miss stuff like Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Stephen Strasberg, or Josh Beckett.  For a short time, he was a pitcher comparable to a poor man’s Greg Maddux, relying on location and changes in velocity.  He IS a guy that CAN teach you how to pitch and get batters out. Esmil Rogers, while not consistent, experienced his best season yet, not just as a starter (4-7, 4.89 ERA, 1.43 WHIP), but as a major leaguer.  He credits his success to Hentgen refining his 2 seam fastball, giving it more bite.  When Rogers was on, he looked like a potential #2 starter.  When he was off, he looked like a borderline AAA guy.  What bit Rogers in the ass was location, often leaving his screaming 96 MPH fastball over the plate or his slider up in the zone where it would break in a hitter’s sweet spot.  Hentgen made a living off fastball location.  During his best years (’96-’98), his BB/9 were at or below 3, and his H/9 were below 9.  That’s something Walker could never say he did as a starter.  Rogers can’t brag about that either, but the possibility for it happening is there, especially with Hentgen around.  As a starter, Rogers’ 10.1 H/9 and 2.9 BB/9 were his best numbers to date.  His 1.44 HR/9 is also a sign of improvement when compared to his 2011 season (1.64), the only other time Rogers was actually considered to be a starting pitcher.  A lot of these improvements are credited to Hentgen.

Not only did Rogers find better results this season, but so did the Blue Jays bullpen.  Not 1 single, full-time Blue Jays bullpen pitcher with over 25 IP have an ERA over 4 (Brad Lincoln closest, at 3.98). Since I’m not a believer in using ERA as a way of judging relievers, only Brad Lincoln had a WHIP (1.58) over 1.37, which is remarkable.  The Jays bullpen, with the aforementioned qualifying criteria, also had an 8.9 K/9.  That’s also a pretty impressive stat.  So if the Jays bullpen was awful, Hentgen would take the fall.  Since it’s the opposite of awful, Hentgen deserves a lot of the credit.

Perhaps the only major reason that Walker is still pitching coach and Hentgen is not comes down to this: Walker and Hentgen are former teammates and friends.  Both coaches played under current Blue Jays manager John Gibbons during Gibbons first go with Toronto.  Gregor Chisholm’s MLB.com article showcases this relationship.  According to the article, Walker asked Gibbons to bring Hentgen back on as bullpen coach, after Hentgen left the Jays after one season in same role in 2011 to spend more time with his family.  That’s significant because had the organization gotten rid of Walker, it’s very possible Hentgen would have walked as well.  There is a belief in the Jays organization that with the similar work ethic, intangibles, and common practices of these two coaches, they can right the pitching woes of Toronto.  To answer the earlier question between Walker and Mottola, that same belief in Mottola and 1st Base/Former Hitting coach Dwayne Murphy just wasn’t there regarding the Blue Jays bats.  That belief in Walker and Hentgen may have taken a hit however after this season and both coaches may find themselves on a short leash.  The obvious answer to fix this problem is to see better results from their starters in 2014.  Fingers crossed.

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  • david s

    You are a bit biased.

  • thestever

    if they fired mottola then why not fire pete walker?

  • david s

    They fired Mottola because he could not turn around Arencibia. He also could not give Lawrie his break out season that has long been hoped for. He also could not solve Lind’s LHP issues. Walker was not fired because he managed to find solutions to when 60 percent of the starting rotation was out. He made Redmond a success story. Considering the lack of talent available given to him it is a wonder they got over 70 wins. Walker did not injure Happ, Morrow or Johnson. Romero was broken back in 2011. Well that left Dickey and Buerhle. 40 percent. Walker had to work with AAA and cast off pitchers like Ramon Ortiz. It was not Walker’s or Gibbons fault. Walker is not recognized for the good that he did do.

    That is why, my friends, Mottola got the axe. He was ineffective. Walker was not.

    Mottola’s hitting strategy was all for the fences. It did not work. Mottola is also not someone Gibbons or AA think can change the team. Seitzer may be that guy. Seitzer has also worked with Gibbons and Walker. It is all a matter of who can work with who. Gibbon’s job is on the line. The band wagoners are howling for alter ego wins. He is making changes to suit him. I do not blame at all. But few will agree with me.

    • Justin Jay

      I will agree to disagree good sir. I was not aware of Kevin Seitzer being on the radar (I get busy. It’s tough to keep up some times.) However, I’m aware of Seitzer’s past in KC and I can tell you that I’ve seen several young hitters come up through the system successfully… and when they reach his tutelage, they don’t do so hot. The list of prospects is staggering… Ready? Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Johnny Giavotella, Lorenzo Cain, Alcedes Escobar, and Alex Gordon. Gordon’s straightened out, but none of these other guys have been consistent at all. Hosmer didn’t come around until George Brett took over as hitting coach.

      Look, I love Kevin Seitzer as a player. 2x All Star, solid, versatile, gritty player. He batted around .300 for his career and had a solid approach at the plate that led to more walks than strikeouts for his career. That’s a rarity these days. That hasn’t exactly translated into success for Seitzer as a hitting coach though. Of course, it might not help that the manager you came in with, got fired, and your approach to hitting conflicts with the new coach’s philosophy.

      Here’s what I know about Mottola. He fixed Lind and it’s NOT uncommon for LHBs to have difficulty with LHPs. Same holds true for RHBs and RHPs. He brought about a patient approach to plate and it wasn’t kill the ball at all costs like you claim. I saw several player refine their stroke effectively and show more patience under Mottola. Rasmus, Gose, and even Bautista and Easy E bought into the patience approach. People want to say JPA cost him the job, but I honestly think a poor approach to hitting with RISP REALLY cost him his job. Unfortunately, those numbers were staggering, especially at the end of the season.

      As far as Walker goes, let’s clear something up. 15-11 2.93 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 225 IP, an All Star and in the Top 10 for the Cy Young hardly sounds like a person that was broken in 2011. Hentgen was bullpen coach that year. Walker was in the organization roving and took over as bullpen coach in 2012… the same year when Romero “broke,” and no, I’m not trying to say Walker caused that. But he was a big part of all those mechanical changes Romero “needed to” make. It didn’t fix him, but that’s just 1 guy.

      Morrow was the work of Farrell. The change in velocity and focus on location is trademark Farrell from his days in Boston. See Jon Lester. Happ got drilled by a line drive. Stuff happens. Johnson had an established injury history. Not surprising it happened. You think Todd Redmond was a Walker success story? From what I looked at trying to find someone who might be successful under Walker, I noticed 2 things about Redmond. 1.) He threw A LOT of pitches up in the zone late in the count. Elevating a fastball late in a count is a Hentgen trademark. 2.) His 2-seamer had more bite, which led some pitch tracking sites to confuse it for a sinker… also a Hentgen trademark. I’m sure Walker had some stamp on it too, but I don’t see or hear too many pitchers crediting Walker with positive changes… but I do hear that about Hentgen.

    • brad

      Not really sure what your definition of “finding solutions” is but the jays had the second worst starters ERA in the MLB. Do you really think he had less talent to work with than the Astros did? Sure they had some tough breaks but do you really think that even after all the injuries they had the second least talented rotation in the MLB????

      You mention how Happ Morrow and JJ getting hurt wasn’t his fault(and fair enough…. though they say Morrow got hurt because he threw too many ST cutters…. which is pretty much the pitching coach’s fault) but what about how the guys that were being counted on pitched when healthy? Both Morrow and Johnson had the worst ERAs of their careers(which include tons of other injury riddled seasons from both) and Dickey had his worst season since he became a knuckleballer.

      2 pitchers performed as expected(Happ and Beuhrle), 2 performed slightly better than expected(Rodgers and Redmond) and everyone else who made a start performed worse than expected…… leading to the 2nd worst ERA in the MLB.

      I don’t share Justin’s love of Mottola (or strange disdain for Seitzer as a hitting coach….the royals are way way worse on offense without him) but I just can’t see this effectiveness you talk about from Walker. He left the bullpen and the bullpen got better. He came to the rotation along with a ton of talent and the rotation got worse….. :S