Over the weekend we posted the R2-C2 podcast that featured Trevor Bauer and Sonny Gray. The two Cincinnati Reds pitchers joined Ryan Ruocco (R2) and CC Sabathia (C2) on their podcast and they talked about all kinds of things related to baseball. It’s actually a pretty good look at both Gray and Bauer, and how they go about pitching. But at one point in the interview, Sonny Gray says that when he came to the Reds, they basically gave him “the cheat code” – noting how they were able to take the stuff that he had, and show him how to use it to the best of his abilities. They had the numbers, and ability to show him why it would work if he could execute their plan.

When the Cincinnati Reds acquired Sonny Gray, he was coming off of a down season in New York. His ERA was 4.90, he allowed 138 hits in 130.1 innings, and he had walked 57 batters. It was a struggle – but the Reds believed they knew why. The Yankees weren’t allowing him to pitch to his strengths, instead sort of forcing him into their “one-size-fits-all” model of pitching. The organization was very confident in what they felt was right, too, because Cincinnati not only traded for him, they extended him through 2022, with a club option for 2023 for $12,000,000.

Let’s get into some of the comparisons and differences from 2018 and 2019. With the Reds, Sonny Gray threw more 4-seamers and fewer 2-seamers than ht had with the Yankees. He also threw more curveballs and more sliders. The increases with the 4-seamer, curve, and slider were only 2-4% more overall – but it was the lowest rate of 2-seam fastballs that Gray had thrown since 2013 when he was a rookie.

But here’s where things get a little bit more interesting. Sonny Gray threw too many sliders in New York. Those were his words early on it 2019 after arriving in Cincinnati. But when we look at things at the end of the year, he actually threw more sliders with the Reds than he had ever thrown in his career. So what happened? Well, the slider he was throwing in New York wasn’t the slider he was throwing in Cincinnati.

While with the Yankees, Gray’s slider had a lower spin rate – though still high – and had less movement on both planes. With the Reds his slider had 1.7 more inches of sweeping action and a half inch more drop than it did in New York. That may not sound like much at first, but when you start to think about what that does with regards to contact, well, it’s an awful big difference. He speaks about how the use of the Edgertronic cameras and the coaches helped show him to make the ball move differently, and where he could use each pitch the best to exploit the weaknesses of the hitters that he would be facing on that day with the teams advanced scouting reports in the interview with Sabathia and Ruocco.

He explained it at one point in the interview, that being able to use the video and data, he was able to develop his slider and make it do what he wanted. The Reds were able to show him how to make the adjustment, almost in real time, to make the ball behave differently and how he wanted it to. Those were things that he wasn’t able to get access to in New York.

While the Reds didn’t exactly up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A Sonny Gray, they gave him better insight into what worked, and what didn’t. The organization helped show him how to use what he could naturally do better. And it worked wonders, too, as he put together an All-Star season and one of the more dominant second-halves of pitching seen in Cincinnati in quite a while.

13 Responses

  1. CFD3000

    Does this analytic approach make it a little more likely that Bauer signs with the Reds for 2021 and beyond? Does a friendship with Gray? I’m hoping so.

  2. Matt WI

    Bah! In my day, you threw with your heart, not some fancy camera! He just didn’t want it bad enough in New York! The stage was too big!

    Just kidding, just love thinking how the anti-analytics crowd would spin this one… this is a fantastic piece of evidence the Reds have made a quantum leap in their use and application of information to make the team better. Kudos.

    • DHud

      They’d probably just shake their fists at some cloud and yell at it to get off their lawn

  3. Aaron Bradley

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  4. JB WV

    Thanks Doug, great article that helps understand applied analytics. As you stated, the drop and movement may not seem like much but when you couple it at 85-90 mph that’s nasty

  5. Andy

    I heard Caleb Cotham’s name pop up a couple times. I’m starting to wonder if his inclusion in Chapman trade started chain of events that changed the fortune of the whole franchise. Did he have any role in luring Derek Johnson from Brewers? Do Reds pick up Gray/Bauer without Johnson? What about Kyle Boddy? IF (Big If, I know) Cotham was instrumental in bringing these pitchers’ beloved “DJ” to Cincinnati, it’s possible his inclusion in trade helped the franchise more than acquiring Gleyber Torres would have.

    I know this is a bit of a stretch, veering into conspiracy theory territory, but it’s fun to think about a tinfoil hat theory with a happy ending.

    Taking it another step further, did the Reds aquire Cotham on purpose to learn more about Driveline? I feel like that trade was all Jocketty so I doubt it. Fun to think he may have blundered into a franchise altering happy accident.

    (We’ll need some results from the Cotham/Johnson/Boddy team for this to really be a big deal, but Gray’s comments in that interview have me pretty excited.)

    • Amarillo

      We won the Chapman trade after all.

    • Doug Gray

      The Reds have been sending pitchers to Driveline for years. They were doing so while Cotham was still playing.

  6. RojoBenjy

    Agreed, “cheat code” is cringeworthy, but, as MLB has shown, players are immune to punishment for cheating now.

  7. RedNat

    I feel the Astros cheating scandal and the steroid scandal are related in a lot of ways. the pitching is so dominant in todays game because pitchers (and defenders) really started buying in to analytics and have really perfected it now in repsone to the juiced batters in the steorid era. i mean think how hard it is today just to ground a single through the infield.

    the batters have really yet to adjust to the defense adjusting to the steroid era in other words. they have been unable to bunt or hit away from the shifts. these hitters are really at the mercy of these dominant pitchers now. just basically relegated to working a walk and closing their eyes and swinging for the fences.

    the sign stealing was just a way to try to “even thepalying field” for thehitters.

    • Matt WI

      That’s a very interesting and thoughtful systemic nuance to the whole scandal that certainly has some merit. I think MLB was probably trying help the hitters with the juiced ball and then found they went a little too far last year as well. But Aquino sure appreciated it 😉

      I wouldn’t be surprised that as the Drivelines and other systems of the wold continue to add velocity for pitchers, that MLB may eventually have to lower the mound some again. There simply can’t be a way to increase bat speed/reaction time commensurate with the speed of the pitches that would stay within the current legal opportunities.

  8. Mary Beth Ellis

    This is fascinating. What a difference.