Chuck Hernandez will not return as Atlanta’s pitching coach

Chuck Hernandez will not return to Brian Snitker’s coaching staff.

The Atlanta Braves opened their search for a new pitching coach by letting go of Hernandez, who was promoted from minor-league pitching coordinator to the position in October 2016. Hernandez’s experience with developing the system’s young arms — not to mention his resume featuring former pupils Jose Fernandez and Justin Verlander — helped lead to improvement in Atlanta’s pitching production, but Alex Anthopoulos’ front office wanted a different voice to pick up the baton after the division title.

“It emanated from me,” Anthopoulos said of the coaching change. “And ultimately (manager Brian Snitker) and I talked through everything, it was left up to Snit entirely. I think the human being he is and the person he is and the year we had, he would’ve (preferred) continuity there. I expressed some things that I felt from a directional standpoint what I wanted to explore and the more we talked through it I think he understood.

” … We had a good year on the mound so I don’t want to take anything away from that, but we did want to open it up a little bit, maybe directionally change some things.”

Hernandez is the lone change made to the division-winning coaching staff.

Anthopoulos did not set a specific timeline for finding Hernandez’s replacement. The Braves will consider internal and external options.

Free passes were the Achilles heel for Braves pitchers in 2018.

Atlanta owned the highest walk rate in baseball (10.3 percent, tied with the Chicago White Sox) and walked the second-most batters per nine innings, a glaring issue best illustrated in losses to the Chicago Cubs in mid-April and the Washington Nationals in mid-September. In fact, the Braves walked nine or more batters in a game five times in the month of September alone.

The postseason did not offer a different narrative.

Braves pitchers walked 27 Dodger batters in the NLDS, the fourth-highest total ever in a division series despite playing only four games.

Hernandez did oversee significant improvement in the pitching department as the organization’s top prospects started making their major-league debuts. Mike Foltynewicz, in particular, made huge strides on Hernandez’s watch, translating high-ceiling potential into All-Star production. Here’s how many spots Atlanta pitchers jumped in MLB’s pitching rankings from 2017 to 2018 for a variety of reasons (100 is league average for adjusted ERA and FIP metrics with 99 being 1 percent better than the league average, 98 being 2 percent better, etc.):

2018 SEASON YEAR-OVER-YEAR MLB RANKING CHANGE
K% 23.1 +9
BB% 10.3 -4
HR/9 0.95 +10
ERA- 92 +11
FIP- 99 +5

Anthopoulos mentioned the strides made on the mound in 2018.

“When you look at the staff, and I know people have talked about the walks and that’s something we absolutely can improve on, but when you really take a giant step back we were fifth in ERA. We were first in opponents’ slug (slugging percentage) allowed, first in opponents’ average allowed. Even with the walks we were sixth in on-base (percentage) allowed, fourth in runs allowed.

“So, there’s a lot of good: Top-five, top-two in a lot of really important things. Yes, we tended to walk guys, but we stayed away from damage.”

The new pitching coach will likely inherit a boatload of young pitchers after Foltynewicz — the exact amount depends on where the offseason takes the front office — with Sean Newcomb, Touki Toussaint, Max Fried, Mike Soroka, Luiz Gohara, Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson and Kolby Allard already making their MLB debuts and experienced arms Kevin Gausman and Julio Teheran on the roster.