Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dave Eiland, Difference Maker?

I think we all understand this offseason is a crossroads of sorts for the Royals. The right personnel moves can augment the young talent on the roster and put them in position to contend in 2012, while the wrong moves could potentially make us all wait a couple more years.

So the first big move the team made was adding Dave Eiland as pitching coach, replacing the fired Bob McClure.

I liked McClure, but it is amazing to me he lasted as long as he did as the Royals' pitching coach. Six years with one team is a long tenure for any coach, especially a team that lost as often as the Royals did in that time. When you consider that McClure survived not one, but two managerial changes, it's even more surprising. But I suspect the message had gotten stale. The Royals have led the AL in walks allowed two of the past three years. Changing that will be Eiland's biggest challenge.

So, what is Eiland's background? Drafted by the Yankees in the 7th round of the 1987 draft, he made his major league debut the next season at the age of 22. I suppose that could be a useful experience when the Royals' promising young pitchers start reaching the majors.

After bouncing between the majors and the Yankees' farm system for four seasons, Eiland moved on to San Diego, back to the Yankees, and finally to expansion-era Tampa Bay before finishing up his career in 2002. Fashioning a major-league career out of what he told the Kansas City Star was "a little bit south of mediocre" stuff, Eiland had to learn how to prepare and be a pitcher, not just a thrower.

Eiland then began his coaching career in the Yankees' minor leagues, finally becoming the major-league pitching coach in 2008. He held that job through the 2010 season before the Yankees fired him. Eiland spent the 2011 season in the Tampa Bay front office.

The 2007 Yankees had an ERA+ of 101, meaning they were slightly above league-average. They improved to a 104 in 2008 and 108 in 2009 before a slight dropoff to 106 in 2010. Also, the Yankees' walk and strikeout rates did improve over 2007 during Eiland's tenure:

2007: 3.6 BB/9, 6.3 K/9, 1.75 K/BB
2008: 3.1 BB/9, 7.1 K/9, 2.33 K/BB
2009: 3.6 BB/9, 7.8 K/9, 2.20 K/BB
2010: 3.4 BB/9, 7.2 K/9, 2.14 K/BB

Now the downside: the Yanks' 2011 numbers were better in all three of those categories than in 2010 (3.1 BB/9, 7.5 K/9, 2.41 K/BB). But if Eiland can help the Royals improve their 2011 numbers (3.5 BB/9, 6.7 K/9, 1.94 K/BB) at the same rate, the Royals could certainly contend in 2012.

Of course, the thing Eiland can't control is what he is given to work with. There is a big difference between coaching CC Sabathia and, say, Danny Duffy. It will be up to Dayton Moore and the farm system to give Eiland talent to work with.

In my opinion, Eiland's most important task will be working with Luke Hochevar. We saw a much-improved Hochevar in the second half of the season, but let's be honest: Hochevar has shown flashes of brilliance before. It's unlikely he will ever be an ace, but if he can be an above-average starter, a bona fide number 2 starter, he will be a key piece of the Royals' rotation.

Other big projects for Eiland: getting Aaron Crow back on track and getting Tim Collins and Danny Duffy to improve their control. I have my doubts about Crow as a starter, although there is certainly no harm in giving him a shot to make the rotation in spring training. But even if he returns to a relief role, the Royals need him to be first-half Aaron Crow. Collins could be a valuable 7th-inning guy, maybe even a setup guy in a pinch, but he averaged 6.4 walks per 9 innings pitched in 2011. You just can't let a guy that wild pitch in the late innings. I think Duffy can be a middle of the rotation guy, but he too needs better control--100 pitches in 5 innings isn't going to cut it.

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