In addition to adding Gerrit Cole this offseason, the Yankees made another major change to their pitching staff: hiring pitching analytics guru Matt Blake to be the club’s new pitching coach, replacing Larry Rothschild. The Yankees had a few success stories under Rothschild, but there appeared to be some disconnect between his philosophy and his pitchers late in his tenure—just ask Sonny Gray. As such, Rothschild was let go after the season having never made it to a World Series in his nine years with the club.
The Yankees gave Blake the shiniest toy imaginable with Cole, perhaps the best pitcher in the American League. However, the team didn’t do much else to its pitching corps, and now that some major injuries have set in, it will be interesting to see how Blake’s influence manifests itself on the Yankees.
There was an article earlier last week on The Athletic (subs. required) about the relative importance of “stuff” vs. “command.” Stuff came out mildly more important, but of course you need consistent command, otherwise your “stuff” will never even get swings and misses.
The Yankees represent an interesting conundrum for a new pitching coach because they have a good mix of “stuff” guys and “command” guys. Pitchers like Cole, Luis Severino, James Paxton, and the big five in the bullpen are more “stuff”-heavy guys, featuring high-speed heaters and big breaking balls. The team also has several crafty control artists in high-profile roles, like Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and Jordan Montgomery. Those guys can’t get by flinging fastballs in the upper half of the zone; they require greater finesse and a more crafty pitch mix and location to get hitters out. In other words, the pitching coach may be of even greater importance to them.
In that respect, Blake has already gotten to work. For one, Tanaka is working on a new pitch, his cutter. Happ spent all winter working on his body mechanics in an effort to make his pitches more crisp, while Montgomery has recently gained velocity on his fastball after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Pitchers don’t always notice or think of these things themselves—they are usually directives from the coaching staff. It’s a good sign that in Blake’s first spring in charge of the Yankees’ pitchers, he’s been busy getting to work on some of the veterans that needed key mechanical adjustments.
Now that Severino is out for the year, and Paxton is out until May, Blake will have to wait to get his full arsenal of pitchers out there. That means more young, impressionable projects: Mike King, Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt and Jonathan Loaisiga all have a chance at the last spot in the rotation, and there are two spots up for grabs in the back of the bullpen as well. Blake will certainly have a chance in the opening months to mold his new pitching staff as he sees fit.
Even with all the injuries, the Yankees have one of the game’s top pitching staffs, and, by all accounts, one of the brightest young minds leading it. Blake has already been active with several of the team’s pitchers, and it will be interesting to see what other adjustments he has in store for the rest of the team’s pitchers as spring rolls on.