Jack Cobra: Readersknow from your columns at The Hardball Times that you are a retired professional pitcher, and a sidearm pitcher at that. Can you give us some info on your playing career (pro and/or collegiate) and what steps led you to throwing sidearm?
Carlos Gomez: I played at Purdue University. My collegiate career, in a word, sucked. I went through bouts of not pitching well, Steve Blass disease, barely breaking 80mph. It was bad, but that's when I really started getting into mechanics.
After I graduated from Purdue in '01 (Industrial Engineering degree--yeah, I'm a geek), I was set to go work a "real job" with Carrier Corporation, but I had six months until I started working. That off-season, I reinvented myself as a side-armer (since I threw overhand in college) and found that I was better and throwing harder than I ever had. I had a couple of tryouts, but nothing came out of it that summer so I went to Syracuse, NY to train with Carrier.
Well, the baseball bug hit me HARD, and I just couldn't go through life thinking "what if?" so after telling Carrier that I intended to go play ball, they let me try with the idea that if it didn't work out, I'd go back to work for them. It worked out.... to a certain degree. I'd rather be answering your questions from the Cubs' clubhouse than from home, know what I mean?
I think the main reason that side-arming worked was that I freed myself from all the bad memories I had from throwing over the top...but that's another story. Am I a head case already?
The Hardball Times is one of the best baseball websites out there. I personally rank it with Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Musings and Baseball America for the depth, information and thought provokingness (word?) of the work presented. I 'googled' you and saw you used to write at Baseball Think Factory, so how did you end up at The Hardball Times?
Baseball Think Factory was a place where I could go and get a good helping of sabermetric stuff. I had gotten into that stuff by reading Baseball Prospectus
and Bill James and by hanging out at BBTF. I was playing winter ball in Puerto Rico and providing informal scouting reports on some of the players there for BBTF and people seemed to like my take on it. Then I got into video analysis and Jim Furtado, founder of BBTF, let me have my own blog in order to counter the sabermetric stuff with the scouty side of things. I love the fact the Jim let me write whatever I wanted to....very cool on his part.
Dave Studeman, from THT, contacted me about writing for them. I accepted, not knowing how big and popular THT really was. I was actually a little hesitant at first (stupid me) out of loyalty to BBTF and Jim, but THT is a bigger forum for my ideas. It made sense. Hopefully, I've made their site better. It has been very beneficial to me and they give me the freedom to write about whatever I want, so it's cool there too.I still have my blog "Bullpen Mechanics" at BBTF, by the way.
Your 'calling card' is your excellent ability to break down the mechanics of pitchers. That's not a very exciting thing to do for the everyday baseball fan, so how did you find your 'love' of doing that?
I have been video taping my mechanics since I was around 15 years old. I used to emulate Nolan Ryan (had the leg kick and everything), so I checked out my motion on video to see how close I was to being Nolan Ryan (stupid kid). I guess I've always been obsessed with finding out the best way to throw a baseball. I have Tom Seaver's book (Art of Pitching), Nolan Ryan's book, and many others, so yeah, I was obsessed.
In college, I REALLY got into the mechanics stuff because I had an excellent pitching coach who knew his stuff, Gary Adcock. Just like anything, the more you do something, the more you pay attention, the better you get at it. I always remembered this one pitcher for Michigan State, Josh Axelson. At the time, I thought that he had the best arm action I'd seen in the Big Ten.
You've broken down the pitching mechanics of some of the biggest names in MLB (Zambrano,Harden,Prior,Cain,Matsuzaka,Beckett, etc.) and all of these pitchers have faithful followings. What group of fans have you found to be the most a) insightful, b) critical, and c) open minded about what you have written on their favorite pitchers?
Great question. It's been a mixed bag with all the fans really. Cubs fans were surprisingly supportive and insightful. I say that because both articles I wrote on their pitchers had a negative tone to them and generally speaking, hometown guy don't like it when an outsider bashes someone on their team.
Giants fans have really surprised me. I didn't realize how loyal they are. Of course, I have written nothing but favorable things about their players so far.
Red Sox fans were certainly mixed. Very insightful fans as well.
I don't want to call Yankees fans critical, but they were highly critical of the Phil Hughes piece I wrote. That's OK though. I don't mind if people disagree with me.
Unless I missed it before, it seems that your breakdown of the First Round of MLB's Amateur Draft was your first crack at breaking down the mechanics of hitters. Is this something you envision doing more of in the future?
Yes, but in a very limited way. I plan on doing some really cool video breakdown comparing Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron to some of today's hitters.
I'm still learning about pitchers and hitters' mechanics, but I need to learn much more on what to look for with hitters before I can consistently break hitters down. I have much more experience in the pitcher department.
When looking at the mechanics of a pitcher what is the first thing you look for? Then, what is your process when you do your breakdowns? In other words, how do you do what you do?
First things that I look for are tempo (quickness in his delivery) and efficient arm action and then I go from there. From there, it depends. If I'm doing apiece trying to point out the differences in someone's mechanics (like the Zambrano piece), then I grab videos, put them side by side in a program that I have and try to isolate the differences in their deliveries, and come up with possible causes/effects and solutions.
If I'm just evaluating a player's mechanics (say Lincecum, like I did at BBTF), I look at his tempo, arm action, how well he uses his body, all that stuff...I then try to come up with an evaluation of what I think his strengths/weaknesses are.
With each article you write you seem to becoming more popular with fans and people 'inside of baseball'. For example, people send me emails asking if I read your latest breakdown and I've heard your work mentioned everywhere from The Chicago Tribune to Fox's Saturday Baseball. What you are doing is picking up steam. When you started did you envision people turning to you to tell them about the mechanics of pitching?(The work Carlos did on breaking down Zambrano's mechanics were talked about during the May 26th game, although they did not use Carlos' name to give him credit)
Damn! I got a mention on Fox? I didn't know about that one. That's cool, really cool.
To answer your question, the idea behind it is to get noticed by Major League Baseball while hoping that fans get a bit of a deeper understanding of pitchers' mechanics. I don't hide the fact that I want a job with a MLB team in scouting/player development in the hopes of being GM one day.
I'd like to use "baseball-speak" in my articles to appeal to MLB front offices, but I feel as though I have somewhat of a responsibility to the casual fan to explain mechanics in simpler terms. I think the fan appreciates that about my articles (at least I'd hope).
I actually like the fact that my readers ask me so many questions, so I'm forced to explain and re-explain my position and re-evaluate what I've learned and what I teach. I get a kick out of every time someone asks me, "what's wrong with so and so?" I don't always have the answer to the questions, but readers are SUCH a resource. They give me information, video.... It's great, really.
Kind of a follow-up question, but you've talked about breaking down hitters in the future and breaking down some players from the
past; are you working on any other innovative projects that we should be looking out for?
If you consider Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan interesting, that's a project I'm really looking forward to. A lot of the mechanics concepts that I teach are a mix of old-school and new-school philosophies. After the draft stuff, I plan on writing something on either Aaron/Ruth or Gibson/Ryan and comparing their swings and deliveries with current players.
You speak jokingly in your bio on The Hardball Times about being 'the future General Manager of _____'. Is that your 'ultimate goal'? Have you had any contact from Major League Organizations considering your work (that you can talk about)?
Yeah, that's the goal. Some have warned me that I might not really want to be GM though...too much stuff other than baseball operations to worry about. I don't know how my future owner would react to my plan of $1 hot dogs and $2 beers. I think Director of Scouting or Director of Player Development or even Assistant GM is probably where I see myself down the line.
I've had 2 teams contact me directly, and they are both very high up in the organizational ladder. It was exciting for them to say "we're impressed with your work." That keeps me going, ya know? That's probably all I'm allowed to say...sorry dude.
You break down the mechanics of pitchers, but those pitchers learn those mechanics from somewhere. Who do you consider the best pitching coaches/instructors in all of baseball (including collegiate)?
My main guru is a guy by the name of Paul Nyman, founder of SETPRO. He's controversial in the baseball world because of what he teaches but the science behind his instruction is top-notch. I also borrow a bit from Tom House, Ron Wolforth, and even Mike Marshall. The guy that really put it all together for me is Jeff Albert (http://www.swingtraining.net/), who is my cousin and introduced me to a lot of these concepts and ideas, especially on the hitting side. Ex-players like Tim Hyers and active players such as Steve Palazzolo have also helped me understand things better.
A lot of the things I talk about are considered controversial and not many teach these things. But I think that the state of pitching instruction is outdated, even at the professional level. I try to keep myself in the loop of what is currently being taught.
The age old debate of whether kids in Little League should be throwing curve balls, care to state for the record your opinion on the subject?
Until I read better research, I'd play in on the safe side. I work as a pitching instructor. If a kid wants to throw a curveball and he's 12, I say "sorry kid, I'm not going there. I'll teach ya how to throw hard." Plus, you know what scouts look for at first? They look for velocity. If you want your kid to develop, have him throw the crap of the ball.
You've broken down the mechanics of quite a few different pitchers, so how do you decide which one's to break down the mechanics of?
It really depends. Most of the time, it's just one of those things where I see a pitcher that I've seen before and say "wait a sec, he's doing something different." I also may take on pitchers that are generating interest at the moment that are either struggling or succeeding by doing something different mechanically. For the most part though, I stick to pitchers that are showing signs of mechanical inefficiency (velocity drop and such) and try to compare them to when they were better.
Since I read that you are into Sabermetrics, can you tell us your opinion as to how you find them helpful in regards to MLB? Also, do you see front offices turning to sabermetrics more and more in the future?
I'm pretty sure that every team knows about the
sabermetric movement. Whether they choose to accept or ignore it is their decision. Sabermetric stuff was very influential in trying to understand what makes someone or some team successful. Of course, it can be taken too far. I am into sabermetrics, but I think that the smart teams will use a good mix of both objective stat-based analysis and scouting to become better evaluators of talent. At least, that what I'll do when I'm the GM of the Cubs...a man can dream, right?
You've had an interesting start to your writing career since your writing started on the Internet and now a print publication. How do you think writing on the internet has helped/hurt you in your effort to get your work out there?
I believe it has only helped me. MLB teams have called, people are loving it (for the most part), and I am learning about what I do more and more because I am forced to explain the why. Agree or disagree with what I see, I'm a much better evaluator of talent now than I was even a year ago.
Oh, and I love the internets. It's a great series of tubes that has helped me spread my philosophies and get me noticed.
With a lot of great baseball writers becoming bloggers now (Keith Law,Buster Olney,Peter Gammons,Rob Neyer,Baseball Prospectus, etc.), where do you turn to for your baseball news?
I go to The Hardball Times (no shit..or I mean no kidding), Baseball Prospectus (mostly for Will Carroll and Goldstein), BaseballThinkFactory.org and MLB.com every day for sure. The more I got involved with this, Rob Neyer started promoting me so I read his blog as well. With the draft stuff, I now read Keith Law (who I'm REALLY impressed with). I think I'm addicted to baseball...anyone else have this "problem"?
Since you are a successful writer off of the internet, what advice do you have for people who are writing on blogs on how to be successful and finding their niche?
Find what you are passionate about. That's really what it comes down to.
I'll leave this up to you. Anything else you'd like to add that I may not have asked a question about. If you have some interesting news coming up, a new post coming up, anything, etc.
I think I may have helped "fire up" Zambrano after all....hehe. This was great, would do it anytime.
(Note: Since Carlos wrote his breakdown of Carlos Zambrano he has a record of 6-3 while lowering his ERA from 5.61 to 4.03)
You can contact Jack Cobra by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org