It’s no secret that Sonny Gray’s time with the New York Yankees was a failure. Now the righty is pointing to one pitch for his struggles.
In one-plus seasons with the Yankees, Gray posted a brutal 4.51 ERA and was eventually yanked from the rotation. The righty hurler is blaming his ineptitude on New York’s desire for him to throw sliders, a pitch he’s not comfortable throwing often.
“I can’t command my slider that well,” Gray told Eno Sarris of The Athletic. “I want to throw my slider in the dirt with two strikes, and that’s about it. I don’t have that type of slider, like Tanaka’s slider. His slider, the catcher will catch it, and the batter will swing and miss. If I get a swing and miss, the catcher is blocking it in the dirt. When I try to throw sliders for a strike, I get around it and it’s just a s–tty spinning pitch. I don’t know how people throw sliders for strikes that are still tight, good pitches. I’m at 2-0 and I’m throwing a slider, and either I’m throwing a s–tty slider in the zone, or I’m yanking it into the dirt and it’s 3-0 and I’m screwed either way.
“They love sliders. Sliders are a great pitch. The numbers say slider is a good pitch, but you might not realize how many s–tty counts you’re getting in while throwing all those sliders. They wanted me to be [Masahiro] Tanaka and I’m way different from him.”
That’s a fairly strong rebuke of the coaching staff from Gray. He paints the picture that the coaching staff was inflexible and tried to force him to do something he wasn’t completely comfortable with.
That being said, we are only hearing Gray’s side of the story. Although the Yankees definitely pushed Gray out of his comfort zone, he had serious success with his slider. According to Brooks Baseball, his slider was the most successful pitch he threw consistently.
Gray recorded 70 strikeouts compared to just 10 walks with his slider during his Yankees tenure. Furthermore, his slider had a sparkling batting average against (.166), slugging percentage (.285), and isolated power (.119).
The only pitch he threw with more success than his slider was his cutter which he only threw 62 times in 41 games. For reference, Gray through his slider 565 times as a Yankee.
New York was justified in pushing Gray to throw his slider more often. Teams teed off on his four-seam fastball and sinker during his stint in the Bronx. Hitters slashed .280/.388/.467 against those two types of fastballs.
Obviously, there’s much more to it than just the raw numbers. Comfortability is huge for pitchers and confidence is key. There’s no doubt that Gray lost his confidence in New York and that was probably the biggest reason for his concerning regression.
Obviously, the numbers back the coaching staff’s decision to push Gray to throw more sliders. That being said, there has to be some give and take when a pitcher is so uncomfortable throwing it. Every pitcher wants to jump on hitters and take an early advantage in the count. If Gray didn’t believe he could do that with the slider, it doesn’t matter how much better his numbers were. He clearly didn’t have the confidence.
But pitch selection wasn’t his only problem in New York. Not everyone can succeed under the bright lights of the big city. Gray’s 6.98 ERA at home in 2018 is a completely crooked number while his 3.17 ERA on the road shows that he still has the talent to succeed.
In conclusion, there were a plethora of reasons for Gray’s futility in New York. The Yankees coaxed him into throwing his slider more, he was uncomfortable throwing that pitch, and he couldn’t handle playing in Yankee Stadium.
Perhaps he’ll regain that confidence in Cincinnati. If there’s one thing clear now, he was never doing so in New York.