On Monday, Cal baseball ensured that it wouldn’t go too long without a pitching coach when head coach David Esquer announced that Thomas Eager would be the team’s new pitching coach after Mike Neu left last week to become the head coach at the University of the Pacific.
Eager spent the least three season as Cal Poly’s pitching coach and previously played there in 2006 and 2007 before being drafted by MLB’s St. Louis Cardinals. He stayed in the team’s farm system for four seasons, getting as far as the Cardinals’ AA affiliate, before going back to Cal Poly to pursue coaching. He will now be tasked with taking over for Neu, who was very successful at Cal in his four seasons, and trying to make sure the Bears’ already-strong pitching staff can continue to thrive.
“Thomas Eager comes to us with a great reputation in both the collegiate and professional baseball worlds,” Esquer said to Cal Athletics. “He is considered one of the best pitching minds in the country and is equally well thought of for his ability to develop talent. We are thrilled to have him as part of the Cal baseball program, and he will certainly be the next in the line of great pitching coaches here in Berkeley.”
This will mean following in the footsteps of Neu, a former Major League pitcher who got 46 innings in the big leagues and led the Bears to a 3.03 staff ERA last season. Eager’s time with the Mustangs seems to have him primed for at least some success at doing so. While his pitching staff struggled last season with a 4.11 ERA, he led Cal Poly to a 3.50 ERA in his three seasons helming the hurlers. This includes a new record of 3.05 in 2014 — the best since the program joined Division I.
If Eager hopes to make a similar mark on the Bears’ program, he will have a lot to work with. The team returns all of last season’s prolific starting pitchers in Daulton Jefferies, Ryan Mason, Matt Ladrech and Jeff Bain, who was a midweek starter and handled long relief duty for the team. While Cal’s pitchers didn’t put up huge strikeout numbers, they did manage to strike out just more than double the amount of batters they walked, and when balls were hit into play, the pitchers often gave their fielders a chance to make a play by limiting the amount of home runs they gave up to only 17 — second best in the Pac-12. In fact, Cal’s pitchers gave up the fewest extra base hits in the Pac-12 — even fewer than UCLA’s excellent pitching staff. The Bruins’ pitching staff and its 2.17 ERA were the driving force behind the team getting a Pac-12-leading 45 wins — nine games better than where the Bears finished.
Given these numbers and Cal’s impressive haul of returning pitchers, it would be easy for Eager to come in and merely try to maintain the status quo established by the successful Neu. But if Eager hopes to take Bears to the next level of contention, where the team can contend with the Bruins, it’d serve him well to improve the pitching staff even more, perhaps by improving the team’s strikeout numbers and continuing to emphasize prevention of extra base hits. If he can do so, it will be Cal fans who will be eager to see their team play and contend with the nation’s best teams.