Throughout their professional careers, Major Leaguers acquaint themselves with countless teammates. They show up to practice daily, a lot of them are teammates throughout the minor leagues, and they spend more time with those guys than their families throughout a year. It got me thinking about what happens when one player moves to another franchise and they end up facing each other. Who has the upper hand? Is there a situation where there’s a more prolonged and more egregious chess match happening? I decided to get input from a couple of pitchers, a hitter, and manager Chris Woodward.
In Woody’s case, I asked him after Dane Dunning’s outing in Chicago. Dunning had his shortest outing against the White Sox, a team he pitched for last season. Since many of the White Sox hitters were teammates of Dunning, I inquired if the mutual collaboration scouting can cause a pitcher or a hitter to overthink each at-bat. “It depends on the pitcher,” Woodward responded. “Some guys just trust their stuff and keep attacking with their stuff. You have different ways of attacking a hitter, so sometimes, yes, you may overthink it.” However, Woodward and the staff urge their pitchers to trust themselves to execute their pitches and throw them with conviction because the rest won’t matter. “At the end of the day, executed pitches are hard to hit regardless if you are looking for them,” Woody said.
After Dane’s start in Chicago, he eluded it more to the lack of execution of his pitches that night than any information the White Sox hitters had. “We came up with a game plan going into [the game],” Dane told me that night. “I told him what I know per hitter, and we stuck to that game plan, and it was ultimately me making a few mistakes and pitches and not locating as well as I should have.” Since then, Dane had a rough first inning against the Angels but settled down and finished Sunday’s game against the Mariners with a quality start.
"It's exciting, everyone's pulling the rope the same direction… they work very hard and it's contagious."
Dane Dunning on the team atmosphere. pic.twitter.com/20djymt7zb
— Bally Sports Southwest (@BallySportsSW) May 9, 2021
Kyle’s start last Tuesday was a homecoming. Gibson spent seven seasons on the Minnesota Twins and three seasons in the Twins minor leagues before the 2013 call-up. Did knowing many of the hitters on the Twins cause Gibson to overthink his pitches on the mound? According to Kyle that night, yes, but more so later in the game. Early on, he said he was more amped up, which caused him to be mechanically off. However, later in the game, the over-intellectualized chess match came into play, especially with former teammate and catcher Mitch Garver. Garver caught Gibson for three seasons with the Twins. “He knows the sequences I like to do. He knows that two pitches I like to back up,” Gibson told me after his start last Tuesday.
Gibson said that night he changed his game plan a little bit because he felt that the Twins would expect it more. “I just had to be cognizant of that,” Gibson said. “I did some things differently than I would have done against a team that didn’t know me as well.” Kyle ended the evening going eight innings, allowing three runs on three hits and striking out eight Twins.
"That was so much fun, just being back where a lot of this started for me."
— Bally Sports Southwest (@BallySportsSW) May 5, 2021
According to Nick, there’s no real advantage on either side, but it does help when you face former teammates. “There’s experience there when you face a guy that you’ve played with,” Nick told me Saturday. “I played defense behind a lot of the Rays’ guys. I see how they attack hitters, how they attack different types of hitters. You see what they like to do and what they try to do, and that can form your own plan.” While he hasn’t had success with the Yankees (the team that drafted him), Nick is tearing up the Rays, an organization that he spent two and a half years within their minor league system. Solak is 11 for 27 with three home runs and nine driven in seven games against his former club.
— Texas Rangers (@Rangers) May 9, 2021
The consensus appears that there is an extra piece of information that guys can gather from their former clubs, but it’s all about execution. Nick Solak said it best on if there’s any advantage between a pitcher or a hitter, “I don’t know if there’s an advantage because they watched you hit too. They saw how you had success. I think it does help formulate a plan,” Nick told me. There will be some intrigue coming with the New York Yankees coming to town a week from Monday. Long-time Ranger, Rougned Odor, suffered a knee sprain and is on the ten-day injured list. However, he is eligible to come back May 15th, the day before the Yankees head to Arlington for a four-game series.