PHOENIX -- Patience paid off for new Brewers pitching coach Chris Hook, who earned a promotion to the Major League staff after 11 years coaching in the Minors.
Hook, 50, pitched in the Major Leagues for Dusty Baker's Giants in the mid-1990s before finding his calling in coaching, first as a Minor League pitching coach for the Brewers and later as one of the coordinators of the system. He sat down with MLB.com at the start of camp to discuss his path to his new job, and what he sees ahead for the team.
In a few places, the conversation was edited for length and clarity.
MLB.com: Whenever someone takes over a sprawling job so with many moving parts, I think to myself, "If that were me, where would I start?" So, where did you start?
Chris Hook: Well, the good part of me getting this job was that I was already in the organization, and the "where to start" in many cases was to rekindle those old relationships. That meant contacting everyone and saying, "Hey, let's talk in the next couple of weeks and start the conversation again." That's what it was. I think 13 out of the 20 pitchers we have on the 40-man roster, I've had some kind of relationship with. I've spent some time in the trenches with them.
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Now, the difference is that I haven't had them at this level. So that was the reason for the conversation. It was, "I know you, you know me, but what are some of the things that work for you at the big league level and what are the things you want to get better at?" That's where it started for me.
The other thing was starting a relationship with all of the other departments that we have. I had some relationship with some of them, but now we're digging a little bit deeper. The research and development group, the advanced scouting group -- getting comfortable with what they do. The strength and conditioning group, the [athletic] training group. When Mark Dewey and I took over the Minor League side, one of the big things was having an integrated approach to all of the different departments.
MLB.com: You brought up analytics, an area of explosive growth in the game. How would you distill your view of the intersection between coaching and analytics?
Hook: It's just another part of breaking down who that pitcher is. For me, it's a "combined belief" type of thing. I want to make sure that who they believe they are and what we believe they are, they're matching and we have a combined belief.
We're in a wave of change. Last year, there was maybe more of that [resistance] and my job was to expose these guys to new things, just as I was getting educated. As we start getting waves of guys from the Minor Leagues, they're going to be more accepting of the data because they will have seen it more often. Even at this level, I think we're going to do more education about what this means or what that means. Then go to them individually and work on their own plan.
Knowing the player really well is the key. Obviously, we have a lot of resources here, and if there's something I don't understand, I'm going to get the answer to it before I bring it to a player. That's part of what my job is, to make sure I know these guys so well that I know how to present the data to him so it can be processed, because the data is great, but if this guy has no idea what I'm talking about and I confuse him, there's going to be a guy out there on the mound with no conviction.
MLB.com: Looking back to your playing career, who were your influences?
Hook: Oh gosh, there are so many. I think of guys like Larry Rothchild, early on in my first instructional league [with the Reds], teaching me the slider. Mack Jenkins, who spent some time with the Reds. Joel Horlen, an old White Sox pitcher who pitched a no-hitter, he was my Triple-A coach [with the Giants]. Rod Beck was a big influence on me as a teammate, even in my first year in the big leagues. And Steve Cline, who is one of our Brewers coaches now.
As a pitcher, I was a little like Brent Suter. He has balls that are sinking and cutting, and I was kind of the same. I wasn't overpowering, by any means. But I was a competitor, and luckily enough, my first year in the big leagues, Dusty [Baker] would always put me out there in extra-inning games. I was the horseshoe. I didn't spend a lot of time there, but I did get five wins in extra innings. I just competed. I was a non-drafted player who had to grind my way through, and I snuck my way to the big leagues.
I thought about coaching sometimes. It came easy to me. I was one of those guys where it fulfills me to help you. I started getting into all kinds of other stuff after [playing] the game, but I always had my hand in coaching. I started my own website, having players from all over the country do these blogs. My wife did a lot of the coding, but I set up a lot of the content. But I always knew coaching might be something in the future.
MLB.com: It feels like the Brewers are at a similar point they found themselves last year. If you ask someone outside the organization, they are likely to say, "They need one more starter." But inside the organization, you like what you have. What do you think you have here?
Hook: I think we have some good young guys who got a whole lot of experience last year. There's growth there, and there's still more growth to have. The Corbin Burneses and Freddy Peraltas, we don't know what their ceilings are, and I think we have to find out. Then you have the Zach Davies and Chase Andersons of the world who are solid contributors. We know what they're going to bring you every year. So I think there's just a lot of growth here. I feel good about this situation.
MLB.com: What is your opinion on flexibility of roles? In other words, are you a believer that pitchers perform best when they have a set role, starter or reliever, big leagues or Triple-A, or are you a believer in "just get outs?"
Hook: I think the game is changing in that way and evolving. If you had asked me that question 15 years ago, I would say everybody needs to know their role. But I think everyone now is understanding that the game is different. Now it's, how can I contribute? I think [Craig Counsell] hit it on the head with, "You're here to get outs." Fifteen years ago, I'm not sure if you could have said that.
MLB.com: Is there anything you're going to miss about the Minor League gig?
Hook: I'm going to miss the bus rides, for sure. [laughing] No. You know, when people ask how the new job is going to be different, I think it's very similar to the old job. It's building relationships with guys, getting to know them well, and getting them to compete at their highest level. To me, it's not different. It's figuring out where guys are trying to get to and getting them there as quickly as I can.
Obviously, there's a lot more pressure. I get all that. But honestly, I don't feel like this job is different than what I've always done: Connect with these guys, make them better, and hopefully win a lot of baseball games.