How the Mets’ Colin Holderman and Stephen Nogosek used a lost season to their advantage
It was August 2020 and Stephen Nogosek had been mulling over some big concepts for a while. His mix of fastball and slider had been good enough to give Nogosek a cup of coffee in the major leagues in 2019; it hadn’t been good enough for him to produce positive results.
When the regular season was delayed by the pandemic, Nogosek played with changing his repertoire. At the end of the summer, when it was clear there would be no minor league season and he would not be invited to the Mets alternate team site, Nogosek decided that it was time for a complete overhaul.
“When it was a reality that I wasn’t playing ball this year, it was time to change everything,” Nogosek said over the weekend in Los Angeles. “I took two shots, threw them in the trash and added four… Basically I remade my whole career.”
Halfway across the country, Colin Holderman was attempting the same personal makeover, using a tip from Ricky Meinhold, then the Mets’ minor league pitching coordinator, to rework his delivery.
Less than two years later, Nogosek and Holderman have become legitimate contributors to the New York major league bullpen. Neither was on the 40-man roster to start the season; neither was really on anyone’s radar before spring training. Both have now recorded big strikeouts in big big league situations.
Although both have been touched up over the past two days by the Padres, they have still combined for a 3.38 ERA between them this season. They owe it to their desire to improve during what could have been – what was for many of their contemporaries – a lost season.
“Everyone knows there’s a small window in professional baseball, and you have to take advantage of it,” Meinhold said. “Guys talk about wanting to be a major leaguer and wanting to be great, and there are guys actually doing that. Kudos to them for seeing the need to make an adjustment and going out of their way to make it happen.
Holderman’s revival began essentially with a call to the manager’s office.
New York’s minor league pitchers had scattered across the country during the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown, meeting periodically for virtual meetings with coaches and Meinhold, the general coordinator. After one of those group sessions, Meinhold asked Holderman to stay on FaceTime for a one-on-one chat.
“You throw like an idiot,” is Holderman’s recollection of Meinhold’s direct advice. “You don’t use your legs at all.”
“Basically he didn’t maximize the efficiency of how his body was moving and how that related to strength and power and the timing that happens when releasing the ball,” Meinhold said more politely. this week, by phone from South Korea where he works for KBO’s Lotte Giants. “So he struggled to maintain his speed and his material, and he didn’t really throw any quality strikes. And because of the inconsistency of his delivery, he was always injured.
Meinhold told Holderman to think of his throwing performance more like a golf swing, where the legs had to be actively involved. The change was brutal.
“The next time I was on the mound it was much better. I was going from 94 to 98 within days,” Holderman said. “It was a lot easier on my arm. hurt the next day and I was throwing harder.
As you’d expect, the serious jump in speed brought Holderman’s full repertoire into play.
“Using my legs helped my direction a bit more. I was able to be more up front and more aggressive up front which led to a crisper breaking ball, more feel and more consistency,” Holderman said. “Everything clicked. It helped everything, not just speed.
“Through his injuries, through adversity, through this change, he had to relearn who he was and who he wanted to be,” Meinhold said.
— New York Mets (@Mets) May 29, 2022
Consistency with that pitch mix didn’t follow as immediately as the bike jump, and it took the minor league veteran at that time a while to change his mind in the organization. He was not invited to the 2020 summer training camp or the alternate venue, the latter despite Meinhold’s recommendation. The best he could do was a September 2020 trip to the pedagogical league.
“I had to reintroduce myself,” Holderman said at the time. “I’m still here, I’m still the guy you drafted in 2016 – only much better.”
Holderman impressed in the Arizona Fall League in 2021, and his big break came with dominating spring training this year. He took that success with him to Syracuse earlier this year and now for an extended stay in Queens right now.
“Colin was able to change the trajectory of his career with a few FaceTimes,” Meinhold said.
“Every day was worth it, the three years (of injuries) was worth it just to get shot,” Holderman said. “It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of. It’s been wild, but it’s getting more and more normal every day.
Unlike Holderman, Nogosek had done quick minor league work. He had reached the majors with a four-seam fastball in the area and a serviceable slider. Her decision to revamp her repertoire took on a different kind of honesty.
“The biggest hurdle,” Meinhold said, “is the guys in the big leagues where you try to (change) their repertoire – but they got to the big leagues with that repertoire.”
“I’m not afraid to look in the mirror and say, ‘You’re not good enough. Change and chase it,'” Nogosek said. things. I wasn’t afraid of it, I wasn’t intimidated by it. I took him by the horns.”
Nogosek worked primarily with DJ Carrasco, then the organization’s pitching coach. He looked at his arsenal and wondered: if he could design everything from the bottom up, what kind of pitcher would he be?
Carrasco thought Nogosek’s four-seam fastball was good enough to play at the major league level — but not if he threw it more than 60% of the time.
“Mariano Rivera can do it,” Carrasco said over the phone this week. “Few others can (with a single pitch) at the big league level… He had had a taste of the big leagues. He wanted it back. He was willing to listen and learn and try things out and see if it worked or not.
Stephen Nogosek goes 2.2 innings with 4 strikeouts to keep the game within striking distance! pic.twitter.com/G6hBcjKKCT
— Shea Station (@shea_station) May 25, 2022
Nogosek’s main additions were a refined change and a cutter. The cutter, built as a variation of his slider, allows him to come back and work for low contact as opposed to swings-and-misses.
“It makes everything better,” Nogosek said of the cutter, which he’s thrown around 30% of the time in the majors this season. “I can throw him for a strike, I can throw him off the plate, I can shape him to get a swing-and-miss, I can shape him to get early contact.”
With Nogosek less predictable, opponents are 1 for 21 when putting his fastball into play this season.
There was a blessing and a curse in doing this in late summer 2020. The lack of gaming action is what compelled Nogosek to finally go through this magnitude of overhaul; he admitted that if he had been invited to the alternate site, he would have remained more faithful to what had brought him to this point.
“It was nice to really get back to basics and start from square one. It’s hard to make adjustments during the season with adding a new pitch or revamping a pitch because you need to what you have to go compete,” Nogosek said.
But that also meant there wasn’t the usual on-game commentary, and live batting practices didn’t reveal much. And so, when he applied these changes throughout the 2021 season, there were still some ripples in his results, including during his brief stint in the majors.
Things have been smoother for Nogosek this season. He didn’t allow his first run until Chris Taylor took him to Dodger Stadium this weekend. The Padres scored four against him on Wednesday night, capitalizing on the Mets’ below-average defense in the process. Still, his ERA sits just above 3.50 for the season.
“I know how quickly that can change,” Nogosek said over the weekend at Dodger Stadium when his ERA started with a zero. “Stay humble and chase it. Don’t ride waves that are too high or too low.
Even after back-to-back losses at San Diego in the second week of June, the Mets have the best record in the National League. They climbed to that perch despite injuries to Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Trevor May, and they stayed there in large part thanks to the depth of their pitching squad. Tylor Megill – another afterthought in the 2020 stoppage – kept the fort in the rotation before his own injury. Holderman and Nogosek did more than just eat innings out of the bullpen.
“It’s a credit to them,” Meinhold said, looking back on the work both relievers have done in 2020. “It shows you how badly they want it.”
(Photo by Colin Holderman: Kelley L Cox/USA Today)