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Are the Yankees Responsible for Sonny Gray’s Demise?

This week Sonny Gray offered his explanation for why he did not succeed in New York. He is quoted as saying:

“I can’t command my slider that well … They [the Yankees] love sliders… The wanted me to be Tanaka and I’m way different than him.”

Gray takes responsibility for his inability to throw the slider consistently for strikes, but then blames the Yankee coaches for forcing him to throw the pitch more often than he was comfortable. In my opinion, both sides are somewhat at fault in this situation.

During the interview, Gray goes on to explain his struggles with the slider saying that he never really mastered the pitch. He said that when he tried to throw it for a strikes, he would get around the baseball and it would just kind of spin and not break. This is very common for pitchers who are not comfortable throwing the slider. The slider is supposed to break down and away from a right handed hitter. When thrown properly, it stays on a fastball plane until about ¾ of the way to the plate, at which point it begins to break. Hitters often look foolish on the slider because the spin is often so tight, it is hard to distinguish from a fastball. When a pitcher “gets around the ball,” as Gray described doing, he tries to sling or push the ball from right to left instead of letting the spin/ laces take care of it. This results in a flat slow pitch that is easily recognizable and gets hit a long, long way.

So granted Gray didn’t have a good slider, but the real question is: if he knew this was his weakness and it was something that the Yankees wanted him to throw, why didn’t he work harder to perfect it? It is true some pitches come more naturally to some throwers than others, but all can be learned in some fashion or another. This is why part of the blame rests on Sonny’s shoulders. I believe it was in his control whether to learn that pitch or not.

But it is not all his fault. If the Yankees knew Gray could not throw sliders well, why keep forcing him to throw it at all? He had a decent arsenal of other pitches to choose from, they could have let him throw what he was comfortable throwing. A huge part of being a successful pitcher is comfort. Any doubt before throwing a pitch almost always results in something bad happening. The Yankees coaches should know this, so I am surprised they actually made Gray throw more sliders. It is possible Gay is only telling his side of the story, but if true, the Yankees are just as responsible as he is.

In the end it is probably best for all parties that Gray was moved. It will be interesting to see how he does this year with a new coaching staff on the Reds that may be more willing to work with his unique tools. Only time will tell.

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