CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Long before Trevor Bauer won the 2020 National League Cy Young Award and signed a record-breaking contract with the Dodgers on Feb. 11, he met Caleb Cotham at Driveline Baseball, just outside Seattle.
They clicked immediately.
“We’re wired very similarly,” Bauer said this week in a telephone interview. “We were curious in the same way. We talked all the time, just bouncing ideas off each other. 'Hey, what do you think about this?' Sharing research and all that different stuff.”
They met before the 2014 season, when Bauer pitched for the Indians and Cotham pitched in the Yankees' farm system. Bauer’s career took off, while Cotham pitched two seasons in the Majors (2015-16) before a knee injury ended his career. The friends got an opportunity to work together in 2019, when the Indians traded Bauer to the Reds, for whom Cotham was the assistant pitching coach.
Bauer went 5-4 with a 1.73 ERA in 11 starts in 2020 to win the Cy Young Award. The Phillies hired Cotham as pitching coach a short time later.
“We built this rapport together,” Bauer said. “We kind of developed a list of things that I would want to know in between each inning. It was like, 'OK, how was my stuff that inning? How was my command? What I have done to the guys coming up?'
"It was super helpful for me, because he took the time to understand what information I was looking to get out of that and how I was going to use it. So when he presented that information, it wasn’t just a data dump. Like, 'Oh, these are the numbers of what your stuff is doing.' He’s like, ‘It’s in a great spot, but just be conscious, you haven’t shown this guy a curveball yet.’ OK, great, that’s a bite-size chunk that I can take out there. Let me lead this guy off with a curveball. Oh, it’s a one-pitch out and here we go.”
“[The pitchers are] in compete mode, so in a lot of ways it’s just covering blind spots,” Cotham said. “So we’re not sticking or staying in one pattern. Just opening up all the options, all the places in the zone we can go.”
Cotham is the Phillies’ fifth pitching coach in five years. Manager Joe Girardi craves stability in the role. He believes Cotham will provide it because he can blend his technology and data background with the relatability of a former pitcher.
Bauer considers that a Cotham strength, too.
“He’s like a new-age interpreter,” Bauer said. “What I mean by that is, we have two kinds of thought processes in baseball right now. You have the old-school way, where it’s, 'Hey, just play the game on the field, the data is ruining everything,' that type of thing. Then you have the new school, which is, 'Hey, here’s the data and it can help us on the field.'
"You have a gap in the middle, where the two sides can’t communicate with each other because players don’t understand what a launch angle of 22 means or a spin rate of that means. The front office doesn’t understand what 'I didn’t have that pitch today' means, because a lot of them never played the game at that level. This interpreter position understands both sides from an on-field competition standpoint and also from an analytic standpoint. Caleb is one of the best that I know at that role.”
Cotham is 33, which makes him younger than Phillies pitchers Brandon Kintzler (36), Tony Watson (35), Iván Nova (33) and David Hale (33). He is 24 days older than Chase Anderson.
Cotham’s age is an advantage, Bauer said.
“He’s still current enough where he can translate a lot of the insights the data generates into very usable kind of player-speak,” he said.
But what if a pitcher is not into the tech and data? Can Cotham work with somebody like that?
“One of the things that Caleb’s really good at is relationship building and gaining that trust,” Bauer said. “He doesn’t come in and just say we’re going to make all these changes without getting to know the player and getting to know the person and building that rapport with them. He’s not overbearing with guys. He has as much technical knowledge as you want, but he can simplify things very easily and just give one little bite-sized chunk that might help someone. And he can do that in a way that athletes still understand, because he played as recently as 2016.”
Girardi sees Cotham relating well with his pitchers. He said some early mechanical and pitch adjustments already have paid dividends with improved bite on breaking balls and command in the zone.
It is just part of the job, Cotham said.
“Everything has to flow through the player,” Girardi said. “They’re playing the game. They’re the one throwing the ball. So I'm super interested in how they see this thing, how they want to get better or what they want to accomplish. My fundamental role is to serve those guys. Be digging in as much as I can on as many things as I can, so when that moment comes and they do have a question, I'm prepared to have a decent answer. And if I'm not, I'm going to go find it.”