The change in titles for Darren Holmes from Orioles bullpen coach to assistant pitching coach won’t distance him from the relievers. He’s going to have the same vantage point for games, with the same influence.
That’s good news to Cole Sulser, who said he benefited from his work with Holmes in 2020.
“It was great. It was a fantastic experience,” Sulser said this week.
“I think his wealth of knowledge with how many years he played in major bullpen roles was a great resource for all of us in the ‘pen. It was great to be able to bounce ideas off him. He’s a guy who’s not only coached, but been there and lived it for numerous years. And I think being able to go through those things - when I was going through a tough time or anyone else had an issue or even just wanted to talk about pitching philosophy or anything like that - he was a great guy to be able to bounce all those ideas off and really get some good advice from.”
The Orioles also changed Chris Holt’s title by expanding his responsibilities. While still the director of pitching, he also has replaced Doug Brocail as pitching coach and now will be in uniform and the dugout for games.
Holt was supposed to bounce between the majors and minors before the pandemic altered his course. He was busiest at the second version of spring training, moved from Sarasota, Fla., to Baltimore, and later the alternate site in Bowie.
“I did get to work with him more so probably at our summer camp than a ton during the regular season, but he was still able to be a part of everything. But definitely during summer camp got to work with him, and that was a great experience, as well,” Sulser said.
“I think his knowledge of the analytics side and the mechanics that kind of lead to some of those things, that was definitely a huge help.”
The Orioles moved into the technological age under the new regime, a late arrival to the analytics party. Data unearthed that used to be buried. High-speed video that’s become essential to an organization that was slow to accept it.
Holt’s knowledge, commitment to analytics and residency in the Astros organization made him a logical hire as minor league pitching coordinator and eventually pitching coach. And the staff has developed an appetite for what’s being fed to it.
“I think it’s very beneficial,” Sulser said. “Like anything, I think it’s a tool and sometimes, myself included, we can get a little too entrenched on trying to think it’s the end-all, be-all, but I think it’s a fantastic tool for being able to know where you’re at, or really to track improvements is where I found it most helpful.
“Being able to have that high-speed footage and different data on how the pitches are moving really allows you to go from a point where you’re not just really guessing. You can see tangible results, even if they’re minute. So that’s kind of what I thought was really nice about all that. And then definitely the analytics when it comes to opposing hitters and how we’re approaching them, I thought very helpful.
“It’s always nice feeling like you’ve got a good game plan and that our analytics department has done a good job with their homework and their research, and I feel like most guys felt very well-prepared going out there, feeling like they have the tools that they needed to succeed.”
Holt is beginning to notice less resistance to the ideas and methods.
“I think there’s a lot of people who are starting to understand that it’s more of a normal component of development now than perhaps before,” he said. “I think that the same way that we’ve always ... getting used to cell phones and getting used to the internet and kids going from looking at chalkboards in a classroom to looking at smartboards in a computer in a classroom. There’s just an adjustment period that everybody goes through when technology or information enters into the day-to-day.
“Misconceptions, I think, are still going to happen, but realistically players are the ones who are seeking these things out. It’s up to the coaches and the people in development to be able to meet the demand that the players need and how they’re best able to learn. In a lot of cases they’ve looked at this as like, this is being forced on players. I think players are really engaged with it and know how to adapt and know how to use it to their advantage.”
Major League Baseball hasn’t revealed roster sizes for the beginning of the 2021 season, whether teams again will be able to choose 30 players. Any sort of expansion allows for at least one extra reliever.
The Orioles surrendered valuable experience and production last summer by trading Richard Bleier, Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro. Sacrifices made in order to acquire more young talent in a rebuild.
“It was definitely a little bit of a makeover partway through the season, but I think everyone did a fantastic job stepping up,” Sulser said. “Some guys had absolutely fantastic seasons and threw so well, with Tanner Scott, Paul Fry and Travis Lakins. They really did a great job just stepping up and carrying the extra workload. So I think that was the really nice part, that those (traded) guys were definitely veterans and awesome leaders, but I felt like everyone did a really good job, that they took on larger roles and more of a workload after that happened and it didn’t falter and it didn’t change anything.
“They went out there, kept doing their thing and it really worked out well.”
MLB is taking its sweet time deciding on roster sizes, rules and the universal designated hitter. On whether spring training can operate on the schedule laid out months ago. On ... everything.
The Orioles were highly skilled in the protocol game. Big-time winners. From their insistence on keeping the Ed Smith Stadium complex closed to the implementation of tiers and a multitude of safety precautions at Camden Yards to the thorough cooperation of players and staff. The medical and athletic training teams were elite.
The club expectedly fell short, though not to the bottom of the American League East standings.
“It was definitely a different year,” Sulser said. “There was a lot to deal with, but it was a great experience. I had a great time pitching. There were some things I was happy with and I thought I did well on a personal side, and definitely some things I wish I would have done better.
“The big thing for me is I felt kind of inconsistent last season and I got away from what I usually did well. Normally I feel like I’m a guy who challenges hitters and I got away from that, so that was the big thing on the personal side. And from the team side I think we did a fantastic job trying to deal and roll with the punches with such an unprecedented season. How different it changed the day-to-day life in the locker room and coming to the field, and I just felt like everyone did a really good job with that, so that was the thing that really impressed me.”