I have to admit that I was a bit surprised when the Orioles named Dave Wallace their new pitching coach Tuesday. And it’s not because Wallace isn’t exceptionally qualified — he is. He has held the position for four other organizations and was part of a World Series-champion staff in Boston in 2004 when he was the Red Sox pitching coach.
And it’s not because he’s 66. Orioles manager Buck Showalter, 57, had a great line last night about age.
“Heck, I’m an old you-know-what,” Showalter said. “And if anybody wants to match up with the energy level and the want-to part of Dave or I, just bring it on.”
No, the reason I didn’t think Wallace would be the winner from an impressive pool of candidates — Seattle Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis, Philadelphia Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee and Texas Rangers bullpen coach Andy Hawkins, among others — is that people who know Wallace didn’t think he ultimately would take the job.
They told me Wallace, who has the reputation of being an excellent teacher, seemed content as the Atlanta Braves' minor league pitching coordinator. He was already working with an impressive group of young pitchers. He was viewed as an important cog in the revitalization of that pitching staff. And, though that job is demanding, it doesn’t have the same travel and pressure demands of a big league pitching coach. Plus, Wallace didn’t exactly need to test himself; it’s not as if he’d never done the job before.
Wallace acknowledged Tuesday that “it’s been a tough couple days.” But ultimately, he said, “those of us that have been on the field in a game and have the burning desire to compete, when you get a chance to do that on a stage like Baltimore, I just don’t think you pass it up.”
“As a teacher, it’s kind of tough sometimes to walk away from those students," Wallace said of leaving Atlanta. "But you are also proud because you’ve had somewhat of an influence on what they’ve been able to accomplish in the last few years.”
As for his style and what he expects to do with the Orioles staff, Wallace said he knows of the pitching staff’s talent, but he doesn’t know the players individually. He said he expects to contact them during the offseason and begin forging relationships, and he expects to tweak his approach to each pitcher individually.
“I hope over the course of the winter to touch base with all the guys and introduce myself and get their take on what's going on and let them know what they can expect,” he said. “Part of the challenge and the fun moving forward is figuring out how these guys go about their business, and how to push buttons. That's the intriguing and fun part.”
* The other big news from Tuesday is that the Orioles picked up three Rawlings Gold Glove Awards for the second consecutive year, the first time an American League club has accomplished that since the 2002-2003 Seattle Mariners.
J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones won for the second consecutive season, but it was a first for 21-year-old third baseman Manny Machado.
Machado becomes the first Orioles third baseman since Brooks Robinson to win a Gold Glove (1975). That year marked the 16th consecutive and final Gold Glove Award for Robinson, who was 23 when he won his first, in 1960.
So does Machado have 15 more amazing defensive seasons left in him to rival Robinson, who holds the major league record for Gold Gloves by a position player?
“I sure hope so,” Machado said, laughing. “But, I mean, you are talking about Brooks, one of the best players that ever played. And to be in the same category as him and be on the same team he played for, that makes it so much better and special.”
* It might have surprised some that Matt Wieters, who won the past two AL Gold Gloves for catcher, lost this time around to Kansas City Royals backstop Salvador Perez.
Showalter said Tuesday that he was disappointed Wieters didn’t win.
“Matt Wieters, my gosh, I don’t know what else you’ve got to do. He was just solid,” Showalter said. “He caught more, started more games than anybody else. I wonder if they figured that into it.”
Wieters started 134 games behind the plate, to 126 for Perez. Wieters allowed two more passed balls (five to three) but had four fewer errors (three to seven). And both threw out 35 percent of would-be base runners. Perez did much better in advanced defensive metrics, however, such as runs saved above average. Perez was at zero, Wieters at minus-13.
When it comes to evaluating defense, I don’t fully buy into the advanced metrics. Frankly, there are just so many variables, especially with catchers. But I know this: Wieters and Perez are both outstanding defensive backstops.
I asked Wieters this year which American League opponents he most enjoyed watching behind the plate. His first answer was Perez.
* The Orioles may trail the New York Yankees in championships, 27 to three. But they now have the Bronx Bombers in Gold Gloves, 67 to 64.
With the three announced Tuesday, the Orioles now have the most Gold Gloves in the American League. (The award was started in 1957, three years after the modern-day Orioles started up in Baltimore.)
The Orioles are second in baseball to the National League’s St. Louis Cardinals, who have 84 Gold Gloves, according to Orioles public relations.