What is going on with MacKenzie Gore?
The curious case of MacKenzie Gore continues to bewilder those who are ready to see the studly left-hander dominate at the major league level. It was already a confusing story but we recently got this tweet from PitcherList correspondent Andy Patton:
I heard from a reliable source that #Padres left-hander MacKenzie Gore is suffering from “the Y’s” (yips). It would explain San Diego’s silence about their top pitching prospect over the past year. Certainly not something he can’t overcome, but worth monitoring @PitcherList
— Andy Patton (@andypattonPNW) April 24, 2021
That is perplexing, to say the least. So let’s dive into what brought us to where we are at today and see if we can connect to dots to truly understand what is happening to the Padres top prospect.
Let’s start with the last time we got to see Gore in a real baseball game. His 2019 at High-A Lake Elsinore was sensational and the reason he gained so much hype. 12.5 K/9 and a 1.02 ERA scream front of the rotation stud, and his walk rate of 2.28 BB/9 was the best of his short career. He was then promoted to Double-A for a 5 game cameo and things went fine. After all, he was a 20-year-old and reaching the end of the season. His ERA jumped to 4.15, the K-rate lowered to 10.6 and the WHIP doubled to 1.32. The thing that sticks out now, however, is the walk rate; it would jump to 3.4 BB/9. With all that being said, no alarms were raised and things seemed to set up nicely for a potential 2020 debut.
The debut would never come. Part pandemic, part bad luck, whatever it was, we don’t get to see the lefty make his debut. It didn’t seem like that was possible, considering Gore’s strong spring debut. On March 5th, Gore needed only 8 pitches to get through his inning. This was followed by a much different appearance six days later where he gave up three earned runs, walking two and giving up two hits. He does not make the team and we don’t get much information until a few months later. In May, Dennis Lin of The Athletic reports Gore could be called up “fairly quickly, if not right away.” In July, we get word that he struggled in an inter-squad game. A few months later, in September, the Padres claimed that they wanted Gore to remain a starter and won’t call him up to go into the bullpen. Remember, this was a season where they were going to try and dethrone the Dodgers, so not calling up all your pitchers seems like a bit of an odd move, but it still could make sense. Alas, the bottom line is that Gore was not ready for the call and that is telling.
The Padres make some huge moves, trading for Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove, and Yu Darvish. Granted, the Padres didn’t give up a ton of assets to acquire these starters, but they acquired them nonetheless. To a team that doesn’t have an unlimited budget, Gore would have been a very logical player to slot into the rotation to at least see if he was ready. If he wasn’t, you send him down and then make the trade. But this doesn’t even appear to be on the table here with the Padres. Gore does make some appearances in Spring and we get a report that he was dealing with some major command and mechanical issues in the summer camp. However, pitching coach Larry Rothschild claims that those issues were “worked out and plus.” And yet, here we are, in May, and the first left-handed rookie pitcher to make their first start is none other than Ryan Weathers (whom I love by the way, but that’s neither here nor there).
— Jeff Sanders (@sdutSanders) May 4, 2021
So, what does this all tell us? For one, walks have started to become an issue for Gore. The last couple of meaningful appearances shows a spike in walk rate and the “Yips” report certainly supports this idea. But what exactly are the yips for Gore? To me, it means that he is simply missing location consistently. I don’t think the Padres could hide a Rick Ankiel-like yips problem for Gore. Plus, we didn’t see any evidence of that extreme version of them in the spring. In 2021, we saw a pitcher that struggled to throw quality strikes and gave up a bunch of hits (and walks, to be fair). What we did not see was mascots being pegged by a pitch or batters being drilled. To me, if the yips thing is real, it is a very curable thing.
This leads me to my next theory, the one that unfortunately is probably the most likely; Gore is hurt. I don’t want to think this, and I certainly don’t want to write this, but it would explain an awful lot. In 2019, Gore was shut down to an innings limit and in 2020 only managed 1.2 innings in the spring. This year, we saw 11 innings and the stuff seemed to still be there. But that doesn’t always mean there is no injury. Tommy John is something that seems to evitable for a lot of pitchers and perhaps Gore is on that path. The Padres know this too because we aren’t getting information that we normally do from the team. This would explain why he can’t quite control the zone like he used to and why he hasn’t made it to the big leagues yet. The Padres also have plenty of incentive to hide anything that might be wrong in case they want to cash in Gore for something big at the deadline. If Gore makes his way to Triple-A and completes six-plus innings every start, I may change my tone here a bit, but I honestly think there is something more here than the Padres are telling us.
Of course, there could also be the legit possibility that Gore isn’t quite who everyone thought he was. Perhaps even the Padres got too ahead of themselves and wanted to see the ace that they thought they had. Gore might not be that guy or he still might be. Let’s not forget, this is a 22-year-old we are talking about. I just saw too much of the special stuff when watching Gore that makes me think he still is who we thought he was. To me, the only explanation is that something is physically wrong. My guess is that he has a strain on that ligament-that-shall-not-be-named and rest and physical therapy could fix it. The Padres clearly are hoping that Dinelson Lamet can avoid the knife, so it makes sense that they are trying the same thing with Gore. Or, yet another possibility is that the Padres are just ultra-conservative with their young pitchers. Look at Ryan Weathers; he was immediately yanked after one inning because his velocity was down even though he said he was fine.
There are a ton of moving parts here and I just wanted to put it all together in one spot. The hope is still there and the talent is as well. To me, the yips would be much more apparent. The injury thing makes sense and, don’t get me wrong, I hope that I am incorrect in my assessment. Don’t give up on Gore just yet; even if the Padres seem to be doing that very same thing.
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