Brocail's history made him a good fit for O's
New pitching coach spent time with rebuilding Astros, helped reinvent Cashner in 2017
The recommendation came unsolicited, not that Doug Brocail necessarily needed it. After hearing the Orioles were considering tabbing Brocail for their vacant pitching coach position, Andrew Cashner reached out to executive vice president Mike Elias and new manager Brandon Hyde with a series of phone calls, stumping for Brocail to land the role.
Having turned around his career under Brocail's instruction in Texas two years ago, Cashner's approval spoke to what Elias called "a ton of credibility" Brocail has earned with pitchers over the years. But it was another connection that laid the foundation for his hire: a connection to Elias, to assistant general manager Sig Mejdal and the data-driven philosophy they plan to bring to Baltimore.
"The type of information we're going to be producing for our pitchers," Elias explained, "he has a feel for that already."
Brocail was first introduced to it in Houston, where Elias and Mejdal were part of the front office that heavily incorporated analytics in methodically rebuilding the Astros. Brocail was the Astros' pitching coach from 2011-13, during the earliest stages of that process. He spent a season coaching at the Double-A level, a position in which he was tasked with filtering the information to the likes of future big leaguers Chris Devenski and Josh Hader, among other prospects the Astros had overhauled their system with.
Those were the years Brocail credits for modernizing his perspective, and they bear striking resemblance to the situation he now finds himself in with the Orioles. By the time he left to become the Rangers' pitching coach in 2015, he'd fully bought in.
"I used to be real old school," said Brocail, who pitched for four teams over the course of his 15-year playing career. "The analytics guys, they've done some immaculate stuff."
Cashner arrived in Texas in 2017 on a one-year show-me contract as he came off his worst season as a pro. Using data as a selling point, Brocail helped convince Cashner of the benefits of reinventing himself. And by season's end, the effects were plain to see.
Under Brocail, the righty largely abandoned his four-seam fastball in place of a sinker and increased his curveball usage in what was previously a fastball-slider heavy repertoire. The result was an increased ground-ball rate and a sparkling 3.40 ERA. That marked a more than two-run improvement from the year before, which Cashner then parlayed into a two-year, $16 million contract with the Orioles.
Now, Cashner is Brocail's pupil once again. One of Brocail's main goals will be to help the righty rebound from his disappointing first season in Baltimore, where he regressed to a 5.29 ERA. Last year, Cashner went back to favoring the four-seamer and decreasing his sinker usage, and he allowed 25 home runs, the highest single-season total of his career.
"We want guys to experiment," Brocail said. "The analytics team, what they do for us, it allows us go out and coach. They give us the information, they let us decipher it. We find out what's usable what's not usable, and we go forward with -- how are you going to help us win a ballgame? We know your sinker is getting killed. Let's eliminate that."
• Why the Orioles aren't naming a bench coach in 2019
For Brocail, the challenge will be personalizing that approach to a roster with which he has little history, Cashner aside. Like his situation with the Astros of yesteryear, Brocail now inherits a staff that posted a league-worst 5.18 ERA in 2018, a group full of inexperienced hurlers and a situation where player development will take precedence over all else. The unfamiliarity will require him to, in his own words, "sit down, pound the computer for the next three weeks, so when guys come in and are ready to go, we have answers for them."
"He's also been sort of thrust into similar situations to the one that we're in right now -- a lot of young pitchers, unproven pitchers -- so he kind of knows the drill in terms of mentoring a young staff and shepherding guys through some struggles as they enter the Major League level," Elias said. "So I think he is a perfect fit for where we are at."