In an introductory Zoom call with reporters after being named the Washington Nationals’ new pitching coach, Jim Hickey said the time he spent with progressive teams in Tampa Bay, Chicago, and Los Angeles allowed him to grow as a pitching coach.
“I think I got the best of both worlds,” Hickey explained, with exposure to what he described as cutting edge advanced statistics and data.
“A little bit of old school and a lot of the newer age stuff as well.”
What does he look at? A reporter asked if he focused on spin rate? Mechanics in terms of release point and extension? What does Hickey focus on when assessing pitchers?
“You didn’t mention strike rate,” Hickey said. “I really like strike rate. I know that’s not an advanced statistic, but it’s absolutely something.”
Hickey spent the last two years as a special assistant for player development with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I think what stands out to me — especially as the game is being played right now — is movement, horizontal movement. Whether it’s vertical movement, horizontal movement, you know because the game is so much predicated now on the elevated fastballs and the breaking balls underneath, so those are things that — I say they stand out, because when you see the numbers — you don’t necessarily have to see the numbers to know that this guy has got a particularly good fastball, but if you can take somebody who is a little bit younger and you can see that in him and then go ahead and modify some things to where now he can get to maybe not elite-level doing that type of thing but a really, really competitive level, that’s what I see. That’s what I saw last year as I was watching the games.
“Especially watching a guy like Walker Buehler, this is exactly his MO as well and obviously very successful too, so I don’t know if that’s a great answer to your question, but that’s the kind of thing that stands out to me immediately.”
Hickey, who’s got 15 years as a big league pitching coach on his resume, said on Monday he is excited about the opportunity to get to know the Nationals’ pitchers as he works to get up to speed on the organization over the winter, but there’s obviously a lot of talent in the Nats’ rotation, and some up-and-coming arms in the system, which is something he said he likes to work with.
“It’s a fun mix when it’s like that,” Hickey explained. “I really enjoy having the guys that are just up and coming and the ability to look at a [Max] Scherzer or a [Stephen] Strasburg or a Patrick Corbin, things like that, and that’s kind of my approach, is just like, ‘Hey, take a look,’ starting in Spring Training, ‘... look over there and just watch,’ and encourage the young guys to come when there’s a bullpen being thrown, especially when it’s by one of the more veteran guys, and just to get an idea of the routine that these guys have, and how much — oh, what’s the word I’m looking for — how much that they’re just kind of dedicated to it, to that routine and to what they do, it’s a really important thing, but I really enjoy the young guys, and I’m looking forward to the young guys, especially in those big moments, because that’s where they really make their growth.”
The mix of established veterans and young arms in the organization, Hickey said, is part of what interested him about the job in the nation’s capital.
“What’s intriguing about the job is the chance to win and the chance to work with the people who are there now,” Hickey said.
“It’s got a very, very strong core as you know and it’s going to return a lot of that so it makes it very attractive.”
As for how he handles established starters and their routines versus younger pitchers who are still establishing them, Hickey said developing trust is the key to the relationships, and when asked if it was important for him to trust the pitchers, he said, “I think that it’s kind of the opposite way, it’s getting them to trust me.”
“So it’s all about relationships as far as that goes.
“Learning what works for Max Scherzer might not work for [Austin] Voth. That type of a thing. So just building relationships, getting to know guys, I think that that’s the most important thing and just not pushing my — not my will, but if I have an idea I’ll certainly share it and kind of find that common ground and bring that up, but most of these guys have a pretty good idea, especially the veteran guys, obviously, what it is that makes them tick and what it is that they need to have me watch out for or at least be aware of, so I’m looking forward to that, that’s one of the funnest parts of the job, actually.”