The Royals moved quickly to replace recently fired pitching coach Bob McClure by hiring Dave Eiland. I can pretend that I’m a baseball guru who is so much smarter than everyone else and suggest that this is somehow a bad or good hire, but I’m going to be honest and say I have no idea. My limited experience tells me that pitching coaches are more important than batting coaches, however figuring out what effects he has on a staff is nearly impossible.
What we do know about Eiland is that he pitched for 10 years in the Major Leagues for the Yankees, Padres and Devil Rays (they were named that then). He worked his way up through the coaching ranks with the Yankees until becoming a full-fledged pitching coach for them. Like the manager of the Yankees, but to a lesser degree, pitching coach has to be simultaneously one of the easiest and hardest jobs in baseball. It’s one of the easiest, because he gets to work with the most talented arms in the sport. It’s one of the most difficult, because you’re dealing with the largest egos and a very vocal media. If there is any misstep withing the staff, the blame comes hard and heavy.
Eiland dealt with that in 2010 when he left the team for a month for personal reasons which coincided with A.J. Burnett going 0-6 during that stretch. Subsequently, the Yankees pitchers struggled with the Rangers in the post season. Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said that it had nothing to do with that, but even I can put together 1 and 1.
Following his sting with the Yankees, Eiland took a job with the Tampa Bay Rays as a special advisor. Now he is Bob McClure’s successor as pitching coach of the Kansas City Royals.
It’s very easy to make simple connections between a pitching coach and the success of his staff. If they pitch well, he gets some credit and if they don’t he gets some blame. He’s in middle management, and that’s just part of the gig. But like any baseball coach, his primary job is to get the most out of the players he’s given. The vast majority of that is getting them mentally prepared and keeping them comfortable. There’s mechanical things to work on and there’s conditioning programs to put in place.
Eiland comes to Kansas City with a very big job in front of him. He has a ton of young arms in the bullpen and an absolute wild-card of a rotation (I know, I’m supposed to say that it’s terrible and the Royals will never win with this bunch of losers, but that’s not how I feel. There’s some quality in there, seriously). This kind of project has to excite a pitching coach, particularly when he can do it in a light that is not anywhere near as bright as that which shines down on the Bronx.
I think the best analogy for a pitching coach is the head of a race-car crew. He can make suggestions, ask his guys to do this and that and he has to trust their expertise. In race-day, he’s merely a spectator who can provide encouragement and sugestions, but he’s not driving the car. I hope that Dave Eiland can man his crew to victory lane, but he’s going to need to build some new cars himself or hope ownership springs for one.