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The legend of Matt Blake has taken a few hits

Some of the pitchers whose improvements have been credited to Blake’s work have taken big steps back.

MLB: New York Yankees at Seattle Mariners Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

MLB pitching coaches are far from famous, and sometimes seem to exist to soak up criticism. Entering this season, however, that was far from the case for Matt Blake of the Yankees. Plucked from the pitching rich Cleveland system, Blake earned heaps of praise in 2021 and to open 2022. His ability to turn reclamation project pitchers into above average producers was especially impressive. When Minnesota’s pitching coach left the team earlier in the season to take more money coaching in NCAA baseball, keeping Blake happy enough to stop him from doing the same was a real discussion point.

And while the current issues with the pitching staff certainly can’t be solely placed on him, the legend of Blake as a infallible genius has taken some hits recently. Chief among those reasons is perhaps his greatest success story — Clay Holmes. Almost instantaneously, Blake seemed to turn the near 5.00 ERA pitcher he was with the Pirates into the greatest closer in baseball.

Until, all of a sudden, he wasn’t. Holmes started struggling badly mid-July, with his huge surge in walks especially noticeable. His recent IL stint with back problems felt mostly like an attempt to get him right outside of game action. His latest appearance against the Angels on Monday was fine, but Holmes went from automatic to outside the circle of trust stunningly fast.

Holmes isn’t the only member of the bullpen to take a step back. Jonathan Loáisiga famously broke out last year to the tune of a 197 ERA+, but this year he’s struggled since returning from a shoulder injury at the start of the season. He already has only one fewer walk this season than he gave up all of last year despite missing chunks of time. If he was pitching like he did in 2021, when Holmes began to struggle Boone could have slotted Loáisiga into the closer’s spot without a second thought. Not so this year, to the team’s detriment.

Blake also has only had about a month to work with Frankie Montas, but their big trade deadline acquisition has not made the adjustments many expected he would upon coming to New York. Montas was acquired to be a big piece of a playoff rotation, but he has a 7.14 ERA so far in the Bronx. He’s giving up hits at an incredible pace, too. The thought was that moving to a team with a lot more resources than Oakland does would give Montas the data he needs to turn his excellent stuff into better numbers on paper, but so far that hasn’t happened.

Of course, there are still successes this year that can be credited to Blake’s help. Nestor Cortes built off his breakout season in 2021 to turn into one of the best starters in baseball this year. Lucas Luetge shook off a shaky start to the season to return to his reliable ways from last year, too.

But it’s clear the pitching staff as a whole has taken a step back from last year. Jameson Taillon has been largely unable to build on last season, despite durability being less of a concern this year. Gerrit Cole keeps giving up crooked innings against good competition. And Jordan Montgomery’s sudden breakout upon being moved to the St. Louis Cardinals, all from the simple advice of “throw more fastballs,” does call into question New York’s pitching philosophy in a way that they haven’t faced since the days of Sonny Gray.

Matt Blake is still widely respected, and I’d certainly prefer him over pretty much any pitching coach in the league. Injuries are affecting the pitching staff much more this year than last, too. Even so, his near spotless reputation is no longer intact. If anything, the club’s recent struggles highlight that there’s only so much that a good coach can do when his players regress.