Different Pitchers Need Different Routines
Pitchers are built differently. We need not look any further than R.A. Dickey who was born without a UCL. With that in mind, why do teams and pitching coaches implement similar routines for everyone? What works for Nolan Ryan could lead to him being able to pitch a record 27 major league seasons whereas Sandy Koufax couldn’t lift his arm after 12 years in the majors.
For a Mets rotation that has battled both season ending injuries and under-performing, the rotation has received advice from sources outside of the coaching staff to help them improve as pitchers.
Last year, Noah Syndergaard was going through a period of a dead arm where his issues with bone spurs might have been overblown. In a four start stretch, he was 2-2 with a 5.23 ERA and a 1.548 WHIP. The last start was particularly awful with him lasting just 4.2 inning. The stretch would cause the Mets to hold him out of the AllStar Game.
Looking for answers, Syndergaard looked no further than Bartolo Colon for guidance. The answer was to change how he was throwing bullpens. As Syndergaard said, “I think I am going to take a page out of Bartolo’s playbook, he doesn’t throw bullpens, he takes it really light on his arm where every fifth day he feels as fresh as can be.” (Kevin Kernan, New York Post).
With the new bullpen routine, Syndergaard returned to form. He finished the season going 8-5 with a 2.65 ERA and a 1.244 WHIP. He would pitch for the Mets in the Wild Card Game, and he would be great pitching seven brilliant shut out innings.
Like Syndergaard last year, Jacob deGrom was looking for answers. He had consecutive outings where he couldn’t even pitch into the fifth inning. He allowed 15 runs on 18 hits. His respectable 3.23 ERA turned to a worrisome 4.75 ERA. That’s when he began texting with John Smoltz.
The Mets ace came up with the idea to text Smoltz because he had overheard Smoltz talking about throwing two bullpens between starts. The end result was a change in his routine with deGrom saying, “I talked to John Smoltz about it and he said he threw two bullpens for 10 years. It helps me feel comfortable on the mound, keep a feel for my command.”
The routine paid immediate dividends with deGrom throwing the second complete game of his career. He followed that up with two eight inning gems making him the first Mets pitcher since Johan Santana in 2010 to pitch eight plus innings in three consecutive games. In the three starts, he has allowed just two earned runs on 12 hits. He’s lowered his ERA over a full run. He’s back to being Jacob deGrom.
Looking at it, both Syndergaard and deGrom are different pitchers with different issues. Syndergaard found less bullpen sessions helped him whereas deGrom needed more. It makes sense that different routines would work for different pitchers . . . for different people. This should be a guiding principle for pitching coaches and Mets pitchers going forward. It’s not the team’s plan that is best. It’s the plan that fits you individually that is the way to go.