“I’m no pitching coach … but”

“I’m not a pitching coach…but” were not words spoken by Jim Hickey of the Washington Nationals. Those are words of my own confession. Hickey actually holds the title of pitching coach. We’ve heard his manager, Dave Martinez, say over and over that Josiah Gray must establish his fastball to be effective…and that is great in theory. But in reality, Gray has to pitch to zeroes, and be efficient in doing so with his best stuff. You also have to accept who you are as a player, and what you do well — and what you don’t.

Yesterday, Gray gave up 6-runs over 4⅓ innings and actually improved his ERA to 14.04. He entered the game yesterday trying to establish his fastball at a time on the mound that he was pitching into the shadows. Pitching is the art of deception. Why would you be throwing fastballs when you have the advantage of shadows? You should be deceiving batters with breaking pitches when they think it is a fastball. The score was 5-0 in the blink of an eye. A deficit too deep to dig out of.

“Honestly, I’m embarrassed to come out here and do that for the guys. It doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t sit right with me. I know that I deserve better. They deserve better.”

— Gray said yesterday

Gray knows it, and said it. You just hope he is healthy and nothing is affecting him physically. This is another tough loss by the team’s lone All-Star in 2023. Truthfully, every team gets an All-Star player, and Gray’s 3.41 ERA and 4.76 FIP entering the Mid-Summer Classic was good on one hand — but that FIP portended the warning signs of serious flaws, regardless of any other factor.

In Gray’s 2022 season, he led MLB in home runs allowed (38) and walks (66). Clearly two stats you don’t want to lead in as a pitcher. That was like a flashing caution beacon — but credit to Gray for entering the 2023 season with a new fastball — the cutter. That probably saved his career. But he just won’t get rid of that 4-seam fastball, and the shape of his breaking pitches have changed. WHY?

Gray is now throwing seven different pitches (usage of each pitch in parentheses): Cutter (24.4%) Four Seamer (22.2%) Slider (11.9%) Curveball (10.8%) Sweeper (10.8%) Changeup (10.2%) Sinker (9.7%). The changeup has been an horrific pitch and is not ready to be used in real games. That changeup has an OPS so far of 1.667. The 4-seamer would be a great pitch if he could locate it — and he cannot.

So why not work with the other five pitches and try to improve upon them from the same release point and better spin results? Gray has three breaking pitches: Sweeper, slider, and curveball and at different points over the years — those were by far his best pitches. When he was traded to the Washington Nationals in 2021 he threw one fastball (4-seamer) and had a great curveball and slider. At the time, that 4-seamer had an OPS of .902, the curveball at .599 and the slider at .489. Obviously the 4-seamer was his problem and often missed in location and was deposited in the bleachers without purchasing a ticket. The curveball improved in 2022 to a .511 OPS and the slider finished at a .512 OPS. But he changed the profile of the curveball and slider many times in 2023 as he added the sweeper. Why?

Get back to basics. You had a great curveball/slider combination in 2022 where the curveball had vertical downer action as a spiked curveball and the slider moved in a horizontal plane for effective movement that they too often couldn’t hit — even if they knew it was coming. The sinker is your velo pitch, and the cutter was good last year — but is no longer cutting like it was. All of the pitches just have not have been as sharp which begs the question on his health.

No more changeups in game action until you can throw it as an effective pitch. Ditch the 4-seamer. Work on the cutter to get it back to where it was. Accept who you are — a pitcher without pinpoint command and control. Many MLB pitchers have this issue. Strategize to movement like you did for the first half of 2023. What has worked is movement, and tunneling pitches for the deception. The breaking pitches of the past with the cutter that once was needs to be found again.

Establish your game from the first pitch with your best stuff. Throw zeroes. Be efficient. Help your team win games.

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