Larry Rothschild and Strikeouts

The legend of Dave Duncan is well known.  Pitcher A stinks and is released by his current team.  The Cardinals sign Pitcher A and he miraculously becomes a good pitcher.  Dave Duncan’s effect on these pitchers can be seen in the groundball rates.  Another NL Central pitching coach has a similar effect on pitchers’ strikeout rates.  Every year from 2001-2008, Cubs’ pitchers led all teams in strikeouts.  In 2009 they finished tied for second.  The northside pitching staff has seen plenty of turnover throughout those years, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is Larry Rothschild.  He has been the Cub pitching coach since 2002.

So does Rothschild really have an impact on his pitchers’ strikeouts.   To find out I compiled a list of all pitchers the Cubs acquired from outside the organization between 2002 and 2010.  According to the Sabremetric Library, K/PA becomes reliable after 150 batters faced.  After limiting my list to only pitchers who faced 150 batters as a Cub, I found their K% before they joined the team and during their time with Rothschild.  Here is the list.

Pitcher          K% Before    K% After    Difference
Matt Clement       17.60%       23.20%      5.60%
Antonio Alfonseca  14.70%       17.90%      3.20%
Shawn Estes        17.90%       14.70%     -3.20%
Mike Remlinger     22.30%       24.80%      2.50%
Greg Maddux        17.20%       15.50%     -1.70%
Glendon Rusch      16.70%       17.20%      0.50%
Latroy Hawkins     14.70%       19.90%      5.20%
Kent Mercker       15.60%       22.90%      7.30%
Ryan Dempster      18.00%       21.10%      3.10%
Jerome Williams    14.70%       12.30%     -2.40%
Bob Howry          20.30%       21.00%      0.70%
Scott Eyre         17.00%       23.60%      6.60%
Ted Lilly          19.60%       20.60%      1.00%
Jason Marquis      13.90%       12.60%     -1.30%
Neal Cotts         19.90%       22.70%      2.80%
Rich Harden        23.30%       29.10%      5.80%
Aaron Heilman      20.40%       20.80%      0.40%
Kevin Gregg        20.80%       23.80%      3.00%
Tom Gorzelanny     14.80%       23.70%      8.90%
John Grabow        20.50%       15.30%     -5.20%
Carlos Silva        9.80%       17.30%      7.50%

Only 5 out of the twenty-one pitchers in the list saw their K% decrease under Rothschild.  I assume Maddux didn’t learn anything he didn’t already know.  Clement, Gorzelanny, and Silva are the big ones.  Clement’s three best years were with the Cubs, and Gorzelanny and Silva were borderline major leaguers when they arrived in Chicago.  Even though he had Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, and Carlos Zambrano during the strikeout streak, we need to give Larry Rothschild credit for his influence on the high strikeout totals.

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13 years ago

More strikeouts often means more flyballs, if this is true…perhaps he’s the anti-duncan. It seems like cub pitchers walk a LOT as well, I wouldn’t be surprised if rothschild increases a pitchers K% BB%, and FB%, while duncan does the polar opposite (seemingly decreasing BB%, and FB% at the very least.

13 years ago

Great writeup!

I liked Penny for a late pick given his team’s pitching coach. Now I wonder if perhaps Silva should have been more of a sleeper/flyer given similar logic…

13 years ago

There is more than one approach to successful pitching. Thanks for focusing on Rothschild, because his pitchers have had some success using his approach.

Now when are you going to look at Darren Balsley of the Padres and what he’s done building a bullpen and ushering in young arms to the rotation, as well as turning around a fair number of the Padres reclamation projects? I have to ask, because I don’t know how to do it myself.

I’m a Pads fan, and I get sick of hearing all of the media attention focused on the great Dave Duncan, because the Pads have been spinning gold out of straw (and every other kind of castoff) for several years now. If I sound angry or bitter, I’m not. Maybe a little jealous about the attention others get and that Darren Balsley is consistently overlooked.

13 years ago

What’s going on with Silva? I know he has received great run support, but he is like a whole new pitcher! Are we calling him the Cubs ace, now?

Really interesting statistical analysis. . . . you should coach little league!

13 years ago

Plenty of this “effect” is just changing leagues from AL to NL. This data is inconclusive at best.

13 years ago

Could any of those increases in k% be a result of guys moving from the AL to the NL? The pitchers are now pitching at lighter lineups with out a DH which in itself could be a reason they get a few more K’s.

Lilly, Silva, Gregg, Harden, etc. They had the most improvement but they switched leagues! What do you think?

13 years ago

Ja4ed, You’re killing my Pads heart here! Okay, Balsley’s no good, and the Padres pitchers all stink, it is all a figment of Petco’s imagination. I know you didn’t say that, but that is always the knock against him and the Pads staff. I still maintain that they are good pitchers who are well coached.

Let’s also consider that a pitcher who can’t up his K rate probably is not going to be successful under Rothschild and that Dave Duncan hand picks the pitchers he’s going to work with. So their successes are skewed too.

13 years ago

Another thing to consider is age. Pitchers lose velocity as they age and we know velocity is a huge part of strikeouts. 4 of the 5 pitchers on the list that didn’t improve were older players (Maddux, Estes, Grabow, and Marquis).

As for the flyball percentage remark, the Cubs were middle of the pack in 2008 and 2009. They had the 10th lowest FB% in 2007 and 3rd lowest in 2006. middle of the pack in 2004 (12th) and 2005 (17th). 12th in 2003. 17th in 2002.

I don’t know if players have increased their FB% with Rothschild or not, but the team as a whole has allowed fewer fly balls than the average team during his tenure with the Cubs.

13 years ago

Any theory on how he might be doing it? Is he a big fan of teaching the splitter or something? A big jump in change ups when they come to the Cubs?

13 years ago

I don’t care what the stats show – I think Rothschild is way overrated. He may coax more K’s out of these guys but the Cubs are also league leaders in BBs too. Which leads to higher pitch counts which leads to shorter outings. And I wouldn’t say the Cubs or Rothschild has been that successful in building an effective bullpen either.

13 years ago

League leaders in walks doesn’t mean much to me. The question is whether he improves control or makes it worse. We see here that he clearly improves strikeouts and I just looked at this same sample and he also improves walks. I know that’s hard to believe for most Cubs fans, but the facts don’t lie,

13 years ago

Nice work. I guess it just seems that they walk more guys when I’m watching.