Sonny Gray made the All-Star team. It was something we all knew was going to happen after all those failed mound visits with Larry Rothschild. Everyone had an idea that maybe, Pickles wasn’t cut out for the bright lights. I mean, we all saw the discrepancy between his home and road splits. At home Sonny had a 6.98 ERA with opponents hitting for a .318 AVG and .932 OPS. He had a 1.29 K to BB ratio. On the road he had a 3.17 ERA and opponents hit for a .226 AVG and a .614 OPS. That K to BB ratio was up a bit at a 3.55. Not great but still up.
Now you can end the story there. You can say he wasn’t cut out for New York. You can say the bright lights were too bright and the proof of it was how he performed in the Bronx. Maybe though, there was more to it than that? Let me offer an alternative idea.
The only reason I think an alternative idea is worth mentioning is because Sonny leaving and improving is a part of a pattern I’m seeing with a pitching staff lead by Larry Rothschild. I was on the Sonny-Has-Broken-Me-Bandwagon for a while a while but then Chad Green went down to AAA and fixed his mechanics almost instantaneously under RailRiders pitching coach Tommy Phelps. It seemed leaving Rothschild and finding somebody who knew what they were doing was the best thing for Green.
Tommy Phelps: Mr. Steal Your Job
Before I get into Sonny, I think it’s worth diving into Chad Green’s return to form. If you remember, at the beginning of the year, a time when things were uncertain for the Yankees, Chad Green was getting knocked around hard. Before getting sent down he had a 16.43 ERA and opponents hit him for a .395 AVG and a 1.228 OPS. In 7.2 innings he gave up 14 runs. He was getting knocked around so hard that despite improving dramatically, he’s still in the bottom 1% of average exit velocity (91.8) and the bottom 6% of barrel (11.8).
Basically he was Pete Alonso’s cousin Derek on the mound.
With Green blowing 7 run leads, the Yankees sent him down to the RailRiders and that was the absolute best thing that could’ve happened. Almost immediately, while working with Phelps, he seemed to figure out his issues. The Yanks sent him down in April and he came back early on in May.
“That was the big key, and that seemed to fix a lot of things,” Green told the Post. “That seemed to fix three or four things that were going on. That was the first step. Just trying to tweak a few minor things after that.”
Since returning Green has played an integral role in the Yankees flying through the division. He dropped his ERA from a 16.43 to 5.68 since May. In that time he has a 2.25 ERA. His bread and butter has been that opener role. It’s there we’ve seen him at his best. As an opener he has a 2.53 ERA, an 8.50 K to BB ratio and opponents are hitting him for a .231 AVG and a .722 OPS.
Reading through that Post article it almost feels like Green went down there and on the first day Tommy Phelps caught his issue. It’s like the issue was in front of everybody and nobody on the Yankees caught it. This sort of makes you wonder, what does Larry Rothschild do exactly?
Those Sonny Days Look Gray
In a lot of ways, Green leaving the Yankees in order to fix himself mirrors what happened with Sonny Gray in Cincinnati – albeit Green left the team by going to AAA and Sonny went to an entirely different organization and became an All-Star. Still, it’s the same idea.
Knowing how much the Yankees need pitching, it’s super unsettling seeing how much he has improved in less than a year’s time. Last year he was getting knocked around by Boston and the Orioles. This year he’s going 8 strong against a Milwaukee Brewers team who went to the NLCS and has Christian Yelich – aka. Joe Dimaggio junior.
This was Sonny’s vomit inducing 2018:
This is him in 2019. Basically everything the Yankees need in a pitcher:
His K% is through the roof. On top of this, that exit velocity and hard hit % are the type of stats you look for when you’re pitching at Yankee stadium. Crazy how different a year makes.
Earlier in the year Enno Sarris of the Athletic interviewed Sonny Gray and a lot of us out here in Yankee Land – myself included – lambasted Sonny for essentially throwing the Larry Rothschild-led pitching staff under the bus. (If you don’t have an Athletic subscription Hubbs pulled some quotes from it at Barstool.) “But he can’t handle New York,” we all said. Looking back, was it just that? Green fixed himself with Tommy Phelps and Sonny fixed a lot of mechanical issues with Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson.
Here’s an excerpt of that Athletic article where Sonny makes the claim that the pitching staff essentially sat on their hands. This was in reference to his high walk rate from 2018:
““What do you think?” he remembers asking. “Am I nuts? Do you see a difference? What’s the difference? They said, no, you’ve just been unlucky. I was like, ‘that’s bullshit.’”“
Let me know if this excerpt from that article sounds familiar. Here Sonny talks about immediately finding out certain things about his mechanics immediately after joining the Reds:
““I have a high spin rate four-seam, but a low spin efficiency four-seam because of my slot, and because I cut it a little bit,” Gray said about what he learned with a smile. “I never even knew that was a thing. I just learned that this offseason. What the fuck is that?””
Just the Tipp(ing)
It was this lack of attention to detail which ended up being a detriment to both Gray and Green. This lack of attention doesn’t just end with those two though. In the last year, two of our top starters, Luis Severino and James Paxton, both began tipping their pitches. It seemed everyone but Larry Rothschild figured out what was wrong with them? In the case of Sevy, well, the Boston Red Sox seemed to figure it out before Larry did. Totally sucked for us.
Was #Yankees starting pitcher Luis Severino tipping his pitches last night? TBS caught video of #Redsox centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. saying “fastball” to Mookie Betts before Severino throws a fastball to Brock Holt. pic.twitter.com/lZeIInq55q
Stories came out after the game that made it seem as if Sevy just started tipping. Clearly though this wasn’t the case. Anybody who watched everyday noticed that Sevy went through the kind of cold spell where anybody with a bat looked like Ted Williams. The Yankee ace tipping pitches had been a narrative which dated back to earlier that summer. For the BP faithful, Scott and Andrew dedicated an episode to Sevy’s issues with one of them being tipping.
Luis Severino has been getting pummeled on the mound since July 1.
Is he hurt? Is he fatigued? Is he tipping his pitches? We dissect all possibilities on today’s episode.
In 2019 we thought we were out of the water in terms of tipping. Then it happened to James Paxton in Houston. Much like Green with Phelps, Sonny with the Reds, and Sevy with the Red Sox, it took somebody other than Larry Rothschild to notice the issue. Cue the newest Yankee executive Carlos Beltran.
Here’s an excerpt from the New York Post that talked about Beltran, not Rothschild, helping Paxton:
““But he felt something was off during the game, and after watching video of the outing, it was obvious. Special adviser Carlos Beltran pointed it out to him Saturday. It revolved around his knuckle-curve. His knuckle was showing before each delivery, a tendency earlier in his career.
““So they could see if I was going soft or hard,” said Paxton, who will start the opener in the first Yankees-Red Sox meeting of the year Tuesday in The Bronx. “[Beltran] showed me some video. [He said], ‘Look at these takes, look at these swings. They wouldn’t be making these swings or these takes if they didn’t know what was coming.’ That being said, I also didn’t throw the ball very well. I was over the middle of the plate too much, even when there were guys not on second base. So I need to be better as well.””
The Deadline Cometh
As we get closer to the deadline, the Yankees will be searching for pitching. Looking at talent that has come and gone from the Bronx in recent memory, it really makes you wonder if this would even be the case if Larry Rothschild had just been more attentive in the way other teams have with our old arms.
Lance Lynn left the Yankees and became an innings eater, Nate Eovaldi, though often injured, pitched lights out for Boston in their 2018 playoff run and, an overlooked pitcher people don’t even realize was here, Kirby Yates, became of the better relievers in baseball a few years after the Yankees DFA’d him. Would the Yankees be perfect with these guys? No. You can at least make the argument that, if whatever improvements they made away from the Yankees was made here, the Yankees wouldn’t feel the need to trade away top talent such as Clint Frazier and Estevan Florial.
Now some of the names being thrown around are Zack Wheeler and Marcus Stroman. Both are incredibly talented. Both have shown signs of streakiness though. Can we even trust to get the best from these guys if Rothschild couldn’t figure out a reliever’s arm slot changed from one year to the next? Rothschild worked with Green his whole career too. What happens with somebody new?
You look at a guy like Wheeler who, in one start, was gobbled up by the Yankees lineup and then, a few weeks later, essentially shut them down. Which Wheeler would the Yankees get if they traded for him? Certainly the shutdown guy would be great. Maybe I’m wrong, but, judging from what happened with Sonny Gray and Chad Green and this issue of tipping pitches, there’s a chance we get the bad Wheeler.
I want to be wrong but history has not been kind to us in recent memory.