clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Washington Nationals news & notes: Josiah Gray working on changeup; working with Jim Hickey + more...

Notes and quotes from Josiah Gray’s recent appearance on MLB Network Radio...

As he prepared for the 2023 campaign, Josiah Gray decided to work a cutter into the mix a bit more, after throwing it 0.5% of the time (13 total pitches) in his first full major league run in 2022.

Nationals’ Pitching Coach Jim Hickey was open to the possibilities when he first saw Gray throw the pitch in Spring Training.

“With the cutter,” Gray told MLB Network Radio hosts Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette in a late-January interview this winter, “... I came to Spring Training with it last year, it was, ‘Hey, I’ve been working on a cutter.’ [Hickey’s] like, ‘Okay, let’s see it.’ So I started throwing it in the bullpens and against hitters, and he’s like, ‘Okay, we’re going to use that thing, just continue to work on it.’”

Gray ended up throwing the cutter 17.8% of the time in 2023, (with a .243 BAA on the pitch), behind only his slider (24.6%) in terms of usage, after he had thrown his four-seam fastball more than any other pitch (38.9%) in 2022 (He threw the four-seamer just 17.0% of the time in ‘23, 4th-most of all his pitches).

The back and forth with his pitching coach, was typical of their interactions since the trade which brought Gray to the Nationals, the pitcher told the MLBNR hosts.

“I’ve been with [Hickey] since my rookie year. And he’s worked with me, everything that I’ve had to change over the years, he’s always open-minded with me,” Gray said.

“Because he knows that I want to tinker with things, he knows I want to adjust and adapt, and he’s always been like, ‘‘Okay, let’s see it, let’s work on it.’”

“He’s been nothing but great, and obviously very open to all the ideas I bring to him.”

This winter, as he prepares for 2024, Gray has been focused on his changeup, a pitch he threw 3.3% of the time in ‘21, 2.8% of the time in ‘22, and just 1.6% of the time last season, with a .286 BAA on the pitch in 2023.

“I’m just naturally curious about, ‘‘‘What can I do next?’” Gray explained.

“I don’t think [the changeup] will be that pitch that really takes over my arsenal. When I look at it, it will probably be that 8-10% the way I throw it, so if I can make that 8-10% times I throw it really, really effective, then it’s a win. It’s not really going to take over the arsenal, it’s just going to be another piece we can implement with the game plan and see how the hitters adjust and go from there.”

What, specifically, is he working on with the changeup?

“It starts — I pronate really well,” Gray said, “... but I don’t have that ability to turn it over like Devin Williams, or at least I don’t think I’ve tapped into that ability yet, so as of right now I’m trying to just spread out the fingers a little bit more, so kind of just like split-change, splitter, whatever it may be, and just throw the ball like a fastball, and letting air or gravity take over and have some drop to it. So I’m not saying it’s going to be Kevin Gausman’s, but if I could throw his splitter that would be a big win.”

Gray and the show’s hosts then got into a conversation about pronation vs supination on the pitch, which, we’ll annotate with links for those (like us), who need the help...

“I think it’s all grips, pressure, finger pressure as well,” he said of his focus.

“So with the cutter, it’s a pitch that you look at a guy that pronates really well, it’s probably not a pitch he can throw very well, and for me it’s pretty unique, because the ones I throw really well, they don’t get a ton of horizontal movement to the glove side, they kind of just — they stay straight, that zero horizontal movement, some even back up, but because of just how just different it is from the fastball, it gets some good results on my end.”

“Changeup is kind of the same thing,” Gray continued. “A changeup with the grips and everything, it’s naturally going to drop, so if you’re implementing things like seam-shift wake, or different finger pressure then that’s the point where you can get the ball to gyro out a little bit, just spin with gravity and that’s where you get the Gausman-like drop or the Logan Webb-like drop to where you’re getting that grip manipulation along with seam-shift effects.”

So, clearly, Gray is digging deep into all of the data available to pitchers these days. He’s spent the winter working out at Cressey Sports Performance, alongside the likes of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.

So how does an “old school” pitching coach like Hickey balance his approach with the new school data and analytics available to everyone in baseball?

“I think it’s the way of the game now,” Gray said. “Every organization has to understand now that there is a lot of success behind the numbers, behind everything analytical, information-wise as well, and I think with [Hickey] he’s been nothing but accepting with everything they get from top down.

“And to talk about data even more, now we have Sean Doolittle on the staff who is going to help bridge that gap to where there will be no miscommunication, it will be like, ‘Okay, this is what we think you can lean into,’ ‘This is what we think you should back off of,’ and it will make you better in the long-run because there is data behind everything which gives you the cold hard truth of whether a pitch or whether a sequence is successful or not.”