Cardinals Fire Pitching Coaches Lilliquist and Ilsley

photo: Derek Lilliquist (John Hefti/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Some of the questions regarding accountability for the disappointing season registered by the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals were answered on Tuesday.

During the club’s annual end-of-season press conference conducted by President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak, General Manager Michael Girsch and manager Mike Matheny, it was disclosed that the contracts of pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and bullpen coach Blaise Ilsley will not be renewed for 2018.

Derek Lilliquist (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Lilliquist was in his 16th year with the Cardinals organization, his seventh as a member of the Major League coaching staff and sixth season in his current role as Pitching Coach. He served as the team’s bullpen coach in 2011, and took over the pitching coach duties in August 2012 after Dave Duncan took a leave of absence and later, decided not to return.

The 51-year old served as the Jupiter complex pitching coordinator from 2008-2010, working with rehabilitating pitchers, and from 2004-07 was the pitching coach for Palm Beach (high-A). Lilliquist began his career with the Cardinals at rookie level Johnson City in 2002, then moved on to Class-A Peoria in 2003.

As a left handed starter-turned-reliever, the first-round draft pick of Atlanta in 1987 spent five-plus years in the Major Leagues, with his professional career concluding in 1997. Before joining the Cardinals, Lilliquist was a high school baseball coach at Vero Beach (Fla.) High School from 1998 to 2001.

Blaise Ilsley (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Ilsley completed his fifth season as the team’s bullpen coach, after working five seasons as the pitching coach for the Cardinals Triple-A Memphis affiliate. He was promoted to the Triple-A club in 2008 after working six seasons as the Cardinals Double-A pitching coach.

Ilsley had been honored by the Cardinals following the 2004 season with the George Kissell Award, presented annually by the Cardinals for excellence in player development. He came to the Cardinals from the Orioles’ organization after serving as the pitching coach for Bluefield in the Appalachian League during 2001. Ilsley began his coaching career in 1999 with Winnipeg of the Independent Northern League and moved on to coach at Sioux Falls in 2000.

The fourth-round pick of the Houston Astros in 1985 spent 14 seasons pitching in the minor leagues with six organizations, including the Cardinals, and reached the Majors for 10 games with the 1994 Cubs.

Brian Walton’s take

Mozeliak’s remarks at the press conference made it clear that the organization will be looking for a pitching coach who is more willing to leverage advanced metrics and data provided by baseball operations. While internal candidates will be considered, Mozeliak seems to be leaning toward a more exhaustive search.

“When you’re looking at pitch strategy and the modernization of the tools we have available to us, we need somebody that understands it, has interest in it, can communicate it and can teach it,” the president of baseball ops said.

Matheny has taken considerable heat for keeping starters in games too long and for his bullpen usage, and as the manager, he is ultimately responsible. However, one has to hope/assume he was receiving in-game advice from his pitching coach. For that reason, I may be less surprised over Lilliquist’s dismissal than many others.

As bullpen coach, Ilsley’s job seems to be more of an execution role than strategy-setting, but perhaps the organization simply wants to start fresh with both of their pitching coaches. As noted above, both fired coaches were internal hires.

Outside pitching coach candidates, however, may approach the Cardinals situation cautiously. Matheny is under contract for three more seasons, but a third consecutive playoff miss in 2018 and his seat could become very hot. To come to St. Louis, a new pitching coach may expect a greater level of job security, given that potential long-term uncertainty.

Other than the return of Ron “Pop” Warner to the player development staff, likely to his old position of assistant field coordinator, the Cardinals apparently do not plan other coaching moves at the major league level for 2018.

In other recent changes on Matheny’s staff, last off-season, assistant hitting coach Derrick May was not retained and third base coach Chris Maloney was reassigned in June. New coaches for 2017 were first base coach Oliver Marmol and quality control-turned third base coach Mike Shildt, both internal promotions.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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