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Inside The Mind Of Pitching Coach Scott Emerson: Part II

Oakland Athletics v Boston Red Sox
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Note: If you missed Part 1 of this interview you can read it here.

The trouble with asking a pitching coach about a pitcher on March 11th is that they might pitch March 12th and then go have Tommy John surgery on the 21st. I think the following analysis of Jharel Cotton’s pitching would be a tad more compelling if Cotton were about to take the ball for Oakland any time soon – which was the idea at the time. Oh well. It’s still, hopefully, interesting, but I may need to publish this interview again in about 15 months. We also talk about Andrew Triggs, who as of my typing this sentence is not injured. I hope you enjoy…

Nico: What do you want to see Cotton do differently this year?

Emerson: I’d like to see him start tomorrow and then have Tommy John surgery. (OK, he didn’t really say that. Let’s try again…) I think the fastball command is always something. And it’s not that he’s a fastball pitcher – he has one of the best changeups in the game – it’s about “when he throws it…” When he throws it he has to execute what he wants to do with it.

His best pitch is his changeup, but he has to find a way not to be predictable with that changeup. Even though a lot of times the hitters are probably thinking “changeup,” when they get the changeup it’s good enough, but I think every now and then you have to use that fastball to get them off that changeup. So I’d like to see a little better fastball command.

Nico: What I wonder: every time you talk to a hitter, they say “Oh I always look fastball and I adjust from there.” And yet it doesn’t always look that way. And guys who throw a lot of changeups, you have to wonder are they sitting on the changeup? What do you see when guys are going up against someone like Cotton?

Emerson: I think in a scouting report realm, if you know your (opposing) pitcher as a hitter, and you know “Cotton, his best pitch is his changeup,” there’s always the thought in the hitter’s mind that he’s going to throw a changeup. So he may eliminate breaking balls more so, off Cotton, than any other pitcher, but they’re probably up there looking fastball, looking changeup.

When you have the thought of a changeup in your mind, I think the hitter can gain the advantage. (Editor’s note: I’m not sure what Emerson meant by this, but it is not a typo – he did mean ‘hitter’.) That’s why it’s important to have one serviceable breaking ball, which Cotton does, a good changeup, and fastball command.

Nico: I know this is a hard question to ask – how good do you think a pitcher’s pitch is? – but with the cutter and the curve, where are you guys with (Cotton) in terms of which you think is a better weapon for him, which you would like to see him develop more, throw more, just how good pitches those are to go off of the fastball and changeup?

Emerson: I like his curve ball better than his cutter. The fact that it’s soft, moving to his glove side, and his changeup is soft, moving to his arm side. And then you can elevate and move your fastball around. You know if you move your fastball all around the zone those are different pitches. You get a fastball up and in, and you get a fastball down and away, that changes the whole perceived velocity of the pitch.

So the power of the fastball, with a breaker moving away from a right-hander and a changeup moving in to a right-hander, a breaker moving in to a left-hander, and a changeup moving away from a left-hander, that’s “hard in, soft away” or “hard away, soft away”.

The cutter is, for me, you have to be special to throw it. I think a lot of guys at the lower levels are developing cutters that aren’t very good, and they’re thinking that’s the key to their success and then they’re losing their fastball command. If you have a good cutter, let’s throw it. But you see a lot of these AAA pitchers coming back with these cutters that really aren’t good cutters, and it’s taking away from their fastballs.

Nico: So with Cotton, would you say “If you get your fastball command down, and that curve becomes a weapon,” would you happy to see him ditch the cutter?

Emerson: Yeah. But it’s just the cutter is a little inconsistent pitch for him and if you’re going to try to inside to a lefty or away from a righty, you can keep it ‘true’ on that side of the plate with a good 4-seam fastball. But the cutter for him hasn’t been, analytically, one of his better pitches, but I’m not going to take it away from him because any time you have a weapon in your pocket it might be something we can continue to work on. If we do have that weapon, then I think you never know – if you ask me again in a year I might say, “Hey, that’s his best pitch.” It’s just how pitchers are: next time you look up, you’re like, “Wow, I didn’t know he could do that!”

Nico: Yeah, and you can’t develop a pitch if you’re not throwing it. Last one I wanted to ask you about would be Andrew Triggs. One thing that has always been surprising to me, because of his arm angle, is that his numbers against left-handed hitters for his career are awfully good. (For his career, left-handed batters are slashing only .242/.307/.394 against Triggs, a .301 wOBA.) You don’t usually see that with side-armers. What do you attribute that to? What is he doing that a lot of those guys who come cross-fire can’t do?

Emerson: I think Triggs has that ability to go soft away and sink away. He has a really good sinker, so it’s running away from the barrel (of the bat), and he can back door his breaking ball, and he can get his breaking ball inside, deep, to the left-handed hitters.

So, it’s just his command of it. I had Brad Ziegler for a long time and he struggled a little bit on the changeup early, but a back door slider doesn’t spin as much and that becomes basically a changeup. So (Triggs) has the ability to throw back door sliders that kinda look like changeups to lefties and I think that makes him effective.

Nico: In your heart, do you have a preference seeing him as a starter or seeing him as a reliever, as far as where he could sustain success?

Emerson: I don’t know which comes first, success or confidence, but I think Triggs is a valuable pitcher in any role on the staff. He could be a swing guy, he could start, he could relieve. So I think the organization will see what’s the best fit for him the rest of spring training.

That question appears to have solved itself through attrition. Get well soon, Jharel, and thanks again to Scott Emerson for being so generous with his time.


Which part of the Scott Emerson interview did you like the best?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Part I
    (21 votes)
  • 10%
    Part II
    (13 votes)
  • 24%
    It would have been Part II had Cotton been healthy, but the injury changed it for me
    (30 votes)
  • 30%
    They were both equally great
    (38 votes)
  • 18%
    Neither. I would rather have listened to Ray Fosse interview Bea Arthur and I’m aware that she’s no longer alive
    (23 votes)
125 votes total Vote Now