Last year at this time, Rick Peterson was getting ready to take a trip to Italy, not the place where one of pitching’s most innovative minds usually spend March. It was just the second time in more than 35 years that Peterson had been away from a baseball diamond for any substantial stretch of time. This year, although not back in a major league clubhouse full-time, the New Jersey resident is back in the game, with one of the most challenging and intriguing roles he has ever had, as director of pitching operations for the Baltimore Orioles under new General Manager Dan Duquette.
“It’s a great challenge to help Dan and Buck sculpt this vision of pitching form and analytics from the ground up, and I’m loving what is going to be a very interesting challenge for me at this stage of my career,” he recently said from spring training, where he is helping put in a new system-wide approach to pitching for the O’s.
Now startups in baseball are not strange to Peterson; he arrived both in Oakland and New York to organizations much in need of a pitching makeover, and his success in turning around the staffs of both the “Moneyball” A’s and then the Mets are well documented. His work also left its mark in Milwaukee, where two years ago he helped implement a system that has made John Axford into the closer that he is today for the Brewers. Still, the man who had had all that success did not have a Major League home last year, so Peterson spent the time with some off field pursuits, and continued to work in baseball with his company 3P Sports, as well as with Bloomberg Sports helping that company expand its position in the baseball analytic field as a consultant. The result of the year off the field was phenomenal in his growth in understanding the game.
“I had a rare perspective last year to look at pitching and mechanics and analytics as a whole due to my work with Bloomberg,” he said. “That work gave me the ability really for the first time in my career as a coach to look at many pitchers and what they were doing, and as a result I was able to stand back, improve on the ideas I had learned over the years, and now apply that to this brand new role with the Orioles.”
His organizational role with the Orioles will bring him to every level of the organization, implementing a plan that will develop and cultivate pitchers with a system of bio-mechanics and data that will complement all the physical tools young pitchers have. The first step is in spring training, where the Orioles have also brought in Dr. James Andrews and his team from the American Sports Medicine Institute to help us evaluate the mechanics of all the pitchers in the organization.
“By working with ASMI, we are creating a great footprint from which to build our programs,” he added. “It is the first time anyone is using this approach across the organization from such an early stage, so it is exciting and we think it will really give us a leg up on evaluation of all our pitchers and prospects going forward.”
That consistent approach is what Peterson thinks will help turn the fortunes of the young pitchers in the system, and it is one which will be brought and positioned with coaching staffs at every level.
“We will work with the coaches to make sure they understand and give their input into the program, and we think as it becomes successful, is one that will be replicated elsewhere,” Peterson said. “It is great that everyone from Mr. Angelos on down has bought into the system, and that we have people like Jim and Buck to let us establish the program.”
As far as the day-to-day goes in his new role, Peterson said he will be on the road evaluating pitching talent and prospects more than spending time in Baltimore.
“My role is to help in any way, and that really starts with the young guys we have in the system and the coaches working with them,” he said. “If there is a specific need for me to be in Baltimore that’s great, but my real role is in developing and implementing what will make us successful for the long run, that is what makes this such an exciting challenge.”
That challenge will of course also lie in how well Baltimore will be able to grow on the Major League level, in one of the deepest divisions in baseball. However, even with those challenges, Peterson, a baseball lifer, is glad to be back in and around the game full-time.
“Last year I got to go to Italy and the Caribbean and do some things with analytics I never had the chance to do, but this is my life and where I want to be, and where I think I can help make a difference,” he added. “Heck, I have come full circle since the Orioles drafted me in high school -- it took me over 30 years to finally get here!”
Hopefully the journey back is a fruitful one for Peterson and the Orioles organization.