WASHINGTON — Only time will tell, but the worst collateral damage of the Washington Nationals’ coaching shakeup this offseason might have been the loss of pitching coach Mike Maddux.
The well-respected Maddux oversaw impressive pitching staffs in Washington, albeit ones that were already stacked with talent. After manager Dusty Baker was let go, there was some consideration made to hiring Maddux as the new manager or at least retaining him in his current role.
It would not have been an unprecedented move, as the front office hired him independently of Baker in 2016, and to an unprecedented two-year deal. Nats ownership much prefers to work year to year with its coaching staffs, but Maddux was a known commodity, working with excellent pitching staffs in Texas and on the U.S. National teams.
The Nats could have brought him back in advance of hiring manager Dave Martinez.
But they didn’t.
Instead, the St. Louis Cardinals moved faster, snatching Maddux off the open market two weeks ago. According to MLB insider Bob Nightengale, Maddux had his pick from five interested teams, and it’s no surprise.
Maddux coached what is likely to be back-to-back Cy Young performances from Max Scherzer. His staff also pitched the third lowest ERA (3.88), the third lowest opponent batting average (.239) and the third most strikeouts (1,457) in the National League.
By letting Maddux go, the Nats were forced to search for a third pitching coach in four years and to correct a facet of the coaching staff that wasn’t broken.
On Thursday, they announced the addition of three coaches to the staff, including new pitching staff Derek Lilliquist, who was replaced by Maddux in St. Louis. Lilliquist is no slouch, having coached with the Cardinals since 2011, winning a World Series ring with the team in his first season.
But the fact that the Cards made him a sacrificial lamb this offseason (he was the only coach let go from the team), and the comments that were made by Cardinals management are worth noting.
“When you’re looking at pitch strategy and the modernization of the tools we have available to us, we need somebody who understands it, has interest in it, can communicate it and who can teach it,” said Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak. “I felt like the process was not ideal for future growth.”
Whatever resistance Lilliquist has to modern tools should be apparent early in his tenure with the Nationals. With any luck, it won’t be needed to keep the Nats’ dominant pitching on track.