Robert Coe Brings Change in Mindset to Mound for St. Paul Saints
The St. Paul Saints are continuing to have a huge amount of success in the 2015 American Association season. It seems that every night a different player steps up to make a key contribution to the club’s victory for that game. Whether it is a Dustin Crenshaw pitch that leads to a key double-play, an Angelo Songco shot to the wall that plates a big run, or an Alonzo Harris stolen base that ignites a big rally, someone seems to come up with the play that is needed to make a good inning into a great one for the club.
While the season has been a dream come true for several of the Saints players, no one has enjoying this season more than starter Robert Coe. The right-hander has had a renaissance of sorts in his ability and attitude and has been a key member of the team’s pitching staff, especially of late.
In a season where manager George Tsamis has put together the American Association’s best pitching staff, Robert has joined this talented group of five to be the most dominate starting staff in the league. He has quickly established himself as one of the stars of the staff. A Coe-star in fact.
The Saints lead the league in most pitching categories, including ERA (3.09), WHIP (1.17) and saves (38). They have walked the least amount of batters, hit the least amount of hitters and thrown the least number of wild pitches. Robert has been a big part of the success of the staff this season, being a key Coe-llaborator with the other members of this staff.
Entering his start on August 10, the St. Paul Saints starter was 7-3 in his 14 appearances, 12 of which were starts. He is eighth in the league in ERA (2.90) and his two complete games are tied for fourth in the league. (Can we call them Coe-mplete games?)
While those numbers are impressive in and of themselves, in his last three starts he has been a complete beast on the hill. In those three appearances he has allowed just three runs and nine-hits in 24 innings pitched. That included a one-hit shutout of the Lincoln Saltdogs on August 5, where he had a no-hitter going into the eighth inning. The one-hitter was the first in St. Paul Saints history, a feat that surprised Robert following the historic outing. “Wow, that is unbelievable to be the first for this franchise. I would have thought someone would have done that long before this,” he reacted.
It has been a resurgence that has come out of one of the toughest periods of his career on the diamond.
Coe had baseball in his blood even before he was born – literally. His mother was an avid softball player and before he entered into this world he was reaping early benefits on the diamond. “When my mom was pregnant she played softball while she was pregnant with me and after I was born I would always go to my mom’s softball games and sit in the dugout and watch her play.”
As he grew older, Robert found himself practicing with his brother while his mother played. “My mom played softball in a policeman’s league, and when I got old enough, me and my older brother would go to the extra little league field next door, and while my mom was playing, my brother and I would go and play catch and hit; try to play home run derby.”
Robert fully admits that he was not always being the best-behaved son during his mother’s time on the softball field. “When we got bored with that I was always the one who would climb up the fence, and they would always have to call time because I was being a little brat.” Maybe not necessarily a brat but more a Coe-conspirator with his older brother.
As he got older Robert wanted to be involved in sports. It gave him a chance to hang out with his friends, and to burn off some energy. This led him to participate in three sports each year during his time in high school, including baseball, bowling, wrestling, football, and soccer. Although he enjoyed the other sports, baseball was his true love.
“I loved it. There was simply nothing better than going out to the field to play. It was the most fun thing that I could be doing.”
Robert also found that it was a great outlet for burning off energy. He readily admits that his high-octane personality was a serious challenge for his mother.
“I was always active, and it was a way for me to stay out of trouble because I had so much energy and I was always doing goofy things. Like when I was growing up my mom always dressed me in fluorescent colors so she would know where I was at. That is why yellow is my favorite color because I had so many yellow shirts, so that she could spot me out in a crowd.”
Upon graduating from high school, Robert headed for Stevens Point for college, where he intended to continue his baseball career, but after two years he transferred to Wisconsin-Whitewater where he starred as the club’s catcher for three seasons. In his senior year he wanted to give pitching a shot, and was not going to take no for an answer.
“My senior year I wound up bugging my head coach for like three weeks that I wanted to pitch a little bit, because I thought my arm was stronger after my Tommy John. I wound up pitching three innings against Hamline in the regional. I threw three scoreless innings and got a win and hit a home run against them, and we wound up going to the World Series.”
The performance caught the attention of Jason Verdugo, who was the baseball coach at Hamline University, but was also the St. Paul Saints pitching coach. Verdugo was impressed by Coe’s performance and reached out to him to offer him a chance to make the St. Paul team.
“Two weeks later I got a phone call from Verdugo who called my coach at Whitewater, and he was like ‘Hey, would you be interested in a tryout with the Saints. You’ll pitch, you’ll catch, and you’ll hit.” I thought it sounded good, so I drove up to a tryout in Gary and I threw a bullpen in front of George and Verdugo. I threw like 30 pitches and they were like ‘that’s enough,’ and so go ahead and hit. I thought I didn’t do as well as they wanted, so I went and hit, and they said I could stay a little bit and watch the game, and they would be in touch.”
A few days later Tsamis called Robert to offer him a spot on the staff, and the next day he was on his way to catch the team in Lincoln. Robert was a professional baseball player. “Honestly, I was like ‘Holy cow! I’m going to play professional baseball.’ Which is what I always wanted to do.”
His first season in St. Paul, Robert made 18 appearances, going 3-1 with a 4.93 ERA. It was a solid start to his career, but the next season he was able to take his game to a new level. The Saints right-hander went 12-5 with a 2.90 ERA in 22 appearances (21 starts). He allowed just 124 hits in 139.1 innings and tossed his first professional shutout that season.
He was having the time of his life with the team, and was even more appreciative of the instruction he was receiving. “I was learning something new every time I came out to pitch. I had to learn how to develop pitches. (Pitching coach Kerry) Ligtenberg really taught me a lot about pitching.
Coe’s season caught the attention of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, who signed him and brought him aboard. He pitched quite well at low-A South Bend (3-1, 3.12) but understandably struggled in Visalia of the California League.
“I did well in low-A. Struggled in High-A, but it is so hard to pitch there. The parks in the California League just allow so many home runs. It’s just tough to pitch there.”
Following the 2013 campaign he was let go, but gained a lot of insights on how to improve his craft.
“In Arizona I learned a lot as well. I had to learn to think more about what I was doing and when I was going to do it. In the background of being a catcher I knew about my pitchers and what their strengths were, but me as a pitcher I didn’t exactly know what my strong suits were, so I was learning about setting up pitches, how to setup inside, outside, what hitters are looking for in certain counts. It was a big learning experience.”
Being released took a slight toll on Robert’s psyche, and after returning to the Saints he found that his season wasn’t going as he wanted. “I started off good where I was like 3-0, but then I got hit around in Rockland, and that kind of hurt my confidence.”
His confidence was the biggest barrier for him to overcome. He found that the slightest mistakes were causing him to doubt his abilities, and his performance on the mound was suffering as a result. “Last year my confidence was low because I had been hit around for the first time in my career, and so my confidence I needed to get back. I would have a couple of good starts, and then I would get hit around again, and my confidence would drop.”
Compounding the situation was a series of injuries that eventually shut down his season in August. 2014 left him questioning his abilities. In the off-season he determined that if things were going to turn around he needed to adopt a different strategy to pitching, and build off of the struggles he had encountered. It was time to Coe-adapt these experiences.
“It was a learning experience though, because it was the first time I had really been hit around, and I did poorly. I knew I had to do some things differently and I needed to focus on the mental game a little more. I needed to believe in my stuff again.”
“If you don’t believe in what you are doing you are not going to succeed and that is where I was at last season. It’s like a chess game. The hitter could be sitting there thinking that he may want to sit one pitch one time, and if he guesses right he is going to hit it well. But for me it is trying to beat the hitter with the pitch I want to throw when he is not expecting it. It’s about thinking your best pitch is better than their swing.”
This season his best pitch has been a lot better than most people’s swings. Robert has focused on challenging hitters more and that has seen him walk one or no batters in three of his last four starts. Most dramatically he has seen his home runs allowed plummet from 17 in 90 innings last season, to just 4 in 83.2 this year. It is something that he credits his new found confidence, the Coe-nfidence if you will, which is making him as tough to face as any starter in the American Association.
“My confidence is really high. Last season I wasn’t thinking I am better this guy and I am going to get him out. I was just pitching. I was just out throwing the ball, but this year I think I am better than this guy and I am going to attack him and get him out.”
This season Robert Coe is a completely different pitcher than last year. He has adapted and made several changes to his game that have really helped to give him great success. However, he admits that there is one area that he still has to harness if he is going to have continual success.
“I like to work really fast, and sometimes I get too amped up. I like to go really fast, and sometimes I start to get pitches up. I realize that I need to slow down and just keep from getting too amped up. Vinny (DiFazio) and Joey (Paciorek) have been great at keeping me focused and settling me back down so that I don’t let an inning get out of hand.”
One of the decisions that Robert made entering the season was to not put added pressure on himself to perform at a certain level. He wanted to just maintain his health and believe that he can get hitters out. The results speak for themselves.
Entering his start there are 11 pitchers in the American Association who have at least eight victories. With a victory Coe could be the fifth St. Paul Saints’ pitcher to join that group – to join the Coe-alition. An unbelievable number that demonstrates just how dominant this staff has been this season.
While his performance on the mound has been pure magic, the right-hander also has a distinction that sets him apart from the rest of his Coe-horts – he leads the team in hitting. In a game in Fargo-Moorhead earlier this year, an injury forced the Saints manager to ask Coe to go in and play third. Robert not only made a big play at third that ended a RedHawks rally, but he drove in the winning run and scored a run. He finished 1-2, a .500 batting average, a distinction he is proud to tout.
“I got the highest average on the team. A game-winning RBI in every game I have hit in. You can’t beat that,” he explains with a laugh.
Robert Coe has found the keys to success for the St. Paul Saints this year. He has put together a strategy and game plan that is helping him to dominate games and seems to be getting stronger and more confident in his abilities as the season goes along. He has clearly developed some kind of mathematical Coe-efficient to give him the ability to succeed on each and every night.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA