Larry Rothschild has been a major-league pitching coach for 18 seasons in three different organizations, not including stints as a roving instructor, bullpen coach and manager in three other organizations. He's tutored the likes of Kevin Brown, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka.
Currently in his sixth season as the pitching coach for the Yankees, Rothschild sat down during New York's weekend trip to Fenway Park to discuss organizational philosophies, how the role of a pitching coach has evolved and what the staff of the future might look like.
Tim Britton: How different is the job of a pitching coach now than when you started in Florida [in 1995]?
Larry Rothschild: There's a lot more information. There's a lot more analytical information. I think players are more versed in it. There's different ideologies on throwing programs. It's a lot more time-consuming than it used to be. The availability of film, to be able to analyze things and the numbers you can crunch and all that—it's a lot different.
TB: It seems like there's always something more that you could be doing.
LR: Right. And you end up in a circle. You go right back to where you started.
Dealing with players isn't really a lot different. They're more versed in the information part of it, but at the end of the day, they've got to be able to execute pitches. The teaching part and the coaching part and the communication part should never change. I don't think it really has much.
TB: Do you have a pitching philosophy in your mind? Should organizations have a pitching philosophy?
LR: I think organizations should and individual pitching coaches at the major-league level probably not. In an organization, you're going to be dealing with 80 to 100 pitchers, so you need certain standards set and ways to do things. At the major-league level, it's more of an individual thing. What are they capable of doing and what aren't they capable? You're trying to limit their exposure to the downside of things. That's more an individual thing. You have enough time on your hands to deal with that.
There's no cookie cutter at this level. Some of the guys, it happens a lot that unorthodox works at this level. Whether it's sidearm or split-fingers or a pitch that guys haven't seen, it works at this level.
TB: You were a minor-league roving instructor. How different is it applying an organizational philosophy then when you're dealing with that many pitchers compared to the smaller staff at the major-league level?
LR: The difference is, for that, you're dealing with a lot younger kids. Some of them have never been in professional baseball. You need policies and standards for them to follow even though there might be individual things; the organization has certain philosophies they need to accomplish to make themselves better and to uphold the standards of the organization. I came through the Reds, and we developed players and it was a good system and people understood that. I think a lot of that is very important.
It's different at this level. You're dealing with fewer people, and usually by now they understand what they need to do and their habits. They've gone through the failures to understand what works and what doesn't work. When they get here, there's things that need to be tweaked — and obviously there's some outliers to this — but usually they're pretty well-versed in what they need to do.
TB: How do you balance catering to what a guy is used to and imposing your will when you think something else might work?
LR: You communicate. 'This is what I see. What do you think?' You try to steer the conversation that way.
I don't think with human beings you can say, 'This is what you're going to do, so do it.' They're athletes. There's certain ways to do things, but there are different ways to get those points across. You use any avenue you have to try to get them across.
I'm not a guy that caters to players ever. I think you communicate with them and you work with them. They respect the fact that you've got their best interest in mind. That doesn't necessarily mean it's always great. It's the other side of it—'I'm not sure I like what I'm seeing.' And there's always the discipline side of it to uphold the standard of the organization.
TB: Were there coaches that you had that you took a lot from?
LR: I've been really lucky with the people I've been around. Years ago with the Reds, Ron Plaza was our minor-league field coordinator and was as smart a baseball person as I've ever met. I learned a ton from him. That whole Reds system in those days was really good. Being around Roger Craig in Detroit, Sparky [Anderson], being lucky enough to be a coach for Jim Leyland. I could go down the list. Working with Joe [Girardi] has been great. I've been really lucky with the managers I've been around. It's been good.
TB: You've had a lot of good pitchers under your tutelage. Are there commonalities those guys have or are they all unique personalities?
LR: They're unique personalities, but when they get out there, the bottom line is the way they compete and the way they prepare themselves and their willingness to get after it each and every day, no matter what they have. They learn that the bottom line is they need to win games, and the way they compete is the common trait among some of the better pitchers.
TB: You were talking about the way analytics have come into the game. How much have you tried to teach yourself in that regard?
LR: There's just so much more of it. We've all through time used base on balls and strikeouts and you can see guys who have swing-and-miss fastballs or breaking balls. You don't need numbers to verify what you're seeing.
But there's just so many more numbers now. You need to be abreast of them because chances are, maybe not right now, but in the future players are going to understand that information. To be able to have that conversation, you need to understand it.
TB: What do you think a pitching staff will look like 10 years down the road? Will we still see five-man rotations?
LR: I think you're going to have bigger pitching staffs. I'm hoping that the pitchers who can become your really good starting pitchers don't lose that because of the idea that [they go] five or six innings and don't face hitters through the third time, that can leak down and you can lose some guys that are capable of doing a lot more, which means so much to a team.
I think that part of it has a chance to change — and hopefully not. I think where we're headed is more in that direction, so you're going to need bigger pitching staffs.
It's hard to predict. Some of this could change. I don't know that anybody understands where the numbers really are, because it seems like the more we've restricted pitch totals, the injuries have still mounted. At some point, you have to look at the whole picture and say, 'Well, if this isn't working, what is going on?' Is it more weight training? Is it more pitchers taught to throw with velocity to get signed or to get college scholarships? Is that where the injuries are coming from? Is it less throwing when you're young? Or is it that maybe we don't train them to throw enough or that every pitch is max effort and you don't know how to regulate yourself and get through a game when you're tired and learn how to pitch that way.
I've been doing this a long time and I can't tell you what the answer is.
TB: Do you think there are guys pitching today who are capable of going 280 innings the way guys used to more regularly?
LR: Yeah, because common sense would tell you that it's happened before, so there's got to be guys. Now, would you wash guys out trying to get to that point and get them hurt? Probably. But they're getting hurt now the way it is. I'm not sure what the answer is there.