When the movie “Moneyball” came out last fall, Rick Peterson just smiled. He was not featured in the film, but his prints were all over the successful team that Billy Beane had built in Oakland, as the pitching coach of the Oakland A’s during that period of evolutionary thinking in baseball. While the film concentrated on the reclamation projects of players like Scott Hattieburg, it glossed over the fact that pitchers like Tim Hudson and Barry Zito were key to the long-term success of the franchise. Their fortunes, and those of many others, revolved around Peterson’s pitching philosophy that combines analytics and athletic ability.
The New Jersey resident also took that philosophy on to the New York Mets and then the Milwaukee Brewers, helping resurrect downtrodden pitching staffs and reviving franchises. Now after a year studying the game from a different angle, as an advisor to his own development company, 3P Sports and to Bloomberg on their baseball analytic products for fans, teams and players, Peterson is back on the diamond, in the new position of Director of Pitching Development for general manager Dan Duquette with the Baltimore Orioles. He will not have the traditional role of pitching coach; rather he will work throughout the organization to build a system that will link all levels of development together for the team and their prospects, as well as being involved with scouting. It is a new approach to building a system that Baltimore hopes will see rewards not just for today but for years into the future as the Orioles continue to claw their way back to the top of baseball under Duquette and Manager Buck Showalter.
Never one at a loss for words, we asked Peterson about the Orioles, the business of baseball, and what’s new on the diamond in 2012.
You have always been an advocate of the unconventional, combining the mental aspects of pitching with the physical. How important is that in today’s high salaried environment?
There is a saying I use, ‘In God We Trust, Everyone Else Must Use Data,’ and I think it is truer today than ever. The tools that are available to help prevent injuries and build an effective system for our players are like nothing that has been around before, and taking advantage of those tools is essential for success on the field today. It is silly not to use all the tools available with the amount of dollars that are invested in talent.
The Orioles have struggled in recent years; do you see that commitment from a business perspective?
Absolutely. From Mr. Angelos through what Dan is doing to the philosophy that Buck brings to the team, there is a commitment to get this turned around not just at the top, but throughout the organization, and that’s what I’m proud to be a part of. It is very exciting to be with an organization with such a history and such passionate fans and hopefully be a part of that turnaround.
Is it something that happens this year?
That’s hard to say. The team is making strides and you see the commitment, and it is my job to build that pitching system, using analytics and mechanics, from top to bottom. We are investing in our coaches and our players to have a consistent philosophy that doesn’t just win for a year, it wins over a long period. That’s what fans want, and that’s what we want to do.
How is this position different from everywhere else you have been?
It is totally different in its approach. With the support of Dan and Buck, we have brought in the American Sports Medicine Institute, spearheaded by Dr. James Andrews, to help us evaluate the mechanics of all our pitchers in the organization. By working with ASMI, we are creating a great footprint from which to build our programs from. 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.
Are there a lot of parallels from an organization standpoint between the Orioles and when you started with teams like the A’s and the Mets?
Yes, there are lots, but the biggest difference is I’m really here to help develop the vision for the entire organization, not just the major league roster. However, all of the stops have been with teams that were rebuilding. The great thing about being with the Orioles is that I can draw upon past experience as to what works and what didn’t and can apply those best practices to what we are doing here. We have a culture that has been created here now to optimize performance and build through the organization, and that’s what I’m here to do. We need to build from within and I believe that is the way to go to be successful.
How did you year away from the field help you as a professional in the baseball world?
It gave me the opportunity, whether it was working with Bloomberg Sports or with media opportunities, to look at and talk to so many more players and coaches than I would have if I was with one team. I got to really see the benefits of analytics combined with performance and learned a great deal about what works for elite pitchers and what doesn’t. Analytics are key to success in every organization now. You can’t be successful today without combining data with mechanics and I’m very pleased everyone here feels the same way and I think most MLB clubs, as well as those in other sports, are starting to really see it that way.
Any predictions for 2012?
I think you will see the adaptation of technology, whether it is in a tablet or mobile app, become more prevalent for players and coaches. Make no mistake this is still a mental and an emotional business and you can’t make predictions just based on data, but players are becoming savvier with technology and are finding ways to use the tools at hand to improve their performance and that’s very exciting. We will apply those principals throughout the Orioles organization and it will make us better as a brand. Then it’s up to the players to execute, but I’m very encouraged and excited about what the future holds for the sport and its fans.