It’s starting to feel like we have a number for everything in baseball.
When measuring pitchers we can talk about ERA, FIP, xFIP, WHIP, ERA+, strikeouts, walks, velocity, spin rate, and the exact number of inches of movement on every pitch. To name a few.
We can intrinsically understand the quality of pitches thrown incredibly hard, or with a lot of movement, and appreciate those skills by pointing to a big number.
But ask any pitcher up to and including Jacob deGrom and they will all tell you that regardless of how great or poor your “stuff” is, at least half the battle is won or lost in deciding what pitch to throw in the first place.
If a modern hitter is sitting on the high hard stuff, no matter how well the pitch is executed, it could end up in the seats.
This is what makes Colorado Rockies southpaw Austin Gomber such an intriguing part of the team and of the history of Coors Field.
Gomber lives by the mantra: “Any pitch. Any count.”
“That kinda helps and hurts me at times,” he says. “A lot of what I throw is based on the pitch before. What did that look like? Then I decide what I’m gonna throw next based on that.”
Pitching by feel has been around for a long time and a lot of guys have found success with it. But, the scouting reports of today are deeper than they have ever been, and Gomber knows he will need to adjust his approach a bit if he’s going to find long-term success.
“What I’m trying to do a better job of this year is having a baseline plan going into the game and knowing certain areas that I want to avoid with certain guys. A lot of times last year I would find that pitches I was throwing were playing into their strengths,” he explains.
The lefty boasts a true four-pitch mix featuring a fantastic curveball and a fastball/slider/change-up combination that all rate out above average. None of his pitches are elite in a vacuum, but when used properly they can all produce results.
Elite results? Time will tell.
But for two months in 2021, they did.
“I had a stretch where I was pitching pretty well. I’d like to pitch that well for six months, obviously,” he recalled.
From May 1 through July 27 over 12 starts, Gomber posted an ERA of 2.67, struck out 63 batters and only walked only seven.
Unfortunately, it was all interrupted by some forearm tightness and left his June 19 start, not returning until July 21. He couldn’t quite recapture the magic upon return, mostly pitching OK in eight starts to finish out the year.
“Everyone is going to have ebbs and flows during the season,” he says. “The thing for me was that the timing of the injury, right in the middle of when I was throwing so well, and whenever you are out of action for three or four weeks there are going to be bumps and bruises along the way.”
So what was working so well before the injury, especially from a command and control point of view?
“When I’m right, that’s who I am,” he says. “I have four pitches. A heavy mix. Everything for strikes. I try to attack guys and those are the results I expect. I’m making it a point this Spring Training, I don’t want to walk anybody. Obviously, when you play at our park it really comes back to haunt you. You’re gonna have days where you’re gonna give up some solo homers but hopefully, you keep them solo homers. That keeps our team in the game. That gives the team a chance to win.”
Gomber gave his team a lot of chances to win in what amounted to his true rookie season (his first time getting full-time starts) and in his first entanglement with the beast known as Coors Field.
And there were a lot of lessons to be taken from such an experience.
“The biggest thing for me is trying to find a routine that works for me off the field. I think that stuff is a big deal and that’s the kind of stuff I struggled with last year. I feel like the baseball side takes care of itself. We obviously have to make adjustments but they’re pretty small in the grand scheme of things. But the sleeping, eating and hydration, that stuff is real and I think you need to experience it before you know what works for you.”
So, what works?
“Go to sleep earlier,” he says with a laugh. “Hydrate even when you think you don’t need to. For us, it’s big traveling when you come back. You have to prepare in the days before coming back to altitude.”
For those keeping track, that means the lanky lefty is looking to make sure his sleep schedule, diet, travel plans, and game plan are all fine-tuned for the upcoming campaign.
There’s a lot to keep track of and account for, but maybe that’s for the best for a guy who takes such a mental approach to pitching.
“Any pitch. Any count. With a plan.”
Ultimately, Gomber will find success (or not) in 2022 based on all the decisions that are made before he even begins to think about the mechanics of throwing the pitch.
With so many things to consider, his stated focus is fairly simple.
“This year, for me it’s about focusing on taking the ball every five days,” he says. “I feel like if I can get into that rhythm then I’m sure I can pitch well. It’s about getting into that rhythm and then keeping yourself into that rhythm and I think all those small things off the field will help me do that.”
If he can keep the hitters guessing, and keep himself healthy, Austin Gomber may be in for a big year.