Red Sox pitching coordinator Shawn Haviland discusses his role
Growing up in a family of former college baseball players who would watch every game on television, Boston Red Sox pitching coordinator Shawn Haviland is quite familiar with how the game of baseball works. The former pitcher played college baseball at Harvard University and was eventually chosen in the 33rd round of the MLB Draft in 2008 by the Oakland Athletics.
He would go on to spend five years in Oakland’s system before playing in other organization’s farm systems, including a stint in independent ball. With his third child on the way, Haviland spent a year away from the game.
At that point, he had decided that his playing days were behind him but knew he still wanted to give back to the game in some capacity. Eager to return to the game, Haviland kept in touch with the connections he had grown close with during his days in Pawtucket, which ultimately led to the door opening for a return to the game.
"“I was presented with a really great opportunity to work with the Red Sox in a role that was part-coaching and part-front office,” Haviland said. “They were looking for someone to fill the role of being a conduit between the analytics department and the pitching coaches. I found myself especially fascinated with how the big picture works in terms of building a farm system and making informed decisions.”"
When Haviland initially jumped on board, Dave Bush and Brian Bannister were already well-versed in the field of factoring data into games and helped him to do the same. “They were already at the forefront of blending the analytics with traditional baseball coaching,” he noted. While taking the job may have been a no-brainer, gaining familiarity with analytical data is something that he considers to be a constant learning experience regardless of how much time spent perfecting the craft.
"“I haven’t completely wrapped my head around it. There are still things that I need to be informed of or learn as I go,” he said. “The extent of analytically-driven moves in the sport fifteen years ago was the premise of Moneyball, to target guys who get on base. Today, that’s the basics of the game. Fast forward another fifteen years and the analytics evaluated today include everything from spin rates to the vertical movement of a ball thrown.”"
The dependence on analytically-driven decision-making has severely outweighed managerial decisions in recent years.
That is not to say that the integration of advanced data in baseball as a whole should be painted as a negative connotation considering that same data often leads to aiding a player throughout their career. Suffice to say, to think that the game and players can be this trusting in the numbers today is just foreshadowing of what to expect even further down the road and how to prepare for constant change.
"“Ten years from now, what are we going to need to know? I never want to get comfortable with my knowledge,” Haviland said. “I like to push my boundaries in learning as much as possible to be ahead of the curve.”"
The ability to observe a player’s performance (whether that be his own or a teammate) from an on-field perspective prior to coaching gave Haviland the experience necessary to assist in bridging the gap between the game and the data behind the box score. On the field, he could tell which pitches were generating swings and misses versus pitches that resulted in hits, yet the data to explain why this was the case would not be unearthed until he made the decision to call it a career.
In 2020, Haviland oversaw the group of players that spent the summer at the alternate site and noted that the excitement those players who were chosen to be a part of the 30 player taxi squad reflected on their performance throughout the summer. The alternate site in Pawtucket was “An atmosphere where guys were willing to take chances and push their boundaries which led to some good development,” Haviland noted.
Unfortunately for most of the minor league pitchers that Haviland works with, a majority of them were unable to play organized baseball since last spring training when the pandemic struck. With a full season of competing on an everyday basis lost, each player was put on several remote training programs to workout from home and condition to the best of their ability under the circumstances.
Over the course of the shutdown, the pitching coaches would periodically send out surveys for players to fill out to monitor how often each pitcher was throwing and ensure they weren’t doing too much or too little with their arms. They ran education classes once a week throughout the summer to ensure that 2020 wasn’t a lost season.
This unforeseen time off helped many of Haviland’s disciples in a variety of ways, as he noted many of his players were able to address needs in a variety of ways whether that be physically or mentally with their lost time. He would oversee footage that each respective pitcher submitted, looking for mechanical flaws in their arm slot or release point. By evaluating each player’s body type, the staff has a good read for how they would be the best fit to throw the ball while doing so efficiently and executing their velocity, and most importantly, avoiding injury.
"“Some guys might have a lower arm slot, or less hip and shoulder separation,” Haviland said. “We get together with our medical staff to see if there are certain physical limitations that might cause a pitcher to throw a certain way. We can tailor their delivery for their body to make them the best version of themselves in the long run.”"
For the most part, Haviland made note that the coaching staff refrains from making significant changes to a player’s mechanics unless the data supports it.
Upon reuniting with the prospects for the first time since spring training at fall instructs, Haviland came away very impressed with the physical work the group put in to better themselves going forward. He noted how many of them were throwing better, looked to be in good physical shape, and most importantly happy to be participating in organized baseball again. The same hope is up in the air for this upcoming minor league season, with no official announcement as to if a season will occur.
With the 2020 season officially dead and gone, Red Sox minor league prospects can reflect knowing they made some headway in their own personal development. Through the hard work of coaches like Shawn Haviland and so many others in the organization, the coaches were able to keep their players engaged and ready even when there was nothing to play for.