Pitching PerfectionMay 01, 2022 ● By Stephen Hunt
By necessity, baseball pitching coaches are part teacher, psychologist and mad scientist.
They instruct pitchers on how to maximize their unique skill sets with simple tips like when and how often to throw their most effective pitches and how to tweak their pitching motion. They also must learn a pitcher’s personality and determine how to best to reach them with any direction they offer.
As for the mad scientist aspect, by nature, pitching coaches are tinkerers. Whether it’s tweaking a windup, arm angle or converting them from starting pitcher to a relief role, these coaches are often agents of change.
However, deep down, pitching is a science, which is exactly how Frisco RoughRiders pitching coach Jeff Andrews views it. This is his eighth season with the Texas Rangers Double-A affiliate, his 19th season with the Rangers organization, and his 37th season as a pitching coach.
Andrews grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota, where he played baseball and basketball. As a freshman at East Tennessee State University in 1978, he was part of an Ohio Valley Conference championship team. As a junior, Andrews was integral in ETSU’s push to the 1980 Southern Conference title and a berth in the 1980 NCAA Baseball tournament. He still holds several school records.
After earning a history degree, he was drafted in 1981 by the Chicago Cubs and pitched two seasons in the minor leagues before becoming a coach in 1987 with the Low Single-A Port Charlotte (Florida) Rangers of the Florida State League.
From 1987-1991, Andrews worked with Texas pitching prospects at the A, AA, and AAA levels, and then for Seattle, San Diego, Florida, and Pittsburgh, including a stint as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ big-league pitching coach, before returning to Texas in 2009.
Andrews previously was the RoughRiders’ pitching coach from 2009-2015 and was Texas League Coach of the Year in 2014. After several seasons as a Rangers special assignment coach, he returned to coach the Frisco RoughRiders’ hurlers in 2021.
He said the return to such familiar surroundings has been good. “(Frisco) has grown. I remember when I started, you could (still) see (Stonebriar Centre) from the ballpark,” Andrews recalled. “I love the town. You just don’t find (other) minor-league cities and ballparks like it.”
In 2021, the Frisco pitching staff led the Double-A Central Division in five major statistical categories, including fewest walks (423) for the season. Three Frisco pitchers – reliever Nick Snyder, and starters Jake Latz and A.J. Alexy – also reached the majors. Last season’s RoughRiders were loaded with quality arms, and the 2022 team is equally talented.
“Each group (of pitchers) you get is different,” Andrews said. “It’s fun and challenging trying to put the pieces together every year.”
In his second season as the RoughRiders’ manager, Jared Goedert has a strong appreciation for how well Andrews’ messaging gets through to the team’s young pitchers.
“I’ve seen him say things to guys a little bit differently, which seems to click with them,” Goedert said. “You see a lightbulb moment where you see them then able to execute the very next pitch. … There’s definitely a lot of thought and consideration in what he says to them and in the way he says it. … It’s almost just what they need to hear and just when they need to hear it.”
A Simple Approach
While the nature of baseball hasn’t changed since Andrews’ playing days, some aspects of the game have.
“How you evaluate it and teach it has, but the game is still the same,” he explained. For pitchers, “The goal … is always going to be get the hitter out, get three outs as quick as you can, stay in the game as long as you can, and make adjustments from outing to outing. Those things will always be there. You just look at each guy and see what they need.”
RoughRiders pitcher Cody Bradford made only seven appearances out of Frisco’s bullpen in 2021. However, he said Andrews’ coaching has had a huge impact on him.
“He's been around the game for so long, he knows how to explain things in different ways,” Bradford said. ”If something didn't click with me, I was able to ask it in a different way and he was able to explain it in a different way, which really helped.”
Andrews’ impressive track record includes his having worked with pitchers like Kevin Brown, Mike Hampton, Derek Lowe and Kenny Rogers, who have a combined 14 All-Star Game appearances, three World Series titles, two no-hitters, and one perfect game to their credit.
The coach’s consistent success has given him an impeccable reputation within the Texas Rangers organization.
“Jeff has provided a steady presence in our player development system for many years, helping a number of our top prospects in their journey to the majors,” said Rangers Vice President/Assistant General Manager Ross Fenstermaker. “He is highly respected in our organization.”
Danny Clark is in his 14th season as the Rangers’ minor league pitching coordinator. He said he has immense respect for Andrews as a coach.
“He has the experience of (having) seen so many pitchers over his time,” Clark said. “We have really good pitching coaches (in the organization), but they might have two or three years of experience.” With Andrews, “You’ve got a man that’s got 40 years (of experience) that can still apply the needs they have today. It’s a really unique skill set.”
Goedert also sees Andrews’ vast experience as an asset. “He’s been with such a variety of pitchers that … he’s rarely seen something that he can’t help a young pitcher with,” he said.
In a way, Andrews’ coaching career has come full circle: With the Rangers, he is back where it all started in the 1980s. His second stint with the organization began in 2009 and he was there for consecutive trips to the World Series in 2010 and 2011 – a run that still provides him ample motivation.
“I’ve certainly enjoyed my time with them,” Andrews said. “The people that have been around since then who have seen the rollercoaster – the American League championships, division winners, playoffs - and the time where we are having the chance to rebuild, restock it and get there again. That’s the exciting part. That’s the motivating part, too. …. Can we do this again? Can we build it back up again? I know we can. We all remember it was so much fun, so good. We all want to get back to that spot.”
Stephen Hunt is a Frisco-based freelance writer.