The Orioles were already set to have a lot of upheaval among their pitching development staff with the departure of both pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti from the MLB staff. They are not the end of it. MASN’s Roch Kubatko reported on Saturday that Rick Peterson, the organization’s director of pitching development, will not be returning to the team next season.
There was a good bit of hype around Peterson when he was first hired by the team shortly into the tenure of Dan Duquette as GM, as if Peterson was the miracle worker who would finally get something good out of “the cavalry” - that was the quartet of Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Zach Britton. That only one of those players ever became a successful starter for the Orioles says a lot.
Actually, it’s not that easy to gauge what Peterson did or didn’t do with those guys because after hearing a lot about Peterson in his first year on the job, there was not a lot of subsequent talk about what he was doing or who he was working with. For all that we’ve heard about him lately, he might as well have had this exact same quiet departure two years ago.
In the middle of the 2012 season, some team bloggers, including myself, were invited to a pre-game event at the Warehouse that was basically an advertisement for a company’s fantasy baseball product. Part of this event included a talk by and Q&A with Peterson. He espoused fairly common pitching philosophies like, “After three pitches in an at-bat, you want to have either two strikes or have it already be over.”
I still remember sitting there at the time and thinking, “This guy has never said one word to any of the cavalry, or if he has, they haven’t listened.” Four years later, I still haven’t seen any young Orioles starting pitcher look like he was trying to follow any of the things Peterson seemed to believe.
When the starting rotation at the major league level has one of the worst ERAs at the MLB level two seasons in a row, that certainly doesn’t speak well for the Orioles director of pitching development, either. But it’s not Peterson’s fault the Orioles signed Yovani Gallardo, traded for Wade Miley, or released Miguel Gonzalez.
It’s also not Peterson’s fault that the Orioles traded away pitching prospects Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Brault, and Zach Davies. Perhaps he might even deserve some credit for those pitchers developing into prospects who interested other teams on the trade market - though by trading Brault and Davies for failures like Travis Snider and Gerardo Parra, the team certainly didn’t make the most of that promise.
Really, though, we don’t even know what he did on a day-to-day or week-to-week. Kubatko, in his article on the departure, sums up Peterson’s tenure like this:
Peterson’s use of biomechanical research and psychological principals to help pitchers improve their motions has been met with criticism over the years. Not everyone in the organization and on the pitching staff bought into it. But he also had his share of supporters.
What does that even mean? One thing it definitely means is that all of these treasured biomechanical research and psychological principals weren’t able to keep two Orioles pitching prospects, Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey, from missing major time with major injuries, including Tommy John surgery for both.
Perhaps those things would have happened no matter what Peterson did or didn’t do with them. Bundy in particular was used heavily in high school, and he was drafted before Peterson or Duquette ever came into the picture, so it’s not like they were even around to suggest something different.
Who are his success stories? Are there any? Does he deserve credit for Kevin Gausman finally developing into a good big league starter in his fourth season? Yet Gausman did all of his 2016 work at the MLB level, so one could just as easily say that it was his first season where he didn’t have Peterson messing with him in the minors that he developed.
Maybe you can give him credit for the Orioles unearthing some unexpected bullpen finds in relievers Mychal Givens and Donnie Hart. Or maybe he deserves no credit for that whatsoever and the Orioles will be better off for his departure by virtue of being able to hire anyone else for this job.
Duquette offered his usual brand of bland, polite praise to Orioles reporters by text message:
Duquette: "I appreciate Rick Peterson's effort & good work for 5 yrs to develop pitching at all levels for the O's & wish him well." /1— Eduardo A. Encina (@EddieInTheYard) November 12, 2016
"....Rick has a solid track record helping pitchers and is well respected throughout baseball." /2 #orioles— Eduardo A. Encina (@EddieInTheYard) November 12, 2016
One should never read too much into the public statements of Duquette. But when it comes to Duquette trying to say something nice and the best he can start with is “I appreciate Rick Peterson’s effort,” you kinda have to think there wasn’t much good to say.
This is just one more bit of turnover in the Orioles pitching development staff. Taken as a group, it is all worrisome. Though the Orioles rotation has been a disaster, there have been successes for the organization with pitching, particularly in the bullpen. Does Britton turn into the elite reliever he is under different coaches? Does Brad Brach develop into a good back-end arm?
On balance, though, pitching in the organization is not in a good state. That’s in part because of those trades and because of sacrificed draft choices, but not entirely. Peterson’s departure, along with those of Wallace and Chiti, creates a lot of uncertainty, but there’s also a lot of room for improvement and maybe new voices with new ideas will prove to be the best way to achieve better results.