|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:
This is your fourth stint
with the Yankees. What brought you back again?
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.’
If I remember the story, he
saw you at a car wash and gave you the job?
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.
Which surgery did you have?
Tommy John and rotator cuff.
How far along was Tommy John
surgery at that point?
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.
I’ll assume there was much
more risk back then with both surgeries.
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
JN: How does what happened to you
during your playing career influence the way you coach pitchers today?
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.
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?
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
That’s where I was going
next. Is genetic analysis the next frontier?
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
How do you go into a kind of
uncharted territory like that without putting the pitcher at serious risk in
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.
Speaking of mechanical
changes, what have you done with Dellin Betances this season to help him become
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.
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?
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
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
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?
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.
How do you decide whether a
curve or a slider is a better breaking ball for a young pitcher?
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.
What have you thought of
Rafael DePaula and Jose Campos this year?
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
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.
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.