In this age of baseball, where computers are as vital to a team’s performance as pine tar, former Wichita State pitcher Tommy Hottovy has a 21st century occupation.
He’s the director of run prevention for the Chicago Cubs. And if results define the employee, then Hottovy is the best director of run prevention in baseball today.
“Oh, I can’t take all the credit,” Hottovy joked. “It’s just been a fun, crazy year with the amount of fun our guys are having and the amount of success.”
The Cubs are 82-45, having rallied late Friday night to knock off the Dodgers in Los Angeles thanks to a pair of Kris Bryant home runs. Hottovy, who is with the Cubs home and away, positions himself in the team’s clubhouse with a laptop full of information. It’s his job to condense it into something the Cubs’ coaches and players can comprehend and not be overwhelmed by.
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Hottovy is instrumental in positioning the Cubs’ defensive players and giving Chicago’s pitchers a scouting report for the hitters they’ll be facing. He’s doing what an advance scout used to do, only with extra wrinkles.
“There are differences,” said Hottovy, who pitched for the Shockers from 2001-04. “An advance scout would sit on an opposing team for three, five, seven days and then give a report to a manager and coaches a day before or the day of a new series.”
Advance scouting has taken on a more encompassing role in the game, Hottovy said. His job is to provide information based upon every previous game, not just a snapshot from the previous three to five days.
Hottovy, 35, pitched in 17 big league games with Boston and Kansas City and retired from playing in 2014 while in spring training with the Cubs after a series of injuries. He’s a finance major with a minor in economics and has always been interested in numbers.
So two summers ago he took an online class in sabermetrics, and went looking for a way to stay in the game.
“It was a matter of trying to find a team that was willing to create a position like this,” Hottovy said. “When the Cubs hired Joe Maddon last year, they were ready to move forward with this kind of new role and new thought process on advance scouting and analytics.”
It helped that Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein had drafted Hottovy out of WSU when he was with the Red Sox.
Needless to say, it’s a good time to be associated with the Cubs. They’re 82-45 and lead the St. Louis Cardinals by 14 games in the National League Central. With the best record in baseball, this looks like Chicago’s best chance yet to break through and win a World Series, its first since 1908.
Hottovy has to be careful with all the information he accumulates. He can’t overwhelm the coaches or especially the players with too much.
“These are guys’ careers,” Hottovy said. “It’s important to communicate with them about some of the trends we see. There may be times when we 100 percent should put on a shift for a guy, but we want to talk to our pitchers first and ask him if he’s comfortable with things. It’s important to find nuggets to give them and not overwhelm them with too much information.”
It wouldn’t be good, Hottovy said, to upset a high-strung pitcher like John Lackey with surprises.
There’s another guy with the Cubs, Nate Halm, doing what Hottovy says for run production, he said, and you’d have to give both an “A” at this point.
The Cubs’ 653 runs are the third most in MLB behind Colorado and Boston. And Chicago’s 434 runs allowed are 48 fewer than Washington, which ranks second.
The Cubs’ plus-219 run differential is 77 runs better than the Nationals’ plus-142.
Hottovy doesn’t watch a baseball game the way you do. He does watch mostly on television, but with a special feed from high above a stadium.
“I’m almost like a defensive coordinator in football,” Hottovy said, “in regard to how I watch a game. If you have Dexter Fowler playing slight opposite field on a guy, from the dugout you can’t really tell exactly where he’s standing or if he’s in the right place.”
One of Hottovy’s job is to make sure Fowler is in the right place. And to make sure pitchers have a game plan. In a nutshell, when the Cubs hold a team scoreless in an inning, Hottovy’s had a good inning.
Hottovy said even old-school scouts around baseball are coming around to sabermetrics and the statistical data that is still relatively new to the game.
“In the end,” he said, “it’s still baseball. It’s a really, really fun game and I’m getting to work with and talk to these players all the time.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a better game than it was 50 years ago. I just think we’ve evolved. Even back then, there were technically sabermetricians who were using what data they had to help the team. They just didn’t have nearly the amount of stuff we have today. It’s important to have and even more important to be able to decipher just what the heck you’re getting because there’s so much of it.”