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.