Ryan Klimek is the pitching strategy coach for the Orioles. He’s also an alumnus of Sports Info Solutions having previously worked for us in 2014. Ryan is highly unusual in that he never played the sport at the college or professional level (he’s a graduate of SUNY-Geneseo). On The Sports Info Solutions Baseball Podcast, Mark Simon got to talk to Ryan about his background and what he does for the Orioles.
You can hear the full interview here or below. The written interview has been edited both for length and so that it makes sense.
Mark: Where did the passion for baseball and pitching strategy come from?
Ryan: My dad played at Ithaca College. my brother went to St. Bonaventure and was drafted by the Orioles in 2015. Those two got more of the talent gene than I did. I had the fandom they did. Our childhood was spent visiting ballparks near Rochester: Toronto, Cleveland, Pittsburgh.
Once I got into college, I majored in math, initially wanted to be a math teacher. But I decided that there was another side of baseball that I’m really interested in, the analytical side.
Pitching strategy was by chance. When Brandon Hyde got brought on as manager, we divided the advance scouting department into run creation and run prevention. It just happened that I was on the run prevention side, so my energy and passion took me in this direction.
Mark: Your baseball playing career ended early, right?
Ryan: Yeah, I played through high school varsity baseball, messed around with some fall ball at Keuka College but I was a more talented basketball player than baseball player. So I never played professionally but I’ve been lucky to find an avenue that has fit me really well.
Mark: You worked for SIS in 2014, worked for other teams in the minor leagues, the Mariners and Angels. What were some of the things you took away from those jobs that got you to where you are now?
Ryan: I really did not have a ton on my resume that could support me getting a job with a major league baseball team. So I saw SIS was looking for Video Scouts. It was a great fit. It helped me get my feet in the door for the data and science behind the game. I watched a ton of baseball, multiple games every day. One of the biggest benefits for me was that I was able to just acquaint myself with players that maybe I wouldn’t watch when I was sitting at home.
Mark: What did you get out of working with the Mariners and the Angels?
Ryan: I was with the Mariners in 2015 as a Double-A video intern. That was just drinking water out of a fire hydrant. The exposure to professional players and the process. and what goes into it every single day in the clubhouse was really eye opening.
After the Mariners internship had ended, I was able to go to the Angels and work in the front office there and contribute on the advance scouting side as well as the amateur draft, sitting in on those meetings. That’s a really cool two years where I was able to expose myself to all different avenues of baseball operations player development, amateur scouting, advance scouting, So it was just really just a lot of learning and taking it all in.
Mark: You’ve been with the Orioles since 2017, which means that you’ve not only seen the best of times, which happened this past year, and we’ll certainly talk about that, but you’ve seen the worst of times too. In 2018, 2019, the team lost 115 and 108 games. But you had to have gotten something out of that because you stuck it out.
What did you get out of working those two years, with a team that struggled so much?
Ryan: In 2017, I was down in Sarasota for the year, got to see where it all starts for these guys on the way to Baltimore and then 2018, I was much closer to the major league product where I was in the clubhouse, my first year as an advance scout.
It was very eye opening to me to just be exposed to that side of the clubhouse, and the intensity of every single day. and yeah, our window had kind of closed, and it was tough. But at the same time, it was my first year where I was still learning so much.
And then once we hired Brandon Hyde and Mike Elias in 2019, the process changed significantly. and I couldn’t be more grateful to see this thing from the bottom to present day. and the work that Mike and Brandon have done with instituting analytics. Our advance process is very crisp and clean right now.
Those years were painful, but at the same time, it gave us some opportunity to try some new things and take our time. And I think the results have kind of shown itself over the last two seasons.
Mark: Your current role is Major League pitching strategy coach. What does someone with that role do?
Ryan: From 2019 to 2021 and kind of into part of 2022, I was kind of your traditional advance scout where I do all the scouting reports on the opposing hitters. formulate the game plan, and then try to convey that to our pitchers pre-game, as simple as I could. In 2022, I moved into a new role, where they threw me in the dugout, and the real kind of reasoning behind it is that we do all this conversation and, preparation before the game, but then once we get into the game, I wasn’t there to be a reference.
So, It’s really kind of similar type of things that I was doing as an advance scout, but now I’m there for the players to rely on in game, when things pop up in the second time through the order or if they just have questions on certain hitters. I’m there for them to answer questions.
Mark: What are you working with? You’re working with data, you’re working with video, you’re working with heat maps, I would imagine. What are the different things at your disposal?
Ryan: Yeah, I think the analytics department does so much work for us and they make my job significantly easier than just relying on my thoughts and my brain and whatnot.
So, we’re in lockstep, all season and, and they provide tons of references for me to use. It helps keep things simple for both the pitchers and for the catchers, too, because they’re the ones that are putting down the signs, or nowadays, pressing the button. so I work with those guys all the time. I can’t speak highly enough of Daniel Martin and the work that he’s done, for us.
It’s important to be trusting the data that’s in front of you as the long-term picture of how we want to attack guys, but at the same time being able to use all those years of watching the opposing hitters and understanding the adjustments that they’ve made, and, and what they look like present day versus who they looked like two years ago or three years ago.
I kind of blend that all all into my head and come to a concise, simple way of relaying it to both the pitchers and the catchers.
Mark: So we had Adley Rutschman on the podcast last year and he spoke highly of you. He said you’re the voice of reason, which gets to what you’re talking about.
What’s an example of a conversation that you’re having with Adley Rutschman or James McCann and the pitching coaches, about a hitter?
Ryan: I try to keep it as simple as I can for Rutsch and McCann. These are two guys that I work with every single day, probably more than the pitchers, to be honest with you. and just try to keep it simple for them, because I know that those guys have a lot going through their head during the game. They’ve got to call the pitches and still play defense and still hit.
There may be certain guys that I just feel confident that we can spin a lot. I think at times there might be a human instinct to maybe deviate from a plan and whatnot, but it’s really trusting the work that we’ve done going into the game, identifying the weakness of the hitter and sticking to that plan, unless there’s a good reason to deviate.
Mark: How receptive were players to you when you first started essentially in a role like this?
Ryan: I never played in the big leagues or never played in the minor leagues.
That’s my background and it kind of is what it is and I acknowledge that there’s, there’s an experience part of the playing side that I’ll never be able to replace. But I’ve been in the clubhouse for quite a while now, since 2018. I think that as long as you come prepared and you’re knowledgeable, about the work that you’ve done, you’ll gain the respect and the attention of others. What I do is to just control what I can control. And that is to put in the effort every day and to know these teams and what our game plan is as well as I possibly can, and then over time, you gain trust with people.
So, that’s kind of where, where we are now, where I’m humbled and, and so grateful to, to be able to kind of have this role, with the lack of playing experience that I have, and be able to have these guys respect me and the work that I do and, and what I can bring to it.
Mark: Let’s use a pitcher as an example, and, you mentioned that you work more closely with the catchers, but when someone like Kyle Bradish pitches, when you’re game planning for him, and you’re trying to create something, and you’re looking at the opposing lineup … he had an interesting season in that he wasn’t necessarily thought of as an ace-caliber pitcher at the start of the season, but by the end of the season, he had gotten pretty close to that level.
His usage changed 2022 to 2023, more sinkers, a number of things changed with how he pitched. How did your game plan for him evolve as you discovered things about how good he could be?
Ryan: We treat every pitcher differently because they are all different. So the, the main thing that we want to make sure of beyond getting too sophisticated or too in-depth with creating a game plan is that the pitchers are using their strengths in what they do well.
Towards the end of 2022, Kyle was messing around with the sinker a bit. and then we saw it get into the mix a bit more heavily in ‘23. It’s known that he can really spin it in two different ways. So sometimes it’s really just being able to recognize what these guys do really well and to Kyle’s credit, he was able to really kind of hone in on, on the command of both the two-seam and his breaking balls that it gave us options for how we want to use these pitches. and it gave him the confidence and conviction that he could have throwing them in certain counts and he might’ve been uncomfortable throwing them beforehand.
It’s important to understand what the pitcher does well and that we want to use that. We might turn some knobs here and there, depending on the hitter, of how many breaking balls he sees versus fastballs or changeups. But a lot of it was Kyle being able to really command those pitches and be comfortable using them in spots he might not have been ready to use them in his first season.
Mark: Is it kind of like you’re playing chess?
Ryan: A bit. I think that we are pretty scientific in the way that we do things. but at the same time, I do think that there’s a piece of it where it’s still a game and might have to make some adjustments as you gather more information. But that’s kind of the reason why I got into this.
I never imagined myself being in a major league dugout. That was never in my career plan when I left SIS, but, it’s been pretty unbelievable to see it play out in this form where I do feel like I’m using kind of the analytical side of my brain and the math background and, at the same time, still recognizing that it’s a game and being able to put all those years of watching video to use as well.
Mark: What’s your best ‘I was in the dugout’ story? Did someone run over you trying to get a foul ball?
Ryan: Sometimes those balls are hit so hard at the dugout that it’s terrifying.
Especially when I’m standing there with no glove or any protection, besides a piece of paper in my hand. I think that when those guys started to do ‘the sprinkler’ that became viral, that was pretty funny to be a part of or witness the first few times that it happened. It was a great celebration.
Even the implementation of the birdbath in the outfield, it really caught on, so That was cool to be a part of and see that happen the first time.
Mark: What advice do you have for someone pursuing a baseball career?
Ryan: Be prepared for the hours. I think that once you get into this game, you sacrifice a lot of things in life, missing weddings, tons of family events, summer holidays and things of that sort. If you’re going to commit, then fully commit and, be ready for it to take away from those types of things.
It’s not all glamour. You might see the major league clubhouse and the dugout and all that type of stuff, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Don’t get me wrong. But there’s plenty of days where it’s really long and then you got a rain delay and you don’t get back to the hotel until 2:30 a.m. Or you’ve got a flight somewhere else afterwards.
I think that the hours pay off. Just really be ready to grind and to listen. I’ve been so lucky to work with so many different people in this game that it’s just great to hear their experience, their perspective on things and, always be willing to listen and adapt.
Mark: What does a coach like you do during the winter?
Ryan: I fully support the Buffalo Bills, so I’m still reeling from that.
From the work side of things, it’s a lot of ad hoc stuff from the front office with certain tasks that they might provide me and might be looking into our guys and what maybe we could have done differently usage-wise last year. I might be taking a look at a free agent we think that we could do something different with.
But now as we get closer to spring training, kind of turning the attention, really focusing on our guys, our player plans, things that we want to institute this year, catching up with guys on what they’ve been working on in the offseason, and kind of starting to let the wheels turn in my head already about how we can use these weapons that guys have differently next year than maybe we did last year.
Mark: Thanks, Ryan.
Ryan: Thank you, Mark. I appreciate it.