What happened. The Cardinals announced today that they will not renew the contracts of pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and bullpen coach Blaise Ilsley. The team expects that the remainder of the coaching staff will be returning for 2018.
The story. As part of the decision to not offer contract renewals to Lilliquist and Ilsley, Cardinals’ President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak has said that the organization wants to rethink the strategy of pitching use with the implementation of new analytical data and more modern views of bullpen usage.
The numbers. Derek Lilliquist has been one of the organization’s longest tenured coaches, joining the Cardinals’ in 2002 as pitching coach for the Rookie league Johnson City Cardinals. He served at multiple levels before spending 2008 to 2010 as the team’s pitching coordinator in Jupiter where he worked with rehabbing pitchers. He joined the big league club after the 2010 season as the bullpen coach, but was promoted to interim pitching coach in August 2011 when Dave Duncan took a leave of absence. That move was made permanent after the 2012 season.
Blaise Ilsley became the bullpen coach for the Cardinals following the 2012 season after spending five seasons as pitching coach for the Triple-A Memphis Rebirds. Before that he spent six seasons as pitching coach of the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. He was the Cardinals’ 2004 winner of the George Kissell Award, presented annually for excellence in player development.
The impact. 9/10. Someone on the coaching staff was going to lose their job this winter, it was just a matter of who. I did expect Ilsley to lose his job. Obviously the optics of the video of him standing next to an obviously uncomfortable Trevor Rosenthal trying to warm up in the bullpen without a word, where later we found Rosenthal needed to have Tommy John surgery, didn’t help.
Perhaps it was most surprising that it ended up being Derek Lilliquist, who has generally been well regarded during his time with the team, was the man on the way out.
My first reaction was a laugh that John Mabry was able to hold onto his job for another winter, but the more I think about the firing of Lilliquist, the more I think it actually does make logical sense.
One of the reasons the Cardinals pointed out was that they wanted a change in how the pitching staff was handled. The idea there is that Lilliquist has a voice in how the bullpen has been managed. Considering that Matheny and Lilliquist have been together since the beginning, that’s something I’m willing to consider.
So at that point there are three options. First, either Matheny is following Lilliquist’s advice on how to manage the bullpen. Second, Lilliquist agrees with the way Matheny manages the bullpen. Or third, Matheny was ignoring Lilliquist’s advice on how to manage the bullpen. If it’s been established that Matheny is sticking around, all three are reasons to find a new pitching coach in the hopes that you find someone who will either give Matheny better advice or that he is more likely to listen to.
Regardless, we will find out.
Lilliquist is also the last hold over from Tony La Russa’s coaching staff from the 2011 season. So going forward this entire staff will have been chosen under Mike Matheny’s management. There will be no excuses for him next season. Perhaps this is the organizational equivalent of giving Matheny enough rope to hang himself.
It will be interesting to see who is hired to take Lilliquist’s place and ultimately I’ll reserve my judgement for whether it is a good move until we know the corresponding one.
Personally, my hope remains the same as it was when the Cardinals needed to find a new bench coach when Mike Aldrete left for Oakland. Bring in someone with experience from outside the organization who brings their own ideas to mesh into the way this team is managed.