The Morning Call

Data-driven Cotham hired as pitch­ing coach

- By Scott Lauber Sports · College Sports · MLB Baseball · Baseball · Philadelphia · Seattle · Cincinnati Reds · Cincinnati · New York Yankees · New York City · Joe Girardi · Cy Young · Vanderbilt University · Philadelphia Phillies · Cliff Lee · Jake Arrieta · Trevor Bauer · David Price · Mike Minor · Sonny Gray · Aroldis Chapman · Chris Young

PHILADEL­PHIA— Caleb Cotham will be the Phillies’ fifth pitch­ing coach in five years, the team an­nounced Fri­day.

He just won’t be like any of his pre­de­ces­sors.

For one thing, Cotham turned 33 ear­lier this month, one year older than Cliff Lee and Jake Ar­ri­eta when the Phillies signed them to $120 mil­lion and $75 mil­lion free-agent con­tracts, re­spec­tively. Even in a role that is be­ing filled by in­creas­ingly younger can­di­dates (nine pitch­ing coaches are not yet 40), Cotham will be the se­cond-youngest af­ter Seat­tle’s Pete Wood­worth (32).

Cotham also comes to the job af­ter two sea­sons as the Cincin­nati Reds’ as­sis­tant pitch­ing coach with a dis­tinctly datadriven bent. Formerly a re­liever with the New York Yan­kees and the Reds whose ca­reer was short-cir­cuited by in­juries at age 28, his style of pitch­ing in­struc­tion is shaped by years of work­ing with and for Driv­e­line Base­ball, the Seat­tle-area think tank that stresses cut­ting-edge technology and an­a­lyt­ics.

Three of the Phillies’ last four pitch­ing coaches — Bob McClure (2014-17), Rick Kranitz (2018), and Bryan Price (2020) — took mostly tra­di­tional ap­proaches. Chris Young, who took over for Kranitz af­ter the 2018 sea­son and lasted one year be­fore be­ing re­placed, pitched in the mi­nor leagues but was light on coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and, ac­cord­ing to some Phillies pitch­ers, re­lata­bil­ity af­ter eight years off the field as an an­a­lyst and scout.

Asked last month what he wanted in the next pitch­ing coach, man­ager Joe Gi­rardi said “some­one who com­bines an­a­lyt­ics with pitch­ing skill to get more out of the pitcher and ap­ply it to what he’s do­ing me­chan­i­cally.” The Phillies in­ter­viewed sev­eral can­di­dates, in­clud­ing as­sis­tant pitch­ing coach Dave Lundquist, mi­nor­league co­or­di­na­tor Rafael Chaves, and World Se­ries-win­ning for­mer pitch­ing coach Rick Dubee.

But Cotham emerged last week as the “heavy fa­vorite,” ac­cord­ing to one source, the Phillies be­liev­ing that he not only checks each box out­lined by Gi­rardi but also will bring sorely needed con­ti­nu­ity to the job.

“I’m a big be­liever that a guy has to be able to com­mu­ni­cate well with the pitch­ers,” said Gi­rardi, who man­aged Cotham with the Yan­kees in 2015. “He has to be able to me­chan­i­cally help a pitcher achieve con­sis­tency, rec­og­nize quickly when some­thing gets out of whack, and help them get back on track quickly.”

It surely helped Cotham, too, that he had the en­dorse­ment of newly crowned Cy Young Award win­ner Trevor Bauer. A long­time Driv­e­line Base­ball devo­tee, Bauer cred­ited Cotham for tap­ping into Stat­cast data and us­ing high-tech tools to con­trib­ute to his dom­i­nance (1.73 ERA, 36% strike­out rate in 73 in­nings) this sea­son.

“Caleb was re­ally help­ful with a lot of the tech­ni­cal stuff,” Bauer told re­porters last month. “I haven’t re­ally had that sit­u­a­tion be­fore, where I have some­one that I respect in the tech­no­log­i­cal standpoint, the re­ally nitty-gritty pitch-shap­ing and un­der­stand­ing the me­chan­ics and how the ball was moving and stuff like that. It was good to have some­one to bounce those ideas off of and have those con­ver­sa­tions.”

Cotham’s pitch­ing ed­u­ca­tion be­gan in col­lege at Van­der­bilt. As a fresh­man in 2007, he teamed with David Price and Mike Mi­nor. Two years later, Cotham and Mi­nor led a ro­ta­tion that also in­cluded Sonny Gray.

The Yan­kees drafted Cotham in the fifth round in 2009 and moved him to the bullpen in Triple-A. He­made­his ma­jor-league de­but in 2015, then got dealt to Cincin­nati in the Aroldis Chap­man trade.

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