When Chris Tillman pitched that great game in Seattle, we later learned that Orioles director of pitching development Rick Peterson had worked with Tillman in Norfolk in mid-May, which helped lead to some of Tillman’s improvements this year.
Peterson brought biomechanical analysis to the Orioles when he was hired in January and many of the organization’s pitchers took part in that during spring training. After a pitcher’s specific delivery gets analyzed by those at the American Sports Medicine Institute lab in Birmingham, Ala., Peterson can use the findings to suggest changes and upgrades each pitcher can make to his game.
Some of the changes he worked on with Tillman seemed to lead to Tillman’s improved velocity and command that culminated with an outstanding performance against the Mariners.
I recently had a lengthy interview with the Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, to talk about this use of biomechanical analysis and Peterson’s role with the organization’s pitchers moving forward. Here are my questions and the answers he gave on that topic.
After having, what was at least initial success with Tillman, has Peterson worked yet with Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz?
“We have to get our pitching organized for the second half if we are going to advance in the pennant race. We’ve had three starters falter from our team and the quality of their work was not up to major league standards. We may have a quality starting pitcher in Chris Tillman.
“He improved his game in every area. He had a more efficient delivery. He had better quality pitches. He had better depth to his breaking ball and more velocity with his fastball.
“The systematic approach that Rick Peterson brings to the organization is the result of many years of study of the efficiency of pitcher’s delivery. One of the biggest challenges teams have is keeping their starting pitchers healthy. He helps the pitchers simplify their deliveries so they can repeat it. That pitching program was implemented throughout the organization.
“He’ll have an opportunity now to work with Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter and Jake Arrieta. They all had their deliveries broken down on a video format from the work we did with the ASMI lab in spring training.
“Peterson’s approach is a drill-based approach. Based upon what they have to correct in their delivery, he has a different drill or set of drills to help them establish consistency. This will be helpful for the club over the long haul.”
So do you think Peterson’s work had a profound impact on Tillman?
“Well, Tillman deserves a lot of credit, too. Chris Tillman accessed all the resources in the organization to help improve his skills. He went out to California to get himself in shape and the quality of the year you have many times depends upon the amount of work you did in the offseason.
“He also diligently worked on his drills through the leadership of Peterson and the guidance of (pitching coach) Mike Griffin at Triple-A to address ways to make his delivery more efficient. This type of structured pitching program is designed to get results, right?”
So Peterson has not yet had the level of meeting with Arrieta and Matusz that he had with Tillman?
“That’s correct. So he’ll have an opportunity to do that now.”
Why has he not worked with those guys yet?
“Because the major league pitching coach is working with them.”
Not pointing any fingers here, but haven’t some of those young pitchers struggled under the big league coach?
“You know what the goal of all coaching is? To teach the players to be their own coach. That is the goal. That is really what it’s all about. It’s not the coaches that are going out there and doing the work. The players have the opportunity to access a lot of resources to help their career.
“You talk to any pitching coach and ask what the most important skill is and they will tell you command of the fastball. That comes from having a consistent, repeatable delivery.
“This is an ongoing process. (Orioles pitching coach) Rick Adair has worked very effectively with the veteran pitchers that have come to the organization. Notably (Wei-Yin) Chen and (Jason) Hammel. They’ve done very well. These younger guys haven’t gotten the same type of results.”
So is any criticism of Adair valid based on the struggles of the young pitchers?
“I’m not criticizing anybody’s work to help the players because we are all working for the same thing. A lot of the foundation for pitching skills in the major leagues needs to be done in the minors. But lesson one is a consistent delivery, and you know what lesson two is? It’s a changeup. They are basic fundamental skills to be a major league pitcher.”
Moving forward, do you think Peterson needs to have a bigger role with the major league staff?
“I think that the fundamental building block of a good organizational program will have a positive long-term effect on the major league pitching staff. In other words, if we train these pitchers properly in the minors, we are not going to be in a position where we send them up and down, up and down. They’ll have the proper skills to establish themselves as major league pitchers.
“I guarantee you we are going to see less of this. We are not going to have a pitching staff where we have three starters going up and down. Not when we build a pitching staff properly.”
By the way, if this article comes off appearing to blame Adair for the struggles of the young pitchers, that is not the intention. There have been many pitching coaches, on the major and minor league levels, that have worked with pitchers like Arrieta and Matusz. Plus, the pitchers themselves are the ones performing or not performing well, as we have seen and a lot of this falls on them.
You simply cannot pin their struggles on any one person and Adair has had success with Hammel and Chen, as Duquette pointed out. But if Peterson had success with Tillman, anyone would wonder if he can do that with others and how many of them has he worked with or will he work with.
These were some questions worth asking Duquette about and that is what this article is about.