Lance Lynn's take on Sonny Gray's post-Yankees growth twists the knife again

New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins
New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins / Hannah Foslien/GettyImages

Of all the people the Yankees have employed since 2017 who've frustrated fans, Larry Rothschild was clearly the worst at his job. Rothschild, who would've been a better Needle Finder (Haystack Division) than a pitching coach, might've been the least analytically informed voice in the game at a time when seemingly everyone else had more data at their disposal (and was more malleable in their use of it).

Rothschild? Either he had a "one size fits all" mentality, or was staring blankly at the wrong colored dots the entire time. Whatever the case may have been, his flawed process turned Sonny Gray from All-Star to also ran, ending his Yankees tenure prematurely after 1.5 seasons. At least Brian Cashman never regretted the names he surrendered in the initial deadline blitz; as per usual, he traded dreck for dreck (sorry, Jorge Mateo, we like you).

But Gray persevered, predictably finding himself immediately in Cincinnati under the tutelage of his old Vanderbilt chum Derek Johnson, the Reds' pitching coach. He returned to All-Star status immediately, posting a 2.87 ERA and striking out 205 men in 175 1/3 innings, growing up almost instantaneously after being shunted in the Bronx.

To be fair to Rothschild for an iota of a second, Gray battled demons before coming to the Yankees as well; he lost himself in 2016, posting a 5.69 ERA one year after a 2.73 mark and third-place Cy Young finish. To be unfair to Rothschild for the remainder of history, crafting a pitching plan counter to Gray's comfort knocked him off-kilter, until he aged into his own confidence under new management in the Queen City.

Gray's former Yankees teammate (and current Cardinals compatriot) Lance Lynn showered the ex-Bomber with grace on Foul Territory this week, complimenting the ascent he's witnessed in the years since they first linked up in the Bronx. Gray, of course, has stayed remarkably consistent, from Cincy to Minnesota to St. Louis, racking up accolades along the way.

Former Yankees ace Sonny Gray is in total control now, doesn't even remember Larry Rothschild's name

"In between starts, day of start, pitch process, everything ... he's really taken his game to a level, and you see it on the field," Lynn noted, describing all the controllables Gray has mastered in the years since the Yankees tried to sneak into his head and command his plan.

"The guy can spin any breaking ball that you teach him, and put it wherever he wants to," he added, adding insult to Rothschild's injury, who couldn't seem to teach him anything successfully.

It was the slider that Rothschild's Yankees insisted on emphasizing, a pitch Gray was told to abandon in college so that it wouldn't mess with the shape on his curveball. Spoiler: In New York, that seemed to happen. Add in the Yankees coaches repeatedly telling him his bad results were "bad luck," and that he should stick with their flawed process, and you get a wave of possibly irreversible damage to an impressionable arm.

Tack on the big city pressure, and it's enough to knock a career off course.

And yet, six years later, Gray is one of the NL's preeminent aces, and is in total control of his own arsenal from dawn 'til dusk. The 2024 Yankees' clubhouse seems looser than it has been in recent years, after hiring communicators renowned for their ability to be both empathetic and detailed in relaying changes and mandates from above. Maybe a pitcher like Gray wouldn't get swallowed up in a group like this one.

In 2017 and 2018, though, a dinosaur nearly knocked him down for the count. It's nice to see him reverse the narrative in a third city since his departure (though it's stung every step of the way).