Gerrit Cole, the New York Yankees’ ace, recently said that two adjustments upon arriving to the Houston Astros unlocked a new level of dominance and let him reach elite status. Basically, he started throwing more fastballs up in the zone, and he made a small adjustment in his changeup grip thanks to a recommendation from Nolan Ryan.
Additionally, he increased his fastball usage, emphasizing a high location, and this made his excellent secondary stuff play up.
Here are the full quotes about his fastball (per the New York Post) which he provided to the YES Network’s Jack Curry and David Cone during spring training for a special episode of “Yankees Access: Cole, Cone & Curry:”
“It initially started in 2017 when I found that I was really inefficient when I was trying to throw strikes with the sinker, and sometimes it would slide off the plate or it would break too much, and I was really just trying to get count leverage in a lot of those situations, so I started mixing more four-seamers in.”
“When I got to Houston, you know, [pitching coach] Brent Strom was just such a great resource to the 70’s and 80’s, and maybe even late 60’s kind of style of Don Sutton, Tom Seaver, Drysdale, top of the zone kind of fastball, and he just, you know, he just encouraged me to chase that type of pitching.”
“Ironically, throwing the four-seam more was easier for me. It was just, made my breaking balls more consistent and I found that even if you still locate the four-seam at the bottom of the zone, you’re still apt to get a groundball in those situations. So, it cost me less, it made me more efficient because I could put guys away when I wanted to, instead of trying to induce contact and hoping that it didn’t go to somebody.”
And here’s what he said about his changeup:
“Justin (Verlander) and I were talking to Nolan one day and we were showing him both of our changeup grips and I was just kind of asking, I would like to get a little more depth out of my changeup,” Cole told Curry and Cone. “He was asking me about my grip and he saw that I really put my middle finger, kind of right through the center of the ball and thought that the middle finger, at least for him, was the finger that generated the most power and the index finger kind of steered the ball. So, he suggested, kind of what he did, which is where he offset the middle finger a little bit more to the inside of the ball so that he didn’t quite get so much power coming through the pitch. But, you can still finish the ball with good snap, like you do on your fastball.”
The advice worked. Cole’s whiff rate on the changeup rose from 11.8% with the Pirates to 16.6% with the Astros.
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Cole’s experience and advice could help some Yankees’ pitchers. For example, it’s not hard to imagine Cole’s tips benefiting a pitcher like Chad Green, who also relies heavily on his heater but, unlike the Yankees’ new ace, has struggled to find consistent, successful weapons to round out his repertoire.
The newcomer Cole could certainly help improve Green’s fastball, one that went from accumulating 23.4 and 17.9 runs above average in FanGraphs’ pitch value in 2017 and 2018 to a 2.2 mark in 2019.
Additionally, the best Tommy Kahnle, at least for the Yankees, was the 2017 version. That one threw an effective four-seamer, something that has been missing from Tommy’s arsenal in the last two seasons. Maybe, just maybe, Cole can help him, too.
With the Chicago White Sox and Yankees in 2017, Kahnle had a 8.5 mark in fastball value. In 2018 and 2019, however, it was -6.8 and -2.4, respectively. Batters had a .387 wOBA against Kahnle’s four-seamer last season. In 2017, it was .271. He has an amazing changeup, but he also needs his best heater to fully keep hitters honest.
I can also see Gerrit Cole taking a young, talented guy like Jonathan Loaisiga under his wing and helping him how to throw an effective changeup, not to mention taking advantage of that great fastball velo. Lasagna’s cambio has potential, as evidenced by his 43.6 whiff rate in 2019. However, batters also hit .375 off it, albeit in a very small sample (20 PA.)
Domingo German boasts top pure stuff, among the best in the organization. He jas great fastball velocity and strong secondaries, highlighted by an excellent curveball. Working on command and developing his changeup would take him to the next level, something that Cole can help with. Perhaps he will teach him his changeup grip and thanks to German’s natural arm action, it will improve. These are all possibilities, not certainties. But it’s fun to think about them.
We are not saying that Cole will play pitching coach and do Matt Blake’s work for every Yankees’ hurler in the roster. However, it’s very common for teammates to help each other pick new pitches or improve already existing ones through observation, practice, tips and repetition.
Cole can certainly pitch in and help his teammates, and by all accounts, he seems very willing to do so. The keys to unlock another level for the Yankees hurlers mentioned in this article will be reps and command.