Dave Eiland isn’t a big fan of teaching the cutter, nor does he feel a true curveball can be easily taught. That doesn’t mean the Kansas City Royals pitching coach isn’t a master of his craft. Highly respected among his peers, he played 10 big-league seasons and spent eight years as a pitching coach in the Yankees system — three with the parent club — before joining the Royals. Eiland shared his thoughts on tutoring young pitchers during a late-summer visit to Fenway Park.
David Laurila: What is your primary responsibility as a big-league pitching coach?
Dave Eiland: To get the absolute most I can out of the pitchers’ abilities. To do that, I focus on their strengths and on improving their weaknesses. I also concentrate on how their strengths match up to the hitters’ weaknesses. I do that with film work, studying hitters’ strengths and weaknesses, and how each individual pitcher can use their strengths to attack those weaknesses.
DL: What role do scouting reports play?
DE: They play a big role, and I do my own scouting reports. By studying film, I know where certain holes are and what pitches hitters can and can’t handle in certain areas and counts. I know their tendencies in certain counts.
A lot goes into it, but I try to keep the information that I give to pitchers simple. I don’t want to overload them with so much stuff that everything starts running together. Then you have paralysis by analysis.
DL; Is the amount of information you share with pitchers handled on a case-by-case basis?
DE: They all read the same scouting reports, but I sit with each one individually and talk to them about how their stuff matches up with each hitter. That way they’re not just getting everything from the meeting we have with all 12 or 13 pitchers.
DL: What about working with pitchers in the minor leagues?
DE: In the minors, you don’t really have scouting reports. What you’re mostly doing is getting them to command as many pitches as they can. You want them to command the fastball to both sides of the plate and you want them to command at least one breaking ball. You also want them to command some sort of changeup.
DL: What is your opinion on young pitchers learning a cutter?
DE: For a young player, if you’ve exhausted every avenue you can, trying to develop a breaking ball with him — a curve, slider, or slurve — and he can’t get it, then you have to go to a cutter. I think if you introduce a cutter to a pitcher too soon, when he has other stuff, it takes away from his fastball and it takes away from his breaking ball.
You have to be careful with a cutter. A cutter is very easy to learn and you can have almost immediate success with it. Pitchers tend to fall in love with it, and their main, core pitches suffer as a result.
DE: You’re on the side of the baseball with a cutter. You need to stay behind your fastball, and it’s harder to do that when you’re used to being on the side. You need to be on top of a breaking ball — again, not on the side.
DL: Do pitchers lose arm strength throwing cutters?
DE: Absolutely, because they’re on the side of the baseball. I’m not a real big fan of the cutter. That’s unless you have a guy who really struggles to find a breaking ball, or if he doesn’t have enough fastball.
DL: Why do some pitchers struggle to develop a curveball?
DE: To me, you can either spin a curveball or you can’t. It’s hard to teach a guy a true curveball. Guys who can’t usually have some kind of slurve or slider. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s hard to teach a true curveball if he doesn’t already have one.
I’ve also seen guys who think they throw a slider, but they get more on top of the ball than a true slider is. They actually have a good feel for a curveball.
DL: What is your role when a pitcher scraps, and/or replaces, a pitch?
DE: You don’t just teach a guy a new pitch. You do it if he needs it — if he needs that weapon. You only scrap a pitch if it’s hurting him more than it’s helping him.
I’ll get a pitcher’s thoughts and feelings on a pitch; I won’t just go up and say, “This is what we’re going to do.” I’ll explain my side and let him know why I feel a change needs to be made.
DL: What is your approach to grips?
DE: There’s no right or wrong way. There are hundreds of different grips for all pitches, so you just have to find the one you’re most comfortable with. It’s more hand position when you release a baseball than it is the grip. Some guys want to be on the seam and others don’t want to be on the seam. It’s personal preference as to what feels comfortable in the hand, hand position, and how it comes off your fingers at release.