Thoughts on Jeremy Hefner and the pitching coach position

The Mets seemingly have a new pitching coach in old friend Jeremy Hefner, who pitched parts of two seasons with the club in 2012-2013 before having his career derailed by elbow injuries. We’re so used to pitchers having TJ surgery, missing a year and then coming back as a reasonable facsimile of what they were before. But it didn’t work out that way for Hefner, who needed a second surgery and never got back to the majors. So, it’s nice to see him have a second career in baseball.

The Hefner hiring seems to wrap up an interesting six months or so of pitching coach drama. Back in late June, the Mets fired pitching coach Dave Eiland. Kevin Armstrong quoted Brodie Van Wagenen saying, “We have inconsistency in our starting pitching right now. And we’ve had underperformance in our bullpen. Hopefully, we can improve both of those areas.”

It was seen at the time as a shot across the bow at Mickey Callaway, the guy brought on by the previous administration because of his work with pitchers in Cleveland. But Callaway wanted Jason Bere as his pitching coach and didn’t get him. So, how demoralizing was it, really, to lose Eiland? Sure, Callaway said all the right stuff at the time, saying that Eiland’s firing was “a failure on my part.” But what else could he say?

A firing of a coach is not all that earth shaking in the big picture. But the Mets made it more interesting as they hired 82-year-old Phil Regan as his replacement. And the starters seemed to do better under Regan than they did under Eiland. There were some who were actively stumping for Regan, who was hired as the interim pitching coach, to get the job full time.

Meanwhile, once the season was over and the search for the permanent pitching coach was underway full swing, news came out that one of the reasons the Mets fired Eiland was that he wasn’t in tune with the new wave of analytics and technology. SNY writer Andy Martino mentioned that in an article on November 21 and the next day he had a follow-up piece with quotes from Eiland where the Mets’ former pitching coach directly disputed those charges, saying, “To be categorized in a group that’s anti-data or anti-technology is simply not true.”

Martino has been around for a while. He wrote about the Mets for the Daily News and before that was a beat reporter for the Phillies. He’s not some guy writing from his mom’s basement. And he’s not writing for some click-bait operation – he’s writing for the team-sanctioned MetsBlog. If Martino writes that Eiland was dismissed due in part to concerns about his embracing technology, it’s fair to speculate that he has a source in the organization who told him that.

And it’s no surprise that Eiland stepped up to defend his reputation. If it’s unchallenged that he’s anti-technology, it will severely limit his chances of landing another job as a pitching coach.

Circling back to Hefner, once he’s officially hired, the Mets will go from having the oldest pitching coach to having one of the youngest (if not the youngest) guys around. He’ll turn 34 right before Opening Day. Last year’s fifth starter, Jason Vargas, is three years older than Hefner. It’s another reminder that coaches are no longer just the drinking buddies of the manager.

It’s a weird point in the evolution of the game where coaches are allowed to be innovators but managers are expected to be yes-men for the front office.

That may be an oversimplification of things, as coaches certainly have more freedom in colleges than they do in MLB. But if a coach comes in with ideas gleaned from a college or from a baseball academy, he’ll have more room to implement those theories than a manager will on filling out a lineup or how often to hit and run.

With that idea in mind, it’s possible that Hefner is the more important hire this offseason than Carlos Beltran. And it would offer an explanation as to why Eiland was fired in the middle of the year and Callaway was kept around for the rest of the season. If you want to shake things up, don’t go after the figurehead. Instead, go where the real power is.

Will Hefner be a good pitching coach? All we can say is he has some quality arms with which to work. It would be nice if he could get a full good season from Steven Matz. But ultimately he may be judged on how well Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia do in 2020. And it’s entirely possible their success might have more to do with the type of baseballs used rather than any mechanical adjustment suggested by the pitching coach.

Still, it’s nice to have someone around with no questions necessary about how well they embrace analytics and technology. Welcome aboard Hefner, whenever you actually sign that contract.

9 comments for “Thoughts on Jeremy Hefner and the pitching coach position

  1. TJ
    November 27, 2019 at 6:46 pm

    I have wondered in this new age of data whether “hard ass” has become synonymous with old school and not open to using the data. Conversely, is “soft touch” and “player friendly” now equated with embracing the new information and technology? It would be hard to envision Hefner as “hard ass” when some of his pitchers will be older than him. I hope I live long enough to see a “hard ass” data and technology driven pitching coach. In any event, it will be up to the pitchers to determine how Hefner is graded, for better or worse.

    Have a great Thanksgiving.

    • November 27, 2019 at 7:23 pm

      Interesting thought.

      I’m guessing it’s more difficult now to be a hard ass in baseball. I can’t imagine Vern Rapp getting an MLB managerial gig today.

      I think you can be a type of disciplinarian without being a full-on hard ass. Someone like Bobby Cox.

  2. jennifer
    November 28, 2019 at 9:24 am

    The thing that throws me off is how is someone like Hefner going to have any credibility w/someone like Jacob deGrom? He’s won back to back Cys w/out this guy. What bothers me the most, is the players are athletes, not video game avatars. Hey, throw your slider in a 2-2 count, w/guy on first. But, I can’t find my slider, you going to come out on the mound and do it for me?

    Also, the FO wants so much control that hiring young, relatively inexperienced guys to me just speaks for more control, rather than improving the team. I don’t know, it feels like groupthink nation, and that is never good. Astros, anyone?

    • November 28, 2019 at 11:17 am

      I would imagine that Hefner will have a “prove it to me” phase with every pitcher on the staff. But, if he has something to offer, I can’t imagine that the players would intentionally ignore him, just because of his age. Like deGrom experienced first hand last year, every pitcher hits rough spots and needs help.

  3. NYM6986
    November 28, 2019 at 9:57 am

    For us older fans reading and contributing to this blog, there can be a tendency to reach back into the past for what we believe is the answer based on what we’ve seen and experienced. The reality is that in every new generation there must be forward progress and some improvement in aspects of managing and coaching so that teams can succeed. The age of a coach should not matter, instead it must be what they bring to the table. While we faulted Calloway for his managerial decisions, certainly some of that came from inexperience, his biggest flaw was not being able to turn the bullpen arms around. His experience as a pitching coach, and the success he attained in Cleveland, were perhaps the biggest reasons he was given a managerial shot with the Mets as the strength of the team stood 60 feet and 6 inches away from home plate. A coach must be a communicator, must bring instructional talent to the area in which they were hired, and be able to look at a player’s mechanics in order to make improvement in that player’s performance. Chili Davis did so and improved our offense. You have to believe that Hefner can observe and fix some mechanical flaws in our pitchers and keep them on track. He needs to know the signs that they are tiring and not just hit a prescribed number of pitchers and advise Beltrán to pull the plug. We need to remember that Jake hit a rough spot early in the season, which certainly did not look like the 2018 Cy Young Award winner. It would be shortsighted to think that he simply went and looked at his videos and solved his problem on his own. So while we might think as the question was posed of whether he could not learn something from the new and young pitching coach, the reality is that perhaps he would just need less supervision due to the serious way he goes about his business.
    The days of the Earl Weaver, Gil Hodges, Spark Anderson managerial style are gone in favor of a less hard nosed approach, but their successes should not be overlooked. Four man rotations, relievers that grew out of pitchers who could no longer be starters versus $10 million 7th inning set up men. There were also less teams so the talent pool was not so diluted leaving you with number 4 and 5 starters who should be still proving themselves in the minors. We all sit at home and play armchair manager for pitching coach or hitting coach or base running coach, and believe we have a better answer than what we are seeing. Of course we don’t, and we live in a world where second-guessing, especially when we don’t see their desired results, is common place.
    Given that I have only seen two world championship teams in my lifetime of rooting for the Mets, I am certainly open to giving these kids a chance to be better aligned with our players, some of whom appear on the verge of doing great things. They need to be nurtured, watched out for, and helped to be the best that they can. We are simply not that far away from being a consistent team with expected trips into the playoffs, and when you have a starting staff such as ours, you have to like our chances in a short series.
    Happy thanksgiving to all and Let’s Go Mets!

    • November 28, 2019 at 11:29 am

      Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

      As a graybeard myself, I find myself agreeing with a lot of what you wrote. But one thing that I would suggest was done better in the past was how teams ran their bullpens. And not just the “have starters pitch many more innings” part, either. The Mets have had very little luck with the LOOGY-heavy, short burst, consider anyone who’s had one day off to be completely refreshed and ready to go, reliever mindset.

      When they moved from Collins to Callaway, they cut down some on the LOOGY madness and had a brief period where they embraced longer outings from the relievers. But by the end we had Avilan and guys who had pitched in four of the last five games. It was hard to distinguish what Callaway was doing from what TC had done. Hopefully Beltran will examine the pens that Joe Torre ran with the Mets and operate them that way. But I’m not holding my breath.

      • NYM6986
        November 28, 2019 at 12:15 pm

        Thanks Brian. Good bullpen thoughts. Thankful for the immense effort you put into creating, on an almost daily basis, entertaining and thought provoking Mets content. Putting out a thousand or more words is much more daunting than most people realize.

  4. Mike W
    November 28, 2019 at 3:22 pm

    I love this website and I am thankful for it. You guys have tremendous insight.

    I am an old school fan, but I do believe that the data if consumed well and communicated to the players can provide a big advantage.

    Happy Thanksgiving

    • Eraff
      November 29, 2019 at 10:14 pm

      Most great players want to be coached… they’re willing, but the coach needs to establish credibility and trust. Good coaches don’t “Tell” as much as they Sell.

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