David Cone Speaks

by Jason Epstein

New York magazine interviewed former pitcher and current YES Network analyst David Cone.

Some excerpts:

How much time do you spend preparing for each game, or each series?

It’s a daily thing for me. There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not on Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference.com, or several others, just reading articles or really breaking down data. There’s so much to do, and I like to break down overall team tendencies, especially offensively, and of course pitching-wise as well. I like to compare year to year, too. I’m really interested in some of the Pitch f/x data, and some of the release points, the horizontal and vertical movement, and really comparing this data year to year, and seeing what a guy’s doing differently year to year. Is his breaking ball breaking a little more, or is he throwing more change-ups this year, or is he throwing more sliders? And I think that those tendencies are really valuable, because those are easy to explain to a fan. You know, 30 percent curveballs last year, and he’s only throwing 20 percent this year, and he’s throwing more change-ups. The data doesn’t lie. But I love the Pitch f/x data, and I’m interested in learning more about the HITf/x data. I think how the ball comes off the bat is really interesting.

How much would it have helped you as a player to have had some of that data — which pitches you threw, etc.?

We charted individual pitches by hand, so I had that data from game to game, but from year to year, I didn’t really have that data, because a lot of times it was discarded. The manually written charts were discarded from year to year. And so I would have loved to have been able to compare year to year, or even a five-year period to look at my tendencies. I think would have really helped me. It would have also been nice to know exactly what I was giving hits up on over a period of time — the efficiency of certain pitches. What the rate was on my slider, my fastball, my splitter? Against right-handers, against left-handers. I would have really gotten into that data. I think it really could have helped me. I’m really interested in some of the trends that I had, especially later in my career.

A couple weeks have passed since everything that happened with Jorge Posada, but as a former player, is there a point that you realize that you’re never again going to be the player you were in your prime? Is it true that the player is the last to know?

Generally, yes, that is true. The player is the last one to know, the last one to accept it. Part of what makes you great as a young player can hurt you at the end of your career, in terms of you need a certain amount of ego, a certain amount of arrogance to be able to play well and to push yourself and trick yourself into thinking you’re better than you really are. It’s kind of the way you’re conditioned as an athlete. And then at the end of your career, it kind of hurts you, because you’re a little more stubborn, you’re a little less realistic about what your role should be, or how effective you really are — just kind of succumbing to Old Man Time.

Was there a point in your career when you realized it?

It happened quickly for me. I kind of fell on my face in the year 2000 and had a really bad year, and I remember kind of doing a complete reversal, where earlier in my career I was kind of young and arrogant and cocky, and at the end of my career I was almost going to the manager saying, “I feel bad that I’m putting you in the position to have to take me out of the rotation, and that I’m pitching so poorly that I’m making you uncomfortable.” I had a much greater sense of awareness at the end of my career than I did early in my career. And sometimes that hurts you. Sometimes I wish I was kind of a little more cocky and arrogant at the end of my career. Maybe I needed that a little more. But at the same time, I became very aware in that short period of time that my skills had diminished quickly.

Tell me about your involvement with the Stars and Stripes cap program.

It’s a great program. New Era, and Major League Baseball Charities, and Bourget Motorcycles have partnered up, and all the funds are going to go to the Welcome Back Veterans fund, a great fund that helps all the veterans coming home dealing with some of the problems they have, both physically and mentally. But New Era, the caps are great — all 30 Major League teams are going to wear the “Stars and Stripes” New Era hats on Memorial Day and on the Fourth of July, and a portion of the proceeds are going to go to the Welcome Back Veterans fund. And the Bourget bike is just unbelievable. It’s a one-of-a-kind motorcycle, a “Stars and Stripes” edition 2011 Python Super Stretch. Just an amazing bike, handmade. It’s got all 30 Major League teams’ logos on it. Just a beautiful piece of work. Kind of a low-riding, Super Stretch bike. It’s going to go on tour around to all 30 stadiums throughout the summer and then be auctioned off for charity in Vegas on Veterans Day, 11/11/11 this year. It’ll go for a pretty penny, because it’s a pretty special bike.

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