D1Baseball’s 2015 National Coach of the Year Paul Evans completed his 30th year as the pitching coach for Missouri State in 2018, helping the Bears to a 40-17 record, their second consecutive Missouri Valley Conference title and their third NCAA Regional bid in the last four seasons. Their record of 170-70 in the past four seasons- which includes winning a pair of NCAA Regionals- is the most successful four-year period in MSU history.
- Which pitch would you prefer to develop- a breaking ball or a changeup?
I feel pretty good with breaking ball. I think the biggest thing you see is the development of a slider or a cutter at this level. Most guys will come in equipped with a curveball, but if you’re trying to turn a guy into a starter- which is essentially every newcomer you bring in- adding a sharper, later breaking ball is important.
With the curveball, you’re looking more for downward break than anything, trying to stay away from the loopiness or the slurve effect. Guys will come in and tell me they have a curveball and a slider, and after we see them throw I have to tell them they have a slurve and a slurve! Some guys just don’t have the arm slot to throw a true 12-6 curveball, for example.
As guys mature and get older and stronger, they develop the ability to throw the slider harder, and that’s big. You see a lot of guys that can come in throwing sliders in the mid to upper 70s that a couple years later can get up into the 80s.
- What would you say is the key element to developing a high-level breaking pitch?
Having a fastball mentality- don’t try to guide anything over the plate. Sometimes guys don’t really get that, so you can take them and have them run and gun or crow hop and throw a slider. You have to get their bodies going to speed their arms up and really get that feel like they’re throwing the tar out of it.
- Are you a big drills guy?
I wouldn’t say I’m huge on being drill-oriented. It’s more flat grounds and bullpens. Like anyone we’ll do some video work, but a lot of times it just comes down to getting guys lined up. You see a lot of guys that can drift- like a right hander drifting towards third- then they have to pull across their bodies to get back in line.
We’ll have some guys doing towel drills, but I’m really about getting that pitchability aspect going, learning how to command both sides of the plate.
- Are there any restrictions on your throwing program?
We have no restrictions on our throwing program. We let our guys be individuals and we don’t cookie cut anything. I like the starters to have some sort of routine with lifting and long toss and running and bullpens, but I leave a lot of that up them; it’s hard for another person to tell you how your arm feels.
I love guys that long toss. If they’re capable of putting that into their plan in between starts, I’m all for it.
- Do you break down a lot of video with your pitchers?
Video isn’t something I feel like I need to do with every single guy on a weekly basis. If a guy has a good or a bad outing and wants to see some things, I think it’s really important to break down delivery, release point, their actual stuff in terms of what’s coming across the plate, mistake pitches and misses. With a lot of the video that we get, we’re able to get velocities along with them, so we can pick apart certain things like backing off a slider.
- Do you call pitches?
We do not. I just finished my 30th year at Missouri State, and for the first 5-6 years we called pitches. Then we had a really intelligent catcher approach us and ask to call the game. I felt comfortable with it, we played well, and we liked the speed of the game. Irony or not, we ended up going to three regionals with this guy catching and calling games! It became part of our program and it’s been that way ever since.
Now, we spend a lot of time with our catchers breaking down scouting reports and game plans. Even in the fall I’ll be going back and forth from dugout to dugout talking about working a game. I think it really helps from a development phase, not just for the pitchers but for the hitters too.
Even in our system, if the catcher feels like he needs help, he can always ask for it. Everyone has the numbers system on their wrists, but we’ll shrink the scouting report and put it on their bands. We also have our catchers keep tendency charts in the dugouts, so they can look over them and make sure they’re not getting into patterns with the games they’re calling.
- What other charts do your pitchers keep in the dugout?
My next day starter will keep the basic pitching chart next to me. He records the pitch, ball/strike, swing or not, what kind of action occurred, pitch count. Same chart I’ve used for 30 years, I’m comfortable with it and so are my players, and it’s good to have the next day starter there with you. That’s great because you can talk to them during the game, as your scouting report continues to get updated.
- How about the mental game?
I’m constantly talking to our guys about the mental game. There can be some life lessons in our game. In anything you do athletically, some guys are really competitive innately, and you have to teach some guys how to be more competitive. We talk about that aspect a lot, about staying locked in, about not taking a pitch off.
- What are your summers like when it comes to your recruiting schedule? How much time do you spend watching your returners or commits?
Typically, we meet on Mondays and Tuesdays as a staff and go over what we’ve seen. We move guys around on lists and make a plan for what we’ll do that weekend. Very rarely are we watching a returning guy, but we have a few guys pitching in local leagues because of their majors or internships. We really try to see the incoming freshman during the summer. Sometimes you get commitments from these guys over a year or two before then, so you want to get out and see the finished product, so to speak.
- What’s the number one thing you’re out looking for?
Overall, pitchability is probably first and foremost for me. You can take a big arm velocity-wise, but those don’t always pan out. I like a guy that can spin a ball, compete well, and handle situations, but overall, I want guys who can pitch.