The Orioles finally have their new pitching coach and bullpen coach in the fold. A pair of former Orioles players who were teammates on the 1996 squad will be taking up the posts. The new pitching coach is Roger McDowell, who had been serving as Atlanta’s pitching coach since 2006. The bullpen coach is Alan Mills, most recently the O’s pitching coach at Double-A Bowie.
It all works out in a circle-of-life kind of way. McDowell replaces Dave Wallace, who came from the Braves and has gone back to the Braves. Indeed, the O’s seem to have a fascination, spanning many managers and general managers, with Braves pitching instructors, given that we all once spent time getting excited over the hire of Leo Mazzone back in the Sam Perlozzo days.
Will McDowell be a good pitching coach and a good replacement for Wallace? Pitching coaches almost all always say the right things when they’re hired and it’s only years later that the bad stories come out, as we also recently experienced with former Oriole Jake Arrieta kind of piling on former Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair.
In the press release announcing the hire, the Orioles include the tidbit that in the 11 seasons where McDowell was the Braves pitching coach, Atlanta ranked fourth among MLB clubs with a 3.88 ERA. The relief corps ERA particularly was a 3.58, good for second-best in MLB.
Whether those numbers are meaningful and to what extent McDowell deserves credit for them is another story, of course, but it’s at least one encouraging sign. And it’s not like McDowell was working with the trio of Hall of Famers as in the days of Mazzone. When the Braves had pitching success in McDowell’s tenure, it was not with a bunch of guys who were probably going to be good no matter what.
McDowell doesn’t have an easy task awaiting him here. The Orioles have to hope that McDowell can stay out of the way of Chris Tillman while finding another gear for Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, with McDowell also polishing two of the three of Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, and Yovani Gallardo into acceptable rotation options.
With the state of the pitching in the O’s farm system, hiring one of the people responsible for that pitching development to be the bullpen coach is not, on its face, the most exciting thing possible.
You may be excited by the name Mills because you remember the time he punched Darryl Strawberry right in the face during the infamous Orioles-Yankees brawl of 1998, right after Strawberry himself had sucker punched Armando Benitez. Few among us will ever have such a fine moment in the entirety of our lives, let alone have it be recorded and preserved on video with hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube.
Not that this has anything to do with whether Mills will be a good MLB bullpen coach, of course. He might. Mills was a reliever for almost the entirety of a 12-year MLB career, so he’ll certainly have the credibility to address the players.
What’s more, since he has been a pitching coach in the O’s system for five years and at Bowie for the past two years, Mills already has a relationship with a couple of the O’s relievers of the present and future, like Mychal Givens and Donnie Hart, who were successful under Mills at Bowie and eventually earned promotions to the big league level right from Double-A.
If you don’t want to be depressed, it’s definitely a better idea to think of Givens and Hart rather than look up how the Bowie starting rotation performed in the most recent season. Which might not have been Mills’ fault anyway; if the Orioles assign pitchers who aren’t meant to be starters and stick them in the Bowie rotation, that’s not on the pitching coach if they don’t pitch well.
Maybe it will all work out. In the case of the 2016 O’s rotation, it’ll be hard to be worse. Good luck to the new coaches in their new roles.