Chuck Hernandez won’t be returning as Braves pitching coach in 2019, the organization announced Monday.
Hernandez, 57, held the position the past two seasons following Roger McDowell’s departure. He’s the only coach not returning to manager Brian Snitker’s staff.
“It’s more of a directional thing,” general manager Alex Antopoulos said. “I like Chuck, I think everyone does. I just think with where we want to potentially take the program and what we’re doing, we want to explore some things.”
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The Braves finalized their coaching decisions Friday, including extending Snitker. Anthopoulos then approached him about new perspective for a pitching instructor.
“It emanated from me,” Anthopoulos said. “Ultimately, Snit and I talked through it. I think if it was left up to Snit entirely, the human being he is, the person he is, the year we had, I think he would’ve had continuity there. I expressed some things I felt, from a directional standpoint. … The more we talked through it, the more he understood.”
The Braves promoted Hernandez in October 2016 after releasing McDowell from his duties. Hernandez, who was previously the organization’s minor league pitching coordinator, was hired to develop the incoming plethora of young arms.
Hernandez’s coaching career spans over three decades. He served as pitching coach for the Marlins, Tigers, Devil Rays and Angels, building a pristine reputation for his work with younger pitchers, including Justin Verlander and Jose Fernandez.
Braves pitching made strides under Hernandez. They produced a 3.75 collective ERA, seventh best in the major leagues, in 2018. They struck out 1,423, 10th most in the majors. Opponents hit .229 against Braves pitching, MLB’s second-lowest mark.
But the Braves issued 635 walks, second most in the majors. They walked 27 Dodgers in four postseason games. Snitker, however, admitted walks weren’t the primary prompt for change, and they didn’t even come up in conversations with Anthopoulos and Hernandez.
Nonetheless, the team needed a fresh approach.
“In talking to Alex, I understood where he was coming from,” Snitker said. “I love (Hernandez). I think he’s a wonderful, really good pitching coach. We made a lot of strides forward. I get in the process that sometimes you want to go in a different direction, not that it’s good, bad or whatever with Chuck. He’s a good friend and will be for the rest of my life.
“I understand sometimes, organizationally, change is going to be made. I understood that in my conversations with Alex and I’m not going to stand in the way of the organization as a whole.”
Anthopoulos didn’t broach specifics into why a change was needed. He also didn’t have any set timetable for a new hire.
The Braves adopted a new analytical approach with Anthopoulos, one that provided new information to a more traditional coaching staff. The organization could seek a pitching coach who leans more on that end, but as 2018 proved, coaches can learn and adjust.
“When it comes to data, I believe the primary responsibility of a coach is to coach,” Anthopoulos said. “The data is information. I view it as an open-mindedness to see what it has to say and to use it as part of our process to make players better.”
The organization will consider internal and external options. Any in-house candidates who express interest will be in the mix.
“Anyone internally who wants to be considered, we’ll be open minded to that,” Anthopoulos said. “We’ll look externally as well. Just the opportunity to go through the process, I want to take advantage of that. We might go internally, but we’re not really married to any one decision. We’re just going to open it up and see where it goes.”
Hernandez is open to staying with the Braves in a new capacity, depending on how the offseason unfolds. Anthopoulos said the Braves wouldn’t rule out a reunion.
Snitker signed a two-year extension that includes a third-year club option. The rest of the returning staff also agreed on two-year pacts.
The Braves would let any of their coaches interview for managerial positions if an opportunity arose. Bench coach Walt Weiss and third base coach Ron Washington, two former managers, could be candidates for other jobs.
Otherwise, pitching coach will be the only major change from the 2018 staff that guided the Braves to 90 wins and a National League East title.
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