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Coaching: A New World Order

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With the Yankees recent hiring of pitching coach Matt Blake, it seems like a rather opportune time to talk about how both technology and analytics have infiltrated professional baseball. Long gone are the days where every coach needed to be a student of the game. Now it seems that coaches are just students. Nerds.

Now, I don’t know Matt Blake, and I hadn’t heard of him prior to last week. That said, Blake has never held a professional coaching position. He was previously the director of player development for the Cleveland Indians, a job he held for two days. Previously, he was the assistant director. It seems likely then, that the New York Yankees were prepared to hire an assistant director for player development to be their next pitching coach.

At age 34, he will be younger than several pitchers on his staff this coming year. Four years ago, he was a high school pitching coach. His ability to guide a pitching staff would seem to be in question.

News outlets will make claims that this is bad for the game or that Blake is ahead of his time. Though, if everything that I’ve read is accurate, he is exactly the right man for the job.

Blake worked in player development with the Indians for three years, during which I assume he had his fair share of conversations with Trevor Bauer involving his “unusual” training regimen developed in part through Bauer’s involvement with the now-famed Seattle-area baseball training facility, DriveLine Baseball.

Prior to his tenure with the Indians, Blake was the pitching coordinator at Cressey Sports Performance outside of Boston, a facility like DriveLine, that has worked with famous clients such as Syndergaard and Scherzer. He also founded a venture called Elite Pitching Development and worked as the pitching coach at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School.

Pitching isn’t just about throwing hard, locating well, and having good movement – it’s about the whole athlete. What does a pitcher do in between starts that will make him the most effective every fifth day? And this isn’t just about implementing a throwing program – what type of conditioning will make pitchers the most effective? No two are the same. How can we tailor a pitcher’s diet to make him operate at peak performance levels in games? How do we alter these programs to ensure that these players remain healthy? It’s no secret that the Yankees struggled with player health this season.

Blake views pitching holistically and in analyzing mechanics, he takes traditional video recordings to the next level. By combining video from several different angles, the technology he utilizes can give players and coaches an accurate representation of the body’s movement throughout one’s delivery. Over time, he can examine how consistent these movements are. He can determine whether players are more prone to injury as a result of their mechanics.

Through this technology, the energy expended to throw a single pitch will be optimized to deliver the most positive outcomes. Mechanics will be more repeatable. Pitch tipping will be a thing of the past. Injuries will be reduced. Training regiments can be tailored specifically to each player. Pitchers will be more dominant. This defines success.

While these types of training regiments are becoming common place for professional and amateur athletes, this is the first example of a player development “stathead” infiltrating the ranks of on-field coaches in a major market. Former player is no longer a qualification for a professional manager or coach. The new world order is here, and it’s here to stay.