Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace, who has been with the club for three full seasons, is retiring as an active major league coach, creating an opening for one of the chief lieutenant spots on manager Buck Showalter’s staff.
Who fills that post — there are several intriguing candidates — should be rather interesting.
Showalter, speaking at the club’s season wrap-up news conference, said Wallace, 69, informed him that he wants to spend more time with his family, but still would like to work in baseball in some capacity.
“I wanted to make sure that he was comfortable with (the decision). But he’s at a point in his life where he needs to be home a little bit more. But he’s going to still be active in some form or fashion next year, I feel confident,” Showalter said. “Hopefully, it’s with us. We’ll wait and see how that works out. He’s got some things he’s got to stay on top of at home. Like all of us do. He’s gonna retire from (being) an active major league coach.”
Wallace, a longtime baseball man and former big leaguer who began his coaching career in 1981, took over an Orioles’ staff that finished 10th in the AL in ERA in 2013 and led it to a 3.43 ERA, third best mark in the AL, in 2014. His staff’s ERA fell to 4.05 (9th in the AL) in 2015 and 4.22 (10th) this season. While his starting rotation has always been a work in progress, the bullpens he oversaw have been among baseball’s best throughout his time with the Orioles.
Wallace also represented some continuity that had been missing in the position, off and on, for a decade.
No Orioles pitching coach has lasted beyond three seasons since Mark Wiley in 2001-04. Wallace’s replacement will be Showalter’s sixth pitching coach (including an interim) since he took over managerial duties in Aug. 2010.
Wallace left the club several times this season to tend to family issues. While he was gone, bullpen coach Dom Chiti took over pitching coach duties. It was a seamless transition because Wallace and Chiti worked in tandem. Chiti, 57, also directed the starters and Wallace, the relievers – a partnership that received rave reviews from veteran pitchers such as Zach Britton, Chris Tillman and Darren O’Day.
Chiti, who, like Wallace, is not signed for 2017, would appear to be a candidate for the pitching coach job, assuming he wants to stay with the organization after the departure of Wallace. Chiti’s bullpen finished first in the AL with a 3.40 ERA this season, and it has placed in the AL’s top three in ERA in each of Chiti’s three seasons on the job.
At this point, Showalter said he expects the rest of his staff – including Chiti and hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh — to return for 2017. Asked if Chiti would be a consideration for the pitching coach job, Showalter wasn’t as direct with his answer.
“The other five coaches (including Chiti), I don’t foresee any changes being made there. We’re gonna look at all the candidates and, as always, we try to look inside first. We’ve got some good, capable people in our organization, but you’re always trying to place them in the capacity that best first what their skills are. So we’ll take a look at it. Dom’s done a lot of different jobs in baseball from farm director, scouting director to assistant GM to major league coach. … So Dom’s a soldier. He likes contributing and, in whatever capacity, he’s a real loyal, tell-me-what-needs-to-be-done-and-I’ll-do-it guy. So he’s got a unique skill set.”
The Orioles are fairly deep when it comes to quality pitching coaches in the system, if they were to look internally.
Triple-A Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin, who has been in that position for eight years, knows most of the Orioles’ staff and is highly respected.
Rick Peterson, the organization’s director of pitching development, has been a big league pitching coach for three different teams and has a staunch supporter in executive vice president Dan Duquette.
Former Orioles pitchers Alan Mills (Double-A Bowie) and Scott McGregor (pitching rehab coordinator) and former big league starter Ramon Martinez (special assignment pitching instructor) have excellent reputations as teachers.
“I do want to stress I, and we, are going to look from within first,” Showalter said. “Sometimes you don’t want to rob from Peter to pay Paul, though. You’ve got somebody doing a real good job, whether it be a pitching coach in Triple-A, a pitching coordinator, a bullpen coach. You want to make sure (it’s the right fit in the majors), because then you’re going to be looking to replace that, too. “
Wallace is expected to talk to local reporters Friday, but he told Bob Nightengale of USA Today that, “I reached that point in my life (where) I want to spend more time with the family, but I still have a passion to help young pitchers.”
My take on all of this is that the Orioles have a lost a key asset. Wallace’s positive attitude and steady hand – and his tremendous working relationship with Chiti – provided stability to the pitching staff that the organization was desperately lacking in the big leagues.
The overall numbers weren’t always pleasing, but, given the personnel, especially in the rotation, you have to consider Wallace’s tenure a success.
Now, especially if Chiti leaves, the Orioles will have to bring in another pitching coach, and potentially a new face, in what has been a bit of a carousel over the years.
And that’s an unfortunate development given the success of the bullpen and how the rotation seemed to stabilize at season’s end.