Rox new pitching coordinator gets to work

February 10th, 2021

DENVER -- Flint Wallace is in the early stages of adding his touch to the approaches of the Rockies’ Major League and Minor League pitchers -- in a socially distant manner, of course.

The Rockies hired Wallace, 46, as coordinator of pitching strategies. He was most recently player development director at the highly regarded Texas Baseball Ranch operation that works with players across all levels. Wallace replaces Steve Merriman, who recently accepted the pitching coach job at the University of Michigan -- his fourth stint on the Wolverines’ staff.

Wallace will split his time in the Majors and Minors. He’ll help Major League pitchers with strategic approaches. Throughout the system, Wallace is in charge of developing individualized programs that include not only strategy and mechanics, but training and preparation.

The COVID-19 pandemic presents an immediate challenge. In a normal offseason, Wallace and many staff members would already be hosting sessions in the Rockies’ "pitching lab" -- mounds at the Spring Training complex that are equipped with the latest technology to produce detailed data in real time.

“I’m extremely excited to be working with the Rockies -- a fantastic organization, and everybody I’ve dealt with has been first-class, from the GM to the players,” Wallace said Tuesday. “I’ve been getting in touch and getting to know all the coaches, and touching base with players through Zoom calls, putting faces with the names.”

Wallace’s hiring continues a process that the Rockies began quietly in the Minors, then accelerated last season with the promotion of Merriman to a position that combined coaching and the use of the advanced tools. Despite the 26-34 record, advanced numbers showed clear improvement by starting pitchers.

Lefty ’s increased use of his changeup (12.5% in 2019, 25.3% in ’20, per Statcast) was a major factor in him increasing his ERA+ from 77 to 122 (100 is considered MLB average). MLB Quality of Pitch also shows that Freeland’s change and curve each went from below average to above.

According to MLB Quality of Pitch, the quality of righty ’s changeup went from the bottom 36% among Major League pitchers in 2019 to the top 18% in ’20. Senzatela’s changeup location went from the bottom 34% to the top 5%. And Senzatela lowered his ERA from 6.71 in ’19 to 3.44 in ’20.

Right-hander , who posted a 3.75 ERA and a 140 ERA+, tried to reverse a reluctance to throw elevated fastballs to the arm side as the year progressed. The Rockies believe that area -- especially up and in against right-handed batters -- could increase the pitches that are most effective: fastballs and sliders to the glove side.

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There are plenty of areas that need improvement. One is the health of righty , whose season ended after eight starts that were compromised by a shoulder issue. Another is the consistency of relievers, whose opportunity to make adjustments based on the information was lessened by the shortened season. Interpreting and teaching the data will be important in all those cases.

Wallace, who with other instructors at the Texas Baseball Ranch helped develop and interpret some of the data science that is ubiquitous in the game today, said of the Rockies’ data operation: “The ground floor has been laid -- even taller than the ground floor.”

They’ll try to turn that information into 2021 production.

Just as big for Wallace will be developing the pitcher, each with his own needs and benchmarks. Two of the top 10 Rockies prospects, according to MLB Pipeline, are pitchers -- 2018 top pick Ryan Rolison (No. 2) and 2020 second-rounder Chris McMahon (No. 8). The Rockies believe in the talent level of pitchers not receiving industry buzz, such as lefty Helcris Olivarez (No. 16), who was placed on the 40-man roster this year.

Wallace, who pitched in the Athletics organization from 1996-98 and for independent Fort Worth in 2001, comes with high marks for being able to make details digestible.

“He can really explain the science of pitching in a real way that has pretty profound impact on pitchers and other pitching coaches,” said Zach Wilson, the Rockies’ assistant general manager of player development. “When you combine his personality, his experience and his base of knowledge, he made a perfect fit for us.”

As head coach at Weatherford (Texas) High School from 1999-2006, he coached Yankees reliever Zack Britton and former Padres and Blue Jays pitcher Colt Hynes, now the Dodgers’ rehab coordinator. As pitching coach at Weatherford College from 2008-14, Wallace worked with current Reds righty Tejay Antone. Wallace also worked with Barry Zito, who trained at Texas Baseball Ranch while making his 2015 comeback with Oakland.

Wallace also honed his instruction skills at Velocity Plus Baseball, a training center he owned and operated in 2007-08, and at the Texas Baseball Ranch.

“I’ve worked with everyone from guys in Little League to guys in the big leagues, so you develop your coaching style to meet the player where he is -- different levels for every players,” Wallace said.

“This role requires a total understanding of pitching,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “With that, it’s the physical preparation, the mental preparation, the ability to communicate and understand individual pitchers. He’s just so well-rounded.”