Guest Post (Ed Botti): Thoughts on New Pitching Coach Matt Blake

Well, that didn’t take too long, but it was somewhat of a surprise.

The Yankees have announced the hiring of Matt Blake as the new Pitching Coach. Many are surprised, including me, that they didn’t go the way many had speculated, bringing in a known former Yankee to take over this job, or even a seasoned retread as the Angels did with Mickey Callaway, a proven solid major league pitching coach.

But when you really think about it, is it really a surprise that they went out of the organization for this critical hire?

Below the radar, the Yankees have been making moves to change their approach, with much emphasis on the pitching. The team’s pitching coordinators have undergone a total rebuild, Scott Aldred who was the pitching coach of Double-A Trenton Thunder, in 2007 and 2008 and the Triple-A Scranton Railriders since 2009 was let go, while colleague pitching coordinator Danny Borrell left the organization to become pitching coach at Georgia Tech. Along with the releasing of Larry Rothschild, it is a clear indication that the team pitching philosophy is moving in a different direction.

That direction seems to be a more physiological, analytical and technological approach to pitching development and preparation.

So, what do we know about Matt Blake and his pitching philosophies, developmental techniques, and training strategies? And why was he selected over the other candidates?

I did some research and here is what I learned.

Let’s start with the fact that just this past Tuesday he was promoted by the pitching-rich Cleveland Indians from assistant director of player development to pitching director, only to accept the Yankees’ position 48 hours later.

Under Blake’s tutelage over just the last 2 years, he was a key contributor to the development of Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, Adam Plutko, and Aaron Civale, among others. As of November 8, 12 of the top 30 Tribe prospects, were pitchers developed by Blake and his associates.

Prior to joining the Tribe, Blake spent 7 years as the pitching coordinator for Cressey Sports Performance and coached in the Cape Cod League.

Cressey Sports Performance is a cutting edge training facility with locations in Massachusetts and Florida. They specialize in, what I would term, alternative and innovative training methods and nutritional systems with a strong emphasis on Baseball conditioning.

Blake’s throwing philosophy is principally derived from his ongoing education into functional anatomy and obtainable research on the throwing motion and mechanics. He seems to place significant emphasis on video analysis and integration of concepts from both the Physical Therapy and Strength and Conditioning platforms.

He is an advocate of understanding shoulder mechanics and the essential function they have in the pitchers’ kinetic sequence. He works to build the athlete’s knowledge and awareness of their overall body movement, weight transfer, and balance and incorporates the information into the initial phases of the throwing development program.

It seems to me that Blake firmly believes, and rightfully so, that the velocity realized by modern pitching motions exposes the shoulder to extreme force, resulting in both flexibility changes and injury, and that proper training and preparation will minimize the risk of injury, and maximize performance. He believes that his methods “build a more individualized corrective movement progression”. The end result is that these self-corrections will function to help the pitcher identify and apply the appropriate movement repetitions to maintain proper mechanics through their full range of motion.

Simply put, he a massive proponent of the importance of developing Muscle Memory.

Muscle Memory is key to any athletic movement. I am a martial arts instructor, and I can tell you first hand that it is a critical component of not only performing effectively but of building internal awareness of one’s body movement. From a trainer’s perspective, it takes a lot of time and discipline on the part of my students to achieve this state.

So, it appears that his methods will be different than what the Yankee system’s pitchers have experienced over the last 9 years under Rothschild, Aldred, and Borrell.

From what I have seen, read and heard from Aaron Boone these last two years, in addition to his time at ESPN, this is the type of developmental method he has wanted, and now he will have it.

It will be interesting to see how the younger pitchers in the system develop under Blake’s guidance. With prospects such as Jordan Montgomery, Mike King, Albert Abreu, and Deivi Garcia and even Johnny Loáisiga all considered potential major league caliber pitchers, how will he have an impact on their development? Even more important, can he and his training methods result in a full season of dominance by Luis Severino? Further, will some of the lesser-known prospects flourish and become a top 30 prospect?

Is the signing of Blake an indication of a new trend approaching in Baseball? Young innovative and collegiate level coaches. It was only this past summer that he Mets fired two-time world champion pitching coach Dave Eiland, only to replace him with 82-year-old Phil Regen, who did a very good job. But it appears that new voices are being heard and that there will be a changing of the guard.

Now that Aaron Boone actually has his own pitching coach on his staff, we just may see different pitching strategies. Whether or not there are discernable differences is still to be determined, but what is obvious, is that the Yankees are embracing new technologies and thoughts regarding training and development.