The Noah Syndergaard inside pitch that knocked Alcides Escobar off his feet in the World Series got a lot of attention and sent a signal to the Kansas City team that they shouldn’t get too comfortable in the batter’s box. Regardless of what you think about that particular pitch, the philosophy behind it is more than a century old.
These days, though, a lot of batters hang over the plate and most pitchers are afraid to throw inside. But the new pitching coach of the Tigers wants his hurlers to reclaim their territory. In his opening press conference in Detroit, Rich Dubee told local reporters he wants his staff to practice the “lost art” of pitching inside. “I like guys that are aggressive,” he said. “I like to emphasize that we pitch inside, we’re aggressive inside… we have to protect that part of the plate.”
This sounds like a breath of fresh air, and it’s coming at the right time. Jeff Jones retired after a season that was a nightmare for the pitching staff. Tiger pitchers were twenty-eighth in the major leagues in ERA and strikeouts and twenty-seventh in WHIP. In his five years with Detroit, Jones saw the pitching staff ride the rollercoaster from top to bottom.
Dubee wasn’t much of a pitcher himself. He spent six years in the Kansas City farm system. He made it as far as Triple-A Omaha in 1980, appearing in fifteen games. His professional career record was 45-49 with a 4.07 ERA.
His career as a big-league pitching coach has been notably more successful. It started with the Miami Marlins from 1998 to 2001, where he got to know both Jim Leyland and Al Avila and worked with the likes of Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett. This early connection helped Avila feel confident in hiring him to replace Jones.
Dubee was the pitching coach for Philadelphia from 2005 to 2013. There he helped Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee to flourish. During his tenure, the Phillies won five division titles and a world championship.
Dubee, fifty-eight, spent the last two seasons as minor-league pitching coordinator for the Atlanta Braves. He teaches young pitchers to own the whole plate, even if the hitters these days feel offended and overreact to inside pitches. Presumably he would enthusiastically endorse Syndergaard’s first pitch of Game Three in the World Series.
Dubee quickly rose to the top of a list of twenty candidates Brad Ausmus had compiled. The club wanted someone who had experience working with both veterans and young pitchers—an obvious necessity for the Tigers, who will be using Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez next year along with young Daniel Norris and an expected two starters acquired as free agents or in trade. They’ll also have the likes of holdover youngsters like Matt Boyd, Drew Verhagen, Buck Farmer, and Ian Krol. Dubee’s job will be to get Sanchez back on track, see if he can salvage the career of Shawn Greene, and find some stability for the bullpen.
In keeping with his eclectic approach and openness to both old and new wisdom, Dubee embraces analytics but prefers to share information with catchers rather than overburden pitchers with a lot of numbers. That makes sense and jives with Ausmus’s approach. His compatibility with the young manager and the young No. 1 catcher is essential. It looks like everyone should be on the same page, which wasn’t always the case with Jones—very much a Leyland man.
Dubee has a lot of work to do with the mechanics of many of the younger pitchers in the Tigers stable. And he brings both new thinking and age-old baseball wisdom to the job.
“I believe in analytics, but I believe in my eyes also,” said Dubee at his introductory press conference. His pragmatic approach is the right attitude for the hard work of rebuilding Detroit’s pitching staff for 2016.