No 'cookie-cutter' approach for Phils' Cotham

November 21st, 2020

PHILADELPHIA -- National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer is a big fan of the Phillies’ new pitching coach.

The Phillies announced Friday that they hired Caleb Cotham, who was the Reds assistant pitching coach the past two seasons. Cotham is just 33, making him the second-youngest pitching coach in baseball. But his age could be a strength because it could help him relate to pitchers on multiple levels, including the ability to discuss and implement the game’s expanding technologies and data.

Bauer certainly related well to Cotham.

“Caleb was really helpful with a lot of the technical stuff,” Bauer told reporters late last month. “I haven’t really had that situation before where I have someone that I respect from the technological standpoint, the really nitty-gritty pitch shaping and understanding the mechanics and how the ball was moving and stuff like that. It was good to have someone to bounce those ideas off of and have those conversations.

“It’s something that I have in the offseason. One of the things that I enjoy most about the offseason is trying to learn on the cutting edge of … baseball. Then I come to the season and I don’t have that -- or I haven’t in the past had that. … It was really nice to have that resource around on a daily basis. Just someone that I can talk to on that level.”

Cotham will be the Phillies’ fifth pitching coach in five seasons. Three of the five had more traditional backgrounds: Bob McClure, Rick Kranitz and Bryan Price, who retired after this season. Chris Young had a more data-driven approach. The Phillies dismissed Kranitz to promote Young before the 2019 season, but his personality and style caused friction and frustration on the Phillies’ pitching staff. He did not return.

The Phillies expect Cotham to fit and work much better than Young.

“Myself as a coach, it’s being prepared for a whole range of what players want,” Cotham said. “It really comes down to serving the player and finding something to help them get better over me being right or, hey, we have to do this or that. There are so many levers and options now in our tool kit. No matter what you want, there’s something for you. It’s just having the conversation for me to find that one thing. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s Rapsodo or Edgertronic. For Trevor, it is. There are a lot of guys that that isn’t what makes them the best.

“I want to be prepared as a coach to service them and honor who they are. But also have the tool kit and … be ready for those conversations.”

Cotham made 35 appearances in the Majors, first with the Yankees under current Phillies manager Joe Girardi, and then the Reds in 2015-16. Cotham spent time honing his craft and learning new technologies and philosophies at Driveline Baseball in Kent, Wash. Following his pitching career, he worked at the Bledsoe Agency before joining the Reds.

Girardi had a “pretty big voice” in hiring Cotham. He said the Phillies interviewed seven or eight candidates before narrowing the field down to three.

“He has a chance to be here for a very, very long time because of his age,” Girardi said. “And that’s what we’re looking for -- stability.

“If you listen to Caleb, he’s talked about getting to know every pitcher and giving them the information that they want and want to handle. Not saying, ‘You have to do it this way.’ He’s not going to take anything away from anyone. He’s going to look for every effort to make every pitcher better through his knowledge, which I think there’s a ton of. He’s not trying to make cookie-cutter pitchers. Zach Eflin is going to pitch different than Zack Wheeler. Zack Wheeler is going to pitch different than Aaron Nola. And he understands that.”

The Phillies are still looking for a bullpen coach to replace Jim Gott, whose contract was not renewed.