DENVER -- After 52 years in pro baseball as a pitcher, coach and front office official, Mark Wiley has plans to retire as the Rockies’ director of pitching operations. Wiley had three stints with the club, and during the latest one, the Rockies pierced the notion that it’s impossible to pitch at altitude.
Wiley, 73, was the pitching coach for Cleveland teams that went to the World Series in 1995 and 1997. But some of his favorite career accomplishments came during three stints with Colorado, with solid team performances coming each time.
Wiley was player personnel director when the Rockies went 82-80 in 2000, served as a front-office assistant when the team saw young pitching develop in 2006 and went to the World Series in 2007.
After the Rockies experimented during an injury-filled 2012 with a “piggyback rotation” of eight pitchers paired in a four-man rotation (ill-fated then, but now seen as ahead of its time), then-general manager Dan O’Dowd created the pitching director position. Wiley revamped the scouting, coaching and evaluation of pitchers.
The process started with yearly “pitching summit” meetings, out of which grew a manual that is often updated. Starting with the drafting of right-hander Jon Gray third overall in 2013, the club has emphasized starting pitching. The program eventually led to postseason trips in '17 and '18 -- with the team managed by Bud Black, who pitched for Cleveland in '95 with Wiley as his pitching coach.
The Rockies also have seen a fourth-place Cy Young Award finish for Kyle Freeland in ’18 and an All-Star Game trip for Germán Márquez in ’21. The team’s starters logged the third-most innings (3,813 2/3) in the National League since 2017.
“A lot of people said that you can never pitch in Colorado, that it was like a lost cause,” said Wiley, who pitched in the Majors for the Twins, Padres and Blue Jays, and was a Major League pitching coach with the Orioles (1987, 2001-2004), Cleveland (1988-91 and 1995-98), the Royals (1999) and the Marlins (2005, 2008-09). “So, I was like, 'It’s near the end of my career. It’s a good challenge. I’d like to be part of it, set some standards for the development system.'
“We set some standards for our development system and for our pitchers -- we have to have tough guys, so we drafted them, we signed them, and we developed them.”
Some teams have gone away from the role of the traditional starter, with bullpen types pitching an increased number of innings. But Wiley, having experienced the frequency of wild Coors Field games or series that can wreck such intricate plans, brought an old-school emphasis on demanding depth from starters -- but also delved into incorporating advanced information into coaching.
“He got the organization in a good place in a lot of areas on the pitching side, from some basic principles of pitching within the delivery, within the attitude of being aggressive,” Black said. “He always has an eye on mechanics and delivery but Mark was always great mentally.
“I think when Steve Foster got here as pitching coach, the two of them, led by Mark, got the organization, the pitching coaches and ultimately the pitchers in the frame of mind that Major League pitchers need to be in -- especially in Denver.”
Rockies general manager Bill Schmidt, who was a scout for Cleveland during Wiley’s tenure there and came to the Rockies with O’Dowd and Wiley after the 1999 season, said Wiley was well-rounded as a coach and club official.
“Mark touched a lot of people in a lot of different areas on the baseball side,” Schmidt said. “Not only in player development but Major League scouting, pro scouting, amateur scouting. That was the job, to get everybody on the same page.”
O’Dowd, who worked with Wiley early in their careers with the Orioles -- “He was a groomsman in my wedding,” O’Dowd said -- called Wiley back to the club as sort of a “defensive coordinator of pitching” when the Rockies were at an ebb. The direction eventually changed.
“Mark is a pitching savant -- there really was no other candidate, and it was good timing at that point in his career,” O’Dowd said. “Now all organizations have gone to that model -- they have a director of pitching analytics and a director of pitching.”
Wiley will work through the end of the year and says he will be available for consultation as Schmidt fills the role, and continues a promised build-up of the organization.