The Yankees have an untapped natural resource in the YES broadcast booth. His name is David Cone and he should be the next Yankee pitching coach. With young pitchers becoming even more important than ever next year, it's a perfect job for the man who threw a perfect game. I'm not trying to push Larry Rothschild out the door, but should an opening arise...
We need not dwell on Cone's accomplishments because they're well-known to all Yankee fans but let's look briefly at what he brings to the table.
He's been there and done that. He pitched for 17 years and compiled a 194-126 record and a 3.46 ERA. He won the Cy Young Award in 1994. In the post-season, he pitched in 21 games and compiled an 8-3 record with a 3.80 ERA. That's a money pitcher. His career survived a life-threatening aneurysm, a separated shoulder and other assorted injuries. He started as a power pitcher with unhittable stuff and, when his stuff began to fade, made the transition to a finesse pitcher. He knows how to dominate with exceptional stuff and how win with lesser stuff.
In an interview with FanGraphs, he explained the transition, "I really learned how to pitch later in my career, when I lost a little velocity and my skills and my arm speed started to diminish." He calls the earlier part of his career "my strikeout-power years" and his Yankee years "my pitching years."
It is important that he was both a power pitcher and finesse pitcher. Some of the Yankees' young pitchers, like Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova and Manny Banuelos, throw hard. Some, like David Phelps, are finesse pitchers. Cone can work with both kinds and knows how to succeed with lesser stuff.
Who can forget Game 4 of the 2000 World Series when Cone, in the midst of the worst season of his career, came into a 3-2 game and got Mike Piazza to fly out? Manager Joe Torre knew that despite diminished stuff, Cone would find a way.
In The Yankee Years by Tom Verducci, former bullpen catcher Mike Borzello tells a story about how Cone made do with nothing. After his stuff had deserted him, Cone started a game off with three 78-mph fastballs and didn't get much faster as the game progressed. This was before pitch speed was posted on the scoreboard so only Borzello, who was keeping the pitching chart, knew. After the game, Borzello asked Cone if he wanted him to doctor the charts. "You might want to bump it up," Cone suggested, "so you don't scare anybody." By the way, Cone won that game. Anyone who can win a big-league game with a 78-mph fastball knows how to pitch.
Cone was one of cleverest pitchers we've seen. At times, it seemed as if he invented new pitches halfway through his windup. He was the man of a million arm angles. He changed speeds like a master and knew how to set up hitters and how to read their swings.
Cone's high pitching IQ is needed in the Yankee dugout. How many pitchers have we seen whose records do not match the quality of their stuff? Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain come to mind. A little post-graduate work with Prof. Cone might be just what pitchers like that need. C.C. Sabathia is another one he could help because Cone successfully navigated the mid-career crisis that Sabathia is now grappling with.
Cone is a ferocious competitor. Yankee fans will never forget the 147 pitches he threw in the Game 5 loss to Seattle in the 1995 playoffs. "I'd have thrown 247 to win that game," he said. A little competitive fire in the Yankee dugout couldn't hurt.
Cone understands statistical analysis, which is a must for anyone working for Manager Joe Girardi and General Manager Brian Cashman, but he also understands the limitations of statistics. That's important because some managers and coaches seem to see statistics as an end, not a means to an end.
Cone said that when he pitched, he would have welcomed data on batters' tendencies, especially data on which hitters chase pitches out of the strike zone and what pitches they chase. However, he understands the limitations of data. "Some players get overloaded with data. There's a balance there, especially as a pitcher. If you become too oriented towards hitters' weaknesses instead of your own strengths, you can get into a defensive mode and end up pitching defensively instead of aggressively. Data is good, but you need that balance."
Next year, the Yankees will need someone to help their young pitchers because the team's success may hinge on the development of those pitchers. Hughes and Chamberlain will probably be gone. Mariano Rivera is retiring and it's unclear if Andy Pettitte or Hiroki Kuroda will return. To continue winning, the Yankees will need big contributions from young pitchers like Phelps, Adam Warren, Pineda, Preston Claiborne, Nova, Dellin Betances and Banuelos. Cone can help because there's not much he didn't see in his 17 years in the majors. He can make them smarter pitchers, which will only enhance their chances of success.
Cone can diagnosis what a pitcher needs to do. In a 2008 interview on WFAN, Cone was asked what he would recommend for Chien-Ming Wang, who had just suffered through a brutal October. Cone instantly analyzed the issue: Wang needed to "develop his craft" by improving his changeup and breaking ball to use when his sinker wasn't working. His use of the word "craft" shows that he gets it, because pitching is a craft.
Cone knows New York and how to handle the media and the expectations of playing here. Some of that knowledge came via the school of hard knocks. He was always a stand-up guy whose honesty and insight endeared him to his teammates and the media and enabled him to survive potential PR disasters. In The Yankee Years, Verducci describes him as "the most respected leader of the Yankees' four championship teams" and "the glue, if not the very spirit," of those teams. As for the temptations of the big city, Cone saw his Met teammates fall prey to just about every one so he can offer guidance there, too.
Cone's been retired for 10 years. That's enough time for him to have gained perspective on his playing days. He's smooth enough to avoid the issues that derailed Tino Martinez's coaching career. His success as a pitcher would give him instant credibility with young pitchers. If you're an architect, you listen to Frank Lloyd Wright. If you're a pitcher, David Cone is a pretty good guy to listen to.
Over the years, the Yankees have had success with using their former pitchers as pitching coaches. Mel Stottlemyre had a nice run (1996-2005), as did Jim Turner (1949-59, 1966-73). Johnny Sain had a short but effective run (1961-63) and Ron Guidry (2006-07) wasn't bad either. Perhaps history will repeat itself.