The Cubs’ Most Important Pitching Coach Might Not Be Their Pitching Coach

The man who began scouting Yu Darvish as soon the Dodgers had locked up the NL pennant is the same who convinced Kyle Hendricks to lean more on his curve and four-seam fastball (you’re gonna need a subscription to read that, but you can get one here at a discount). He’s the man who caught Mariano Rivera’s cutter and later taught it to Kenley Jansen. And he’s the man who made it a little easier for the Cubs to part ways with pitching coach Chris Bosio.

Mike Borzello is 10 pounds of awesome-sauce stuffed into a five-pound bag, just without the ensuing oozy mess. And as Patrick Mooney laid out in The Athletic recently (also a subscription piece, one you’re really going to want to read), Borzello could hold the key that unlocks new doors for Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood.

“(It’s) discussing his pitch mix from the last few seasons,” Borzello told Mooney, referring to Chatwood in particular. “Breaking it down and showing him how predictable he is, asking him why. Why is there so little usage of certain secondary pitches? It’s kind of taking his temperature on why he is who he is – and why he hasn’t done certain things that I’m going to ask him to do.”

With Darvish, the idea is a little different. The Cubs’ plan from the start has been to unleash the full force of the big righty’s impressive pitch mix, a strategy that stands in stark contrast to the restrictions the Dodgers placed on him. They want to let Darvish be himself, which is the same philosophy that allowed Jake Arrieta to blossom after coming over from Baltimore.

Don’t get it twisted, though, this isn’t some laissez faire coddling meant to make their new ace feel good. No, I’d say it’s more like a deep-tissue massage.

“It’s similar to Jake where you have so many different options,” Borzello explained. “It’s more about finding out who (Darvish) is and then seeing what he’s comfortable with – and then finding out how accepting of being uncomfortable he might be.”

Now, I realize that I’ve given pretty short shrift to Jim Hickey and his role in all this. Chris Bosio, too. Those guys were/are out front, working on the overall pitching philosophy with the whole staff and that should be acknowledged. Borzello is the guy behind the guy, sussing out patterns in baseball’s Matrix in order to come up with little wrinkles in pitch sequencing and matchup-based usage, some of which might seem counter-intuitive at first blush.

As Mooney wrote, Borzello and Cubs run prevention coordinator Tommy Hottovy burned through all their rollover minutes this winter discussing analysis of the pitchers they landed and several others they didn’t. Their proactive planning involved combining independent reconnaissance to find untapped potential in the overlapping sections of untold Venn diagrams.

Borzello is sort of like the time I found that Bears Super Bowl XX t-shirt at a thrift shop for 69 cents. He’s hiding there in plain sight and most people pass him by, never even knowing how utterly badass he is. A mix of old-school baseball grit and uber-modern metrics slick who’s been around the block enough to have street cred to spare.

Hey, maybe I came up with that initial analogy because it’s what my dad-bod would look like stuffed into that schmedium shirt these days. Yeesh, it doesn’t seem so funny now. Oh well, I can always go back and ninja edit if it doesn’t play for the public.

But it does conjure a significantly more appealing image of Borzello as something of a ninja in his own right, moving behind the scenes and impacting things without really being seen or heard. Hickey will get plenty of credit if and when the Cubs staff performs well, rightfully so, but don’t forget about the guy back there figuring out how to best allocate Darvish’s offerings or how to ensure Chatwood makes good on that elite spin rate.

Wait, if we keep writing about Borzello as some kind of secret weapon, he’s not going to be much of a secret anymore. Eh, whatever, even the rest of the baseball world knowing how good he is won’t matter if he keeps doing what he does so well.

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for putting the spotlight on a man who has meant so much to the Cubs. I would have never guessed Borzello’s importance.

  2. Great write-up on Borzello, Evan. Going back through the last 5-7 years, I don’t think that Cubs coaching (overall) has gotten enough credit for pitcher development. They got the maximum out of guys like Feldman and Hammel, even Samardja – which was key to trading them for great prospects, and they all but created pitchers like Arrieta and Hendricks (pitchers nobody had heard of before the Cubs got them). It’s this track-record, and hearing what you share about guys like Borzello – that make me crazy optimistic about what they can do with Darvish, Chatwood, etc.

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