The next Orioles pitching coach will be Buck Showalter’s sixth, and more importantly, will be Chris Tillman’s sixth—and Zach Britton’s fifth.
When the Orioles hired a 66-year-old pitching coach three years ago, they couldn’t have expected him to be with him for much longer than Dave Wallace served.
In his conference call with Baltimore reporters on Friday, Wallace mentioned his health, and while he’s been fine physically during his Orioles tenure, he did mention his age.
Before the Orioles hired him, Wallace hadn’t been a major league pitching coach since 2007 when he worked for the Houston Astros, and his hiring six years later came as a surprise.
He had no connections with Showalter, Dan Duquette or any of the pitchers, and in his minor league job with Atlanta had been out of the mainstream.
His hiring was brilliant, and he had experience in working with accomplished managers—Tom Lasorda in Los Angeles, Bobby Valentine and Terry Francona before Showalter.
Wallace had a history of coaxing good seasons out of pitchers whose resume would indicate otherwise, and getting young pitchers to realize their potential.
He did all that, and much more with the Orioles, particularly the 2014 team.
Five of the six starters on the 2014 team had ERAs under 4, and one of them Bud Norris, had a career year under Wallace.
Take away Norris’ 15-8 record from that season, and he’s a poor lifetime record of 47-70. Since that season he’s won nine games in two seasons with four teams, and his 3.65 ERA was a career best.
Tillman was on his way to being a good pitcher before Wallace, and under him prospered. So did Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez.
Wallace mentioned his work with Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman on Friday, and he also did wonders with Brad Brach, a struggling journeyman who became an All-Star under him.
Best of all was Zach Britton. Before Wallace’s arrival, Britton was a failed major league starter who felt he was micromanaged.
Britton was out of options entering 2014, and the Orioles weren’t sure what to do with him.
They had disposed of Jim Johnson their incumbent closer in a salary dump weeks after Wallace took the job, and their run at Grant Balfour and other experienced closers failed.
The Orioles finally settled on Tommy Hunter as closer, but by mid-May, Hunter was moved out of that role, and Britton was moved in.
It was a masterstroke, and Britton’s career was made in large part because Wallace kept his instructions to a minimum.
Britton’s historic season may be rewarded with the Cy Young Award, and he’ll have Wallace to thank, as he did in a tweet after Thursday’s retirement announcement.
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