ATLANTA -- Dee Gordon is the model of improvement in major league baseball this year, evolving from a part-timer into an All-Star with a position change and a change in regimen. He explained in spring training that by eliminating hours of pickup basketball, he was finally able to gain weight he felt he needed.
This is the part of baseball for which no statistical analysis can account: A player’s ability to adapt, to make changes that can make a big difference.
Atlanta Braves pitcher Alex Wood -- who starts on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 ET on ESPN and WatchESPN) against Gio Gonzalez and the Nationals -- is another example of this. For him, throwing a fastball and a changeup came easily, but his curveball was always problematic and inconsistent. Sometimes it would spin sharply, sometimes it wouldn’t, and sometimes he could command the pitch and sometimes he couldn’t.
He tinkered with different grips, he explained Saturday, and during the offseason, he found something while playing catch with his former college teammate, Kyle Farmer, who is now a catcher in the Dodgers’ organization. Wood started using the tip of his left index finger as the primary lever, rather than the first knuckle, and gripped a different part of the baseball, using the seams for traction.
He had a better feel for the ball throwing it this way, and a better curveball, which was confirmed by a moment in spring training. With a two-strike count, Wood threw the curve to David Ortiz, who watched it spin right over the plate for Strike 3.
With his new curveball -- which he’s using about 50 percent more than he did last season -- Wood feels that he now has a third pitch for which hitters have to account, and cannot simply dismiss.
“Just being able to throw it whenever I need to throw it, for the most part, and for an out pitch against left-handers and right-handers has been a big improvement this year,” said Wood, who has a 2.96 ERA this season in 15 starts, with 88 strikeouts in 94 1/3 innings.
Here are some other players who made small adjustments that have had yielded colossal results this season