Article Written by Craig Borden (@Craigers1221)
I assume that I am not the only one that has noticed this, but somehow Pete Walker is still the pitching coach of the Toronto Blue Jays. First, I want to say I have no issue with Pete Walker and I think he has served well as the Blue Jays’ pitching coach over the years. I am just shocked that he is still locked in this position for a number of reasons. We will discuss those reasons in depth during this article.
Just to fill in the history on Pete Walker, he was a Blue Jays’ pitcher for a number of years but a shoulder injury more or less ended his pitching career. Since, he has been a Minor League pitching coach with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in which he helped them win the Eastern League Championship and continued that roll in Toronto since the end of the 2012 season. Walker has been known for helping keep the pitcher's ERA to a minimum over his tenure. The Jays’ team ERA has not eclipsed 4.85 and that was over this past season with 14 different starters.
With Walker having a nice pedigree and clear skill for working with younger pitchers, I can definitely understand why new Blue Jays' manager, Charlie Montoyo, was interested in keeping him. Especially when most of the troubles this past season were due to the number of different pitchers and generally bad arms that were filling up innings. It did appear that things were going better once the youngsters began to come up in the late months of the season. Ryan Borucki and others really helped eat up innings at the end of the season.
Now let us address the confusion on why we are amazed that Walker has a job still. First, I am shocked that a team that is pushing for the future and new baseball ideas is even interested. Atkins and Shapiro have made it abundantly clear that part of the reason they wanted to move on from John Gibbons was the fact they wanted to get someone more metric focused in the dugout; hence, why Montoyo has been brought in. One would have guessed that with Walker being one of Gibbons’ go-to guys that he fit the “Old School Baseball” mold. I for one have zero idea about Walker’s baseball views, but this seemed to be one of those guilty by association ideas more than anything.
It is also amazing that Walker is still here given the terrible performance of the team over the past few seasons. The Blue Jays have gone from an 80+ win team from 2014 - 2016 to a sub 80 win team rather quickly. Yes, there are many contributing factors in that equation, but the pitching staff saw their average runs allowed per game increase an entire run in two seasons. Most of that once again can be attributed to the quality of arms eating up the main bulk of the innings, but it is the pitching coach's job to ensure all pitchers are performing to the lofty expectation that the front office led Blue Jays fans to over the past few years.
How has the handling of Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman not landed on Walker’s lap? It has been no secret that Sanchez and Stroman have had a rough two years. Both of them have struggled to stay healthy and have had major issues with consistency as well. Part of a pitching coach’s job is to look for possible hitches or mechanical issues with his pitchers. With the pair having so many issues with health and consistency, one would jump to delivery issues possibly causing some of these issues. This pair was supposed to be a big part of any possible Blue Jays success and they could not even stay on the field.'
While we are talking about mishandling of arms, I think we need to bring up Joe Biagini. Biagini has been flip-flopped between the pen and rotation more times than my 8-year old daughter changes her mind on her outfit. The Blue Jays have more or less ruined Biagini over the past couple of years after having a stellar debut in the bullpen during the 2016 season. After a season in which he had 67.2 innings with a 3.06 ERA out of the pen, they tossed him into the rotation. After a few starts, fans began to cringe when he took the mound. This was well justified as he would close out the 2017 season with a 6.00 ERA in 119.2 innings. This should have squashed the idea of Biagini as a starter, but for whatever reason, he came out to pitch 4 more starts in 2018 and had plenty of them with the Bisons in Triple-A. Walker had to be a part of this conversation and that should have been seen as a flag to the Jays’ Brass. Biagini needs to prove himself to this new management team this spring, or should be out of a job. Should his pitching coach be gone as well?
Is Walker still lingering to possibly bring J.A. Happ back? It is no secret that the Blue Jays would like to bring back Happ, but after an incredible season and success in the Bronx, is he out of the Jays’ market? The Blue Jays might have to play the right cards to get Happ to come to a team that is not a clear-cut competitor for the 2019 season. The Blue Jays could be playing off the fact that Happ really enjoyed his time in Toronto and reuniting with a friend and good coach like Pete Walker could be the icing on the cake. For now, this could be a reason why no official notice has been said on Walker from Montoyo.
The Blue Jays have chosen to keep Pete Walker for the time being and there are plenty of good reasons to do so. He is good with young talent and has been able to build winning staffs with minimal talent on paper to start the season. For every good reason to keep Walker, there just happens to be an argument against it. That being said, I am still shocked that he is around and would not be surprised if he is on a short leash with an entirely new management core in the dugout. Winning cures all issues, but over the past two seasons, the Blue Jays have not been winning and Walker could share part of that blame.
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