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Run by The Trentonian's Nick Peruffo, this blog will provide daily multimedia coverage of the Trenton Thunder.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Trentonian Q &A: Gil Patterson

Patterson, long ago.

TAMPA, Fla. – Over the winter, the Yankees made several changes to their player development. They beefed up their scouting department by hiring former Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu and former Phillies coach Pete Mackanin. They replaced hitting coordinator Rick Down with Tom Slater, last year’s Thunder hitting coach.

Considering the recent woes developing pitching, their biggest move may have been installing Gil Patterson, a former Yankees player and two-time coach in the organization, as their new pitching coordinator for the minor leagues. He replaced Nardi Contreras, who remains in the organization and spend most of his time mentoring pitchers in the Dominican Republic.

The Trentonian sat down with Patterson on Thursday for a one-on-one interview on topics ranging from mechanics to genetics to prospects. Here’s what he had to say:

JN: This is your fourth stint with the Yankees. What brought you back again?

GP: For the most part, for me, it’s really home. As a matter of fact, Mr. Steinbrenner, after I got hurt pitching for them – they might have hurt my arm a little bit … 300 innings two years in a row – and Mr. Steinbrenner said I have a job for life. It’s just taken four times to get my ‘for life.’

JN: If I remember the story, he saw you at a car wash and gave you the job?

GP: What had happened was, I was parking cars and he came into the place where I was parking them and he said ‘What are you doing here?’ and I said ‘I’m working.’ And he says ‘You’re a Yankee, and you’ll always be a Yankee. You’ll have a job for the rest of your life. He was always very good to me.

JN: Which surgery did you have? Tommy John?

GP: Tommy John and rotator cuff.

JN: How far along was Tommy John surgery at that point?

GP: I was the third one ever for the rotator cuff. Tommy John came a number of years later, but I was only the third one ever with the rotator cuff surgery.

JN: I’ll assume there was much more risk back then with both surgeries.

GP: They didn’t know how to do it (yet). They’d take the whole muscle, the deltoid muscle, off the bone, and do all the work. Later on they found you could go in with little scopes and things like that.

JN: How does what happened to you during your playing career influence the way you coach pitchers today?

GP: I think a couple of different ways. One, just the caring for the players on and off the field. And I’m not saying it was – it certainly was – however, we keep trying to raise the bar. I think everyone really does, every organization does, every organization and coach. They’re just trying to figure out a way to get better. For me, making sure that players know that we care about their careers on and off the field.

Second, the knowledge of throwing mechanics. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of good coaches around me that even to this day continue to help me. The evolution of the throwing programs, pitch counts, all those things I think, to some degree, formulated me into what I am and what I do.

Then also, there’s the idea of always trying to get better, always trying to get different and new ideas and letting the players have some feedback and autonomy in decisions that we make in their careers. I think the learning curve just went from just thinking there was one way to knowing that there’s many different ways of getting input and information from lots of people before I make a decision.

JN: With that in mind, when you’re dealing with a kid’s mechanics, is there anything you look for that’s either universally wrong or universally right?

GP: With all the technology (available), you just go around the American and National Leagues, and even in the minor leagues, and you see so many different deliveries. And you see deliveries that you would think, ‘This guy will never get hurt,” and he breaks down. And then you see someone else who you think has no chance, and he pitches for 10 years.

I think ultimately there is some general position that a body should be in mechanically, but ultimately a good delivery is anything that someone can repeat to throw quality strikes and hopefully stay injury-free.

We have videos of the 35 best command guys in baseball, and when you watch them you can pick them apart. But, since they throw quality strikes, you just make sure they’re doing their exercises, and (sticking to) their pitch loads.

Genetics plays a large part in it.

JN: That’s where I was going next. Is genetic analysis the next frontier?

GP: There are exceptions to everything, but I think it’s a very valid point. That’s why you try to gather as much information. There is no guarantee that someone’s not going to break down.

JN: How do you go into a kind of uncharted territory like that without putting the pitcher at serious risk in the process?

GP: The biggest reason you make some changes is that, either a guy has had an injury and/or he can’t command the baseball. So, even if you’re healthy and can’t command it, you’re most likely not going to pitch in the big leagues. In that case, you’re kind of forced into trying to make a change that might help him command better. Hopefully, that continues to keep them healthy. I think sometimes the biggest key is not overwhelming guys. Trying to make it one step at a time rather than trying to make three or four different changes. Maybe (instead) try to find the one change that’s going to help.

JN: Speaking of mechanical changes, what have you done with Dellin Betances this season to help him become more consistent?

GP: Dellin was here even when I was here in 2007. It’s the same thing. When you watch his delivery, he collapses at the end a little bit. He overstrides some, and doesn’t finish out front. Honestly, if he could command the ball, we wouldn’t say a word to him. But he has struggled with it, and so we are trying to get him to feel strength and power in a shorter stride, and to feel like he has some extension to home plate instead of collapsing so much. For the last week, he’s done it very well. Today in the game it’s more of, just trust your delivery and go.

JN: Let’s talk a little bit about Jose Ramirez. Here’s a kid who’s kind of tall and skinny, yet he throws in the upper-90s. What allows him to get that kind of velocity?

GP: Let’s ask Ron Guidry and Pedro Martinez. It’s just like you and I were saying – it’s a gift, it really is. With all these things out there about, I can do this to make you throw harder, God makes you throw hard. I’m not going to say there isn’t anything that we can’t do throwing program-wise, mechanically, (or through) strength and conditioning.

I think David Price once said in an interview something like, I throw hard because I throw hard. With anything that everyone’s ever done, from all the power guys, if we all try it, why don’t we throw as hard as them? It’s because someone has decided that we don’t have the ability.

JN: With Ramirez, he has that change-up, which seems pretty advanced for someone his age. Why is it that the change-up is usually the last to develop in a young pitcher?

GP: We’re talking about genetics and the gift of being able to throw hard. A breaking ball, I would put right in that same mold. There are so many different grips to teach, and if you ask me what is the hardest thing to teach, it would be a breaking ball. I’ll take my chances with a guy to get them fixed a little bit mechanically, but a change-up is the same arm speed as a fastball. All you have to do is get a guy to trust it and throw it. It’s a fastball with a different grip. That’s why I think guys can develop a major league change-up.

The hardest part, I have found, is the development of the breaking ball. That’s why, when the Yankees scouts see a guy with a breaking ball, they say, grab him.

JN: How do you decide whether a curve or a slider is a better breaking ball for a young pitcher?

GP: Sometimes data is a very important factor when making baseball decisions. It’s shown that sliders are swung and missed at a higher rate than curveballs. However, if you have a good curveball, I’m not going to try to give you a poor slider. I think overall, the quality of the breaking pitch will determine which one you’re going to use.

JN: What have you thought of Rafael DePaula and Jose Campos this year?

GP: If you’d say anyone is in the same mode as Ramirez, DePaula might be it. DePaula’s got some strength to him. The arm whips through. Good delivery. Good change-up, and the slide is a work in progress.

Campos, coming back from the injury, has been throwing the ball pretty well. We’re going to limit him a little bit this year to how many innings, but for the most part we’re very happy with his progress as well.

JN: Which do you think is a better way to limit a pitcher’s workload: A pitch count or an innings limit?

GP: In general, probably just the innings pitched. And I’m not going to say because it’s easier to monitor, because it’s just as easy to monitor a pitch count. For the most part, I try to increment a certain amount of innings per year.


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