According to a report from Jon Heyman, the Cubs are no longer employing game strategy coach Craig Driver and bullpen coach Chris Young. Both coaches had previously worked for the Phillies and spent four seasons with the Cubs, with Driver serving in multiple roles and Young maintaining the same position throughout. Though it’s entirely possible there were other factors involved, it’s impossible to overlook the fact that these two were responsible for two of the more maligned aspects of the Cubs’ season.
That said, it also feels like a situation in which someone had to be scapegoated to a certain degree because changes need to take place and the person ultimately responsible for making the calls isn’t going anywhere. Perhaps the club felt the best way to help David Ross make better, more informed decisions was to change some of the folks providing him input on said decisions.
Driver initially came over as the Cubs’ catching coach in 2020 and moved to first base coach in ’21 before stepping into the role vacated by the departure of Mike Borzello last year. That was a big loss, as Borzello was a baseball lifer who’d been with the team for 10 years in various capacities and had a great mind for the game. His shoes were going to be hard to fill no matter what, but Driver may have been walking around the whole time with his metaphorical laces untied.
As easy as it is to criticize with outcome bias, a lot of the in-game decisions this season left fans scratching their heads. Odd bunt decisions, refusal to play the young guys, and inexplicable substitutions were brought to the forefront by a lack of execution. Was that Driver’s fault? Hardly, but someone had to wear it.
To that end, I just have one more criticism of the whole, “playing the guys that got us here” thing. That only works if the goal was merely to get to early September with a shot at the playoffs. Assuming the Cubs wanted to earn a trip to the postseason, perhaps a better plan would have been to play the guys who could get you there. But I digress…
Young served as the Phillies’ assistant pitching coach for two seasons before ascending to the primary role in 2019, after which he was fired. He then came to Chicago as the bullpen coach and oversaw a ragtag group that resembled a colonial militia outfit. His scrappy unit of castoffs and journeymen posted an aggregate 4.15 ERA over the last four seasons, putting them 16th in MLB over that time. Their 4.31 FIP ranked 25th, but their 4.08 xFIP was eighth.
The most telling statistics, however, came in Cubs relievers’ performance in the areas of strikeouts and walks. Though they ranked third since 2020 with a 26.0% strikeout rate and 10.03 K/9, their 10.8% walk rate was second-worst and their 4.18 BB/9 was third-worst. So even with all those strikeouts, their 2.40 K/BB ratio ranked 20th in MLB among all bullpens over the last four years.
Too bad Young didn’t make like a Little League dad and tell his guys to just throw strikes.
As with Driver, this is less about a coaching issue and more about the front office’s admitted failure to provide adequate talent and depth for a unit that hasn’t been prioritized. Jed Hoyer tends to treat the bullpen like taking an aging car to the repair shop, opting only for those services necessary to keep the thing street-legal. Maybe he’ll spring for a tune-up here and a new set of tires there, but he’s not above slapping Bondo on that rusted-out quarter panel or keeping the muffler attached with a coat hanger.
Unless Young was actually feeding Ross bad information about who was available out of the ‘pen or there was other internal strife, which can’t be dismissed out of hand, there’s probably nothing he could have done to save his job. Injuries down the stretch limited the manager’s circle of trust to like two pitchers, one of whom was the only arm Hoyer added at the deadline.
José Cuas may have outperformed expectations, but it’s a problem when he’s pitching in a higher percentage of games than any other reliever in baseball in the second half. The righty sidewinder pitched in 27 of 52 games for which he was active and had a string of nine appearances in 12 games from September 16-29. The Cubs were 4-8 during that stretch, which is not so much because Cuas pitched that much but rather because he had to pitch that much.
Anyway, what it all comes down to is that replacing these coaches won’t mean a damn thing if the front office doesn’t make significant upgrades in player personnel this offseason.