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Steve Merriman’s departure leaves a search for developmental answers

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Colorado Rockies news and links for Tuesday, January 5, 2020

Steve Merriman is reportedly on his way out as a Rockies minor league pitching coordinator. He has accepted the pitching coach job with the University of Michigan, and the Rockies are now left without a key source for pitching development.

Merriman was the pitching coach in Double-A Hartford in 2019. At the conclusion of that season, Darryl Scott was promoted from minor league pitching coordinator to the Rockies’ bullpen coach. Merriman filled his coordinator spot and wasted no time in implementing technology for pitching development purposes. The Rockies were his fifth big league employer (Tigers, Mets, Diamondbacks, Cubs), and it was his early coaching days with the University of Michigan that led him “fascinated by the potential of technology in baseball.” His data implements were chronicled by Purple Row’s own Renee Dechert last February.

Thomas Harding wrote in February about Merriman’s impact on the Rockies’ ‘pitching lab’ at Salt River Fields. It could have easily helped Kyle Freeland get back to form after a tough 2019.

The Michigan Wolverines are stocked with such technology and development. Chris Fetter was their pitching coach until November when A.J. Hinch and the Detroit Tigers gave him the pitching coach reins. (Once again: a Division I pitching coach making the immediate jump to the big leagues.) Michigan’s pitching routines were innovative and productive under Fetter’s watch, and the pitching staff performance was documented through a 2019 run that led them out of an NCAA regional at Oregon State, a super regional against top-seeded UCLA, and to a runner-up finish in the College World Series where they lost to eventual champion Vanderbilt. The Rockies picked up one of their starters, Karl Kauffman, with a second-round pick in 2019.

The Wolverines are taking a front seat with their pitching coach replacement, as Merriman takes over with ample experience. He held their pitching coach job twice before—2002 and 2012—and one can assume that in taking the position again, he’s eager to step back into familiar territory.

What about the old territory with the Rockies?

Did Merriman leave because he liked Michigan so much, or did his departure have something to do with Colorado? The Rockies are not pumping prospects into their system like the Rays by any means, and it is understandable why a minor league coordinator would want to work with top talent. If player development is the coordinator’s forte, however, why should top talent matter? It appears it doesn’t to Merriman as he navigates out of pro ball and into the college ranks.

We are then left to wonder why else he may have left Colorado. We can take it a step further and wonder if any parallels can be drawn to the Rockies’ analytics team exodus from a few weeks ago. We can’t assume why these people are leaving, but we can speculate. If Colorado truly lacks a technological and analytical presence, the key proponents of it within the organization are unable to do what they want.

Fortunately for the Rockies, the pitching lab at Salt River Fields should still be intact. Thomas Harding included a quote from Zach Wilson, the Rockies’ assistant GM of player development, in a February article: “One of the many reasons we wanted to add Steve to our organization is because he has a pitching curiosity about him and he’s got a desire to be a lifelong learner.” We can only hope a replacement for Merriman has similar qualities.

As for now: congratulations to Steve Merriman for taking a premier, tech-savvy collegiate position with a program he clearly enjoys. He can develop young arms with the technological capabilities of a program that can pump out professional arms and big league pitching coaches. Chris Fetter was good enough for the Detroit Tigers; Merriman will undoubtedly be good enough for the Wolverines.

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Re-Projecting the 2021 San Diego Padres | FanGraphs

Dan Szymborski of FanGraphs had to reset his initial Padres’ ZiPS projection after the Blake Snell and Yu Darvish trades. A full breakdown on the Rockies’ projection can be found here.

Best Rockies seasons at each position | MLB.com

Thomas Harding puts together a list of the best single-season performances by the Rockies at each position, ranging from Ellis Burks (1996) to Nolan Arenado (2019).

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