Ausmus does homework, trusts recommendations, goes with Rich Dubee
Brad Ausmus started with a list of 20 pitching coach candidates. He whittled it down to six. He had coaches he knew, coaches he didn’t know, coaches who came recommended. But with his job future likely on the line next season, he had the list. If you count Jeff Jones as a holdover two years ago, then this was Ausmus’ first pitching coach hire, and he came prepared.
“Brad did just about all the legwork and research,” general manager Al Avila said. “He turned over a list to me of guys he wanted to interview, and I gave my thoughts, and [Rich Dubee] was at the top of the list.”
Amidst questions whether he’d go with familiarity from his playing career, Ausmus went with Dubee, who he didn’t know but came recommended from people he did, from predecessor Jim Leyland to bench coach Gene Lamont to bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer.
“I was kind of doing cursory research on all of them,” Ausmus said Thursday on a conference call. “When we get to that half-dozen, that’s when the interview process really began, covering a number of topics. We covered scouting reports, what they’ve used in past to prepare pitchers for opposing lineups, how much they were involved in the analytical side of it, what numbers they used, how open they were to new analytics.
“Having experience at the Major League level was important for us at this point. Really, it just came down to Rich and his experience with the Phillies (from 2005 to 2013). I had a lot of recommendations for him.”
Leyland’s last season as Marlins manager in 1998 was Dubee’s first season as a Major League pitching coach. Billmeyer was bullpen coach under Dubee for much of his Philly tenure.
Beyond that, Ausmus had several former teammates who pitched for Dubee in Philadelphia, including Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge and Chad Qualls.
“I actually spoke to a number of pitchers who worked with Rich,” Ausmus said, “and they all gave glowing recommendations.”
Roy Halladay won a Cy Young award, the second of his career, under Dubee’s watch in Philadelphia in 2010. When Halladay’s pitching faded two years ago, his final Major League season, Dubee caught criticism, including publicly from then-MLB Network personality Mitch Williams. Halladay came to his defense.
“Rich Dubee, when I first came over, he taught me a changeup,” Halladay said at the time. “If I hadn’t had that coming over here, I wouldn’t have had the success I’ve had over here. Especially dealing with the injuries I’ve dealt with, if I didn’t have that pitch, if I didn’t have him working with me, I really would have been in a lot of trouble. …
“There’s very few pitching coaches that I respect more than Rich Dubee. Watching Kyle Kendrick, the stuff that he’s learned, the way he’s grown, is because of Rich Dubee and it’s because of his work ethic and the way he goes about things. It really does upset me. It upsets me that guys outside of our group of guys that don’t understand what’s going on here make comments like that.”
That ability to connect with star pitchers is key, given Justin Verlander’s situation as he tries to build off of his second-half rebound and turn it into a career rebirth, and Anibal Sanchez’s attempt to rebound from a nightmarish season that included a shoulder scare.
At the same time, Dubee will have to serve as a mentor for a group of young pitchers the Tigers need to develop if they’re going to return to contention. Daniel Norris tops the list, but the guys beyond him — Matt Boyd, Michael Fulmer, Shane Greene, Buck Farmer, Ian Krol, Drew VerHagen and of course Bruce Rondon, to name some — are going to be key.
Dubee will have to get production out of these guys, like he has in the past. While Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett and Brad Penny were prized pupils, other names to develop under him included Ryan Dempster in Miami and Kyle Kendrick in Philly. Dubee spent the last two years as Braves minor-league pitching coordinator, and Avila said that Atlanta GM John Coppolella spoke highly of him.
“I was very fortunate to have the guys we had in Philadelphia,” Dubee said. “People forget that Cole Hamels was a rookie at one time, Kyle Kendrick. We had a number of young guys come through. When you’re approaching each guy, it’s on an individual basis. A veteran guy has a little more say on what’s going on, where you might be more forceful with a young guy.”
Asked what his pitching philosophy is, Dubee said: “I like guys that are aggressive. You have to be able to throw strike one. Count is very important in this game, getting ahead. But you can’t do it just with a fastball. You have to pitch ahead in the count, but you have to be able to do it with a variety of pitches.”
That reflects in the stats he analyzes going into a series.
“Averages in swing counts, what a hitter hits in 0-0 counts, what a hitter hits in 1-0 counts, the swing tendencies,” he said.
“I believe in using everything, but I think there has to be some type of balance. And I think there has to be a balance in how much you give pitchers themselves.”
Dubee will give additional information on tendencies and such to his catchers, he said, because they can process it in a calmer fashion when situations get tight.
That said, the metrics won’t help when it comes to mechanical work. That’s where the teaching part comes in.
“For me, I try to instill some sort of simple key physically and mentally,” Dubee said, looking for something that will allow the pitcher to get back in form with a simple adjustment that he might be able to do in-game.
“And when something does go awry, you have to be able to see it,” Dubee said. “You have to be able to get your point across on making some sort of adjustments.”
In short, Dubee said, “I believe in analytics, and I believe in my eyes also.”