Dusty Baker has been taking a beating this season, and quite a bit of it is justified. Baker continues to show his savvy by batting his two worst OPB players at the top of the lineup, using Mike Remlinger as a left handed specialist, despite admitting that he knows about Rem’s horrible splits (.357/.419/.536 vs lefties; .182/.211/.418 vs righties) and playing Jose Macias at all. But while Dusty takes the heat for his management style, pitching coach Larry Rothschild flies mostly under the radar. Why is that?
While he did a good job with Florida’s pitchers during their first World Series run, that was a staff of mostly established pitchers. Larry’s next stop was as the manager of the Devil Rays, where he didn’t develop any pitchers, but given Tampa’s status as the Bermuda Triangle of baseball, that was mostly overlooked. He then took over as pitching coach for the Cubs, after Oscar Ocasta was fired for, well, being a lunatic. Rothschild was so highly thought of by the Cubs organization, that when Dusty Baker was hired in 2003, it was with the stipulation that Larry would be kept on. And since then, what has Rothschild shown us? Not much by my count. He can take some credit for Carlos Zambrano blossoming during his tenure, and I guess he could have played some part in Joe Borowski’s success, but I can’t think of any other Cubs pitchers who have gotten better under his tutelage. Kerry Wood was here before Larry, but if anything has become more inconsistent. Mark Prior showed up essentially as a finished product. Zambrano seems to have tuned Rothschild out lately, and both Carlos and Sergio Mitre credit most of their recent success to help they received from Greg Maddux. And then there’s the bullpen. Kyle Farnsworth was never able to harness his stuff in Chicago and Todd Wellemeyer, Michael Weurtz, Jon Leicester and Robert Novoa have all bounced between the majors and AAA during the last few years. All have shown flashes of talent, but none have been able to consistently throw strikes. And that’s why Rothschild could be a big problem. Normally, I think firing a pitching or hitting coach is mostly a cosmetic move for the team, but take a look at the pitchers I just named. What do they have in common? All of them have good stuff, and all of them have basically the same problem; they can’t harness it. All of them are young, the only one of the group that’s near 30 years old is Kerry Wood. And all of them could benefit from a pitching coach who doesn’t just sit in the dugout and laugh at Dusty Baker’s jokes. These pitchers are not benefitting from bouncing up and down between Iowa and Chicago, the last trip down seems to have broken Jon Leicester, who pitched very well last year and now has almost a 5.00 ERA at Iowa; and Todd Wellemeyer, who’s recent meltdown against the White Sox earned him a demotion, might be next. As I mentioned earlier, Mitre and Zambrano seem to have turned to Greg Maddux for their pitching advice, and I’m not sure that Larry even understands Prior. Mark is only 23, and he’s going to lose his cool at times. It’s the job of the pitching coach to recognize those times, and go out to the mound to settle his pitcher. Unfortunately, I don’t see Larry doing this, as he failed in this regard following the foul ball in game 6, and also this year when Prior was massacred by the Houston Astros.
The strength of the Chicago Cubs for the next several years is supposed to be the young pitching in the minor league system. While some of the these pitchers will never see the majors, or be traded to upgrade the club, there will be several each year who try to fill spots in the starting rotation and bullpen. When they get here, they’re going to need help with the transition. Maybe the Cubs should go out and get someone who can give them that help.