Tommy Hottovy: Cubs Run Prevention Coordinator

Tommy Hottovy’s position within the Chicago Cubs organization isn’t high profile. It is, however, important to the team’s success. The 34-year-old former pitcher is the club’s Coordinator of Advance Scouting, with a focus on run prevention.

A graduate of Wichita State University, Hottovy played 10 professional seasons after being selected in the fourth round of the 2004 draft by Boston. His big league playing career consisted of 17 relief appearances for the Red Sox and the Kansas City Royals in 2011-2102. Hottovy was hired into his current position last December.

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Hottovy on his current position: “I was in spring training with the Cubs in 2014, playing, and blew out my shoulder. I had a feeling I was done, but I spent the summer rehabbing, anyway. Along the way, I took the online Sabermetrics 101 course from Boston University. I was a finance major with an economics minor at Wichita State, so I have a numbers background. I wanted to refresh my statistics knowledge, and the sabermetrics course, which is obviously about baseball, helped with that.

“I started talking to teams. I told Theo (Epstein) and (Director of Video and Advance Scouting) Kyle Evans what I was interested in, and once we signed Joe Maddon, we discussed how the whole dynamic may work. They were in and we kind of ran with it. Nate Halm, who’s been here for a few years, took on the hitting side of our process. I think we’ve formed a really good rapport with the coaching staff and players.

“We’re working with our R&D guys and have to be able to speak their language – we have to be able to speak sabermetrics – and he have to be able to translate that to the coaches. We also have to be able to answer questions from the players. It’s a role that combines three facets: front office, research and development, and the players and coaches. We have to speak all three languages, and build the trust of the people who are taking it to the field every night.”

On his role and responsibilities: “I do most everything in house, and I’m with the team all the time – home and on the road. Occasionally I will work from the clubhouse, but I’m usually scouting from the stands or from up in the booth, to get more of an aerial view. I’m double-checking to make sure we’re in the places we need to be, and that we’re attacking hitters according to the game plan we came up with.

“The view from high home gives me a very good perspective of where guys are positioned on the field not only during the pitch but also in between pitches which you usually can’t see on a TV feed. When we are on the road, outfield dimensions of opposing parks come into play and may throw off how an outfielder looks to the coaching staff in the dugout. With a higher view I am able to reassure them that we are in the right position or discuss any changes that we want to make for the rest of the series.

“We’ve got our traditional advance scouts out there watching the teams we’re going to play. I do more advancing with data and video work while helping the staff with in-game strategy and coordinating with our advance scouts on what they are seeing.”

On breaking down hitters: “When I was pitching, I had to break down hitters quite a bit. I didn’t have the ‘stuff’ that most of these guys have. A lot of what I do is data accumulating. Baseball is a data game. It’s stats, stats, stats; there are numbers for everything. How do we want go about breaking down a hitter? How do we want to attack his weaknesses, and at the same time use our pitcher’s strengths? I go through video and data and formulate a game plan based on my perspective, then I sit with Chris Bosio and Mike Borzello. We discuss everything.

“When you have a bunch of eyes breaking down hitters, and you get everybody on the same page, you feel a lot more confident in what you’re trying to do. We each have our own approach, and when we come to the same conclusion, we have a good feeling about how we want to attack guys.

“Sequencing is huge. What gets lost sometimes is that you either get caught up in what a pitcher’s strength are, or in what a hitter’s weakness may be. As a result, you lose sight of how to set a pitch up. You can’t just go to that pitch all the time. These guys are big league hitters, so they make adjustments. You have to be able to do both – pitch to weaknesses and your strengths – and set up pitches. The guys who do that best are the ones you’ll see get a lot of soft contact and can keep their pitch counts down. The best guys have a good combination of all of it.”

On game planning and sequencing: “If we come up with a game plan and then don’t execute a pitch, or if a guy gets a hit on pitch that we think was good, I can go back and run through the data. I might say, ‘Yeah, that was a good option for us in that count and situation,’ or maybe it’s, ‘No, we might want to stay away from that based on more information.’

“Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the hitter. Sometimes you make a good pitch, and it’s the pitch you want to throw, and the guy hits it. That’s baseball. What I’m able to do a little bit more is dig into some stuff, to double check that we’re on the right page with what we’re trying to do in the game.

“In the playoffs, we had a hitter that we felt a certain pitch was good, and we threw it back to back in one at-bat. You have to be careful going back to back with any big-league hitter and make sure they’re quality pitches. The first one was an 0-0 chase pitch and the second one just caught a little too much of the zone and he got a hit on it.

“In a situation like that, if we can go back and look at it, and still believe it was the right pitch, we move on. In that case, it was a good piece of hitting on a decent pitch that was not executed perfectly but still quality. You don’t want to second-guess every pitch that goes for a hit. I’m not always diving in and saying, ‘Why did he get a hit on this pitch?’ But there are times we want to do a specific thing with a hitter and we just want to confirm what we saw earlier in our research.

“Take a hitter like Alcides Escobar, who we could have faced in the World Series. He was a super aggressive guy all year, but I think that got accentuated more once he was leading off, instead of hitting eighth or ninth. He’s a guy you need to open with quality. You don’t want to say, ‘I don’t want to throw him a strike, because I know he’s swinging.’ But inducing weak contact is good. If you can throw a quality pitch, there’s a good possibility for soft contact and an out. If I know a guy is swinging 0-0, I’m not going to be afraid to throw a strike. I just need to make sure it’s a quality pitch, whether it’s in or out of the strike zone. You can use a hitter’s aggressiveness against him if you make quality pitches.”

On defensive positioning and defending the running game: “In terms of the running game, we try to point out certain situations that a team might like to be aggressive or get guys moving. You do a lot of research into tendencies of not only the players but also the coaches, as to anything they may like to do, and I feel we have done a very good job with it this year.

“The Mets had success against us in the NLCS, even though they aren’t a big running team. They were aggressive and took advantage of opportunities that presented themselves. If you know a team wants to steal second in a one-one count, and you don’t hold the runner, there’s not a whole lot you can do. We knew how we wanted to approach them – we know the counts and the outs they liked to run in – but sometimes the game gets sped up and you don’t put the right focus in those situations. We simply didn’t execute. There’s no hiding the fact that they did a good job against us.

“We have a lot of data for positioning and shifting. Our data analysts have a lot of information that we use to compile our reports. We take into consideration everything they give us and balance that with how we want to pitch guys. We need that happy medium. We try to come up with a positioning scheme that includes everything. Without going too deep into how we do it, I basically sit with down with Gary Jones, Brandon Hyde and Dave Martinez and discuss all the data. It’s good to have the one-on-one conversations to get everyone on the same page and then trust their instincts and knowledge to implement it during the game.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Curacao LL
6 years ago

Re: approach to Alcides Escobar:

Our leg is being collectively pulled, or, to put it more bluntly, GTFOH. Inducing weak contact, assuming such a skill exists (there are deniers), is a noble thing to do. But it’s much easier to do ahead in the count. Take the 0-1 count if the batter will give it to you. Every. Single. Time.

Never mind that accidentally hanging one 0-0 is worse than accidentally hanging one when you’re ahead in the count. So if the quality pitch misses the wrong way, it’s bad, but it’s somewhat less bad to have it missing on the 0-1 count.

Mark
6 years ago
Reply to  Curacao LL

Wasn’t the issue starting him with a first pitch fastball? I thought I saw somewhere that the majority of his first hits were vs the fastball, and he was less effective when they threw offspeed stuff first.