Farmington native and former New Britain Bees pitcher Shawn Haviland spent nine seasons trying to break into the major leagues. On Thursday, it was announced he had finally accomplished that elusive goal, only taking an alternate route to get there.
Haviland, who pitched with the Bees in their inaugural season with the Atlantic League, was promoted to pitching coordinator of performance for the Boston Red Sox, having spent last season as a pitching performance coach with the organization, working with Boston’s lower-level minor league teams. After years of trying to reach the bigs with his arm, Haviland achieved his goal using his mind, and will now help Boston’s pitching staff after making it as far as the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox in 2015 and 2017 before calling it a playing career.
“I really enjoyed my time playing for the Red Sox,” Haviland told The Herald. “They're a first-class organization from top to bottom, and the player development side is no different. The amount of support we get and the access to anything we think can make players better, it just makes my job a lot easier.”
Haviland takes comfort in the realization that while this will be his first gig in the major leagues, he will hardly be alone. Dave Bush, who Haviland worked with closely in his previous role with Boston, was named the Red Sox pitching coach back in October and will be around to collaborate with Haviland. So will Chris Mears, the team’s other pitching coordinator of performance, who will team up with Haviland to assist the Red Sox pitching staff in optimal pitch sequencing, off-day throwing and delivering the tidal wave of information that is now available to players at the major league level.
“Dave got promoted to pitching coach and that left a window of opportunity for me to get some more responsibility,” Haviland explained. “But ultimately, everything we do here is such a collaboration. It's been exciting to have a little more responsibility, but it's also a very supportive environment in the sense that it's not just me doing these things. The whole player development department is working together and making moves as a group.”
One of the baseball minds Haviland was able to collaborate with was former major league pitcher Brian Bannister, who was the vice president of pitching development with the Red Sox when Haviland was first adapting to his new role in the realm of coaching. Bannister, now with the San Francisco Giants as the team’s director of pitching, is considered one of the pioneers of former players embracing the advanced data and analytics that has become an integral part of player development and optimizing performance on the field.
Bannister’s knowledge helped him find a spot as Boston’s assistant pitching coach on the major league staff before heading west, and his knowledge on the modern game and work with current major leaguers like Rich Hill (another former Atlantic League product) only enhanced Haviland’s interest in modern coaching and his confidence in carrying out such a job.
“The first few months of having my previous job, it was just a crash course on analytics and player development, and how to make guys better using this data as well as blending that with an old school approach,” Haviland said. “I've been incredibly lucky in that sense.”
Finding a harmony between old and new school is an important component for Haviland, who marvels at what is now available to players in terms of information, technology and advanced statistics, despite Haviland himself only being three years removed from being a professional player. No matter what new information is thrown his way, Haviland plans on always keeping his identity as a former player with him as a coach and coordinator, relating to the staff as someone who knows what it’s like to be out on the mound, when numbers and video give way to the one-on-one battle with the man in the box.
“With the rate that technology is improving, the things that I had to guess at as a player can now be measured,” Haviland said. “But the data isn't everything. The players aren't robots. You can't just turn them on and program them for every pitch. You really need to dig in and get to know the person and the player, and learn how they process data so you know how to present the information in a way they can actually use it and understand it.”
If anyone can understand the role of humanity in baseball, it’s Haviland. A frequent attendee of Rock Cats games in his youth, the Harvard graduate always envisioned a life in baseball. It’s what brought him to the Bees in 2016, when he just wasn’t ready for his baseball career to end. Now, that career begins with a new chapter, and takes place where Haviland wanted to be all along: the big show, where he’ll have all the help he needs to continue to expand his coaching capabilities.
“When I was all done playing and thinking how I wanted to stay in baseball, my goal was to just try and find someone or a group of people that were a lot smarter than me and had more experience,” Haviland said. “I found that with the Red Sox.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org