Thursday, May 30

Sonny Gray on Evolving as a Pitcher

Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

Sonny Gray has been one among baseball’s greatest pitchers up to now this season. Over 5 begins, the Minnesota Twins right-hander has fanned 34 batters and allowed simply 20 hits and two runs in 29 innings. His ERA is a Lilliputian 0.62.

Gray is not any flash within the pan. Now 33 years outdated and in his eleventh massive league season, the Vanderbilt University product is a two-time All-Star with a 3.50 ERA and a 3.54 FIP over 252 profession appearances, all however 9 as a starter. Originally with the Oakland Athletics, he subsequently pitched for the New York Yankees and the Cincinnati Reds earlier than coming to the Twins Cities previous to final season.

How because the veteran hurler advanced through the years? Gray addressed that query when the Twins visited Fenway Park final week.


David Laurila: How have you ever advanced as a pitcher? Outside of being older, are you principally the identical man that broke into the large leagues in 2013?

Sonny Gray: “I’d say no. As far as pitch varieties, I nonetheless throw the identical curveball, that hasn’t modified, however all the pieces else has form of advanced and tailored.

“For the primary 4 to 5 years, it was form of, ‘Go out there and do it.’ At the time, 95–96 [mph] was plenty of velo, and you would simply beat guys with that. If you had any kind of breaking pitch, all the higher. So for these first 4 to 5 years, it was form of simply that. I threw a two-seam and a four-seam after which a curveball.

“Everyone would say that one of many causes my fastball was so onerous to hit is that they didn’t know which approach it was going to go. My four-seam tended to chop a little bit bit, and the two-seam would go the opposite approach. Then I acquired traded to New York [in July 2017]. That was the primary time I attempted to vary a little bit bit. I’d all the time lived down and away, backside of the zone, and now I used to be listening to, ‘Hey, throw your four-seam at the top of the zone.’ That was a little bit overseas to me. I attempted it, I did some issues, and didn’t have fast success with it.

“That’s the first time I was adapting. It was the first era of the spin stuff. It was new to everyone back then, and we were figuring out that spinning four-seams were good [pitches]. I don’t think everyone had it together that everyone’s four-seam is different. At the time, it was just ‘Spinning four-seams at the top are great.” My four-seam tends to chop a little bit bit, it doesn’t have that [ride], so whereas I had some success, general it didn’t go properly.”

Laurila: What occurred from there?

Gray: “I went to Cincinnati [in January 2019] and readapted. There it was ‘OK, there are different locations where you’re going to throw your pitches. This is where your pitches play the best and this is what you should do.’ It was ‘The four-seam up and away to righties isn’t necessarily a great pitch for you. The simple fact is, you’re not getting above the barrel.’ My four-seam is down and away to righties. My two-seam is at the hands. When I throw my four-seam up and out over the plate, it doesn’t have the 18 to 20 inches of carry. It has a little bit of ‘spinny.’ My hand is a little bit on the side, and it tends to cut and kind of flatten out. That’s not going to get it above a barrel, it’s going to get on a barrel.”

Laurila: You discovered this with the Reds.

Gray: “Yes, Cincinnati is really where I started learning. And they could really explain why. They basically taught me how to read a TrackMan and how to read a Rapsodo — what the numbers mean, the why this, and why that.”

Laurila: I’m stunned you didn’t get that in New York.

Gray: “They didn’t know at the time. Ask anybody who was there in ’17 and ’18. No one knew. The Astros were maybe the only team that really understood it. Everyone knew spin was good, but they didn’t realize that efficiency mattered on a fastball. The carry number… the carry matters on a fastball. Vertical approach angle matters on a fastball. Horizontal and vertical movement matters. At the time, it was just ‘If you can spin the ball fast, you want to throw it at the top, and then you want to throw the curveball.’ It was ‘Spin is what plays’ — they just didn’t know why. I was asking questions, and no-one knew super-why yet. This was across the league. Again, the exception was the Astros, and maybe the Dodgers, but you could tell that teams were getting very interested in it. They were trying to learn.”

Laurila: I imagine Kyle Boddy went to Cincinnati across the similar time you probably did?

Gray: “No. He went there after that. I really learned from Caleb Cotham.”

Laurila: Cotham was additionally at Driveline.

Gray: “Yes. All these authentic Driveline guys went out and had a greater understanding of, sure, spin, but in addition the effectivity and axis of the spin.

“When I got to Cincinnati… I was so far removed from Oakland. At this point, lefties had changed. Sinkers down and away wasn’t a pitch to lefties anymore. When I came up, two-seams down and away or even middle-down had lefties rolling it over and hitting ground balls to first. If you look at… I think it was in ’15 that I had 35 or 36 putouts at first base, which led the league. But hitters started to change. They started to get power the other way on the pitch low and away. They were driving it to center and to left-center as opposed to trying to turn on stuff. Four-seams up were starting to play, because hitters are doing this, their barrels are dropping, so now you can get above it. But I still wasn’t able to get above it, away. That’s because what I had was cut-ride; it wasn’t carry. Again, I started learning all of this in Cincinnati. They made it incredibly simple for me to understand what my pitches do and where to throw them.”

Laurila: Now you’re in Minnesota.

Gray: “Yes, and one other factor with New York is that it was additionally ‘Don’t throw any two-seams, we’re going to simply throw four-seams, curveballs, and sliders.’ In my head, I used to be like, ‘I’ve thrown two-seams actually my complete life.’ That and my curveball. What they needed simply didn’t play for me, both mentally or by way of outcomes.

“So I learned in Cincinnati and now I’m here. I’m still adapting, but more than anything I’m a little older and I completely understand myself. I know what the numbers mean and I know how my pitches play to get guys out. I’m throwing a changeup now, too. I’m still focusing on my strengths, but I’m also continually trying to add a little bit here and there. I’m currently throwing six pitches, and they’re all quality pitches, but a lot of it is still having a fastball that moves both ways and a curveball. I know how to set them up. I’ve gotten really good at doing that. That’s kind of how I’ve evolved as a pitcher.”

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