A former Vanderbilt Commodore and “inverted W” pitching technique practitioner, Athletics starter Sonny Gray, has been the target of many trade rumors in 2017. He’s 27 years old, is coming up on his second arbitration year, will be a free agent in 2020, and is on a last place team that loves to make trades.
As a complete tangent, can we discuss this baseball term “inverted W?” Isn’t an inverted W just an M? What am I missing here? Why not just call it an M technique? Is there a difference between an upside-down W and an M? After spending way too much time playing with “Ms” and “Ws” and this photo of Gray, I can say that it does look more like an inverted W. I retract my outrage. /end tangent
So, of course he’s being discussed. But, he was awful in 2016, leading to many legitimate questions about his ability. With strikeouts around the league up during his career, he’s maintained a mediocre 7.7 K/9 and he has a history of shoulder and core injuries. Here’s his injury history:
- Strained right trapezius muscle
- Sore right extensor muscle
- Strained right forearm
- Strained lat
- Strained right shoulder
And those are just 2016 and 2017.
Ok, so those are some of the issues. What about the pros?
His career ERA sits at 3.49, despite a 5.69 ERA in 2016. His K/9 of 8.55 this season is his second highest ever, he’s got a career-high 11.6% SwStr%, a 3.50 FIP, 3.37 xFIP, and stellar 56% GB%. He’s always maintained a below-average walk rate (7.6% this year) and his K%-BB% is a solid 15.2% right now. His contact% allowed is a career-low 74.8% and he’s getting strike one 63.3% of the time, another career best. Even more incredibly, he’s doing all that while throwing only 43% of pitches in the zone (another career low), meaning he’s getting hitters to chase everything. Sure enough, his out-of-zone swing % is at a career-high 32.5%.
Despite owning Gray in two leagues, I started writing this post thinking I would discover that he’s been a mediocre pitcher this season, since he’s been very up-and-down. His ERA is 4.09 with a 1.24 WHIP. However, it looks like he has been rejuvenated. He’s getting swings and misses and grounders like nobody’s business. He ticks all the boxes I look for in a starter. I’m still very concerned about all his core muscle injuries and general frailty, but the talent is real.
We do need to discuss one more issue with Gray. He’s played in one of baseball’s friendliest ballparks, the Oakland Coliseum. With a spacious outfield and foul territory in addition to foul weather that keeps balls in the park, the A’s home has been good for pitchers. If he gets traded, he will most likely move to a more hitter-friendly environment. Quick caveat: apparently, ESPN has Oakland as the 8th most hitter-friendly park in baseball this year. That’s weird, but I suspect it has a lot to do with poor pitching and defense by the A’s. To support that, Oakland was the 28th-most hitter friendly park in 2016.
Let’s take a look at his home/road splits to learn more. This year, his home ERA is 3.56 and his road ERA is 4.85. That’s not a good start. But, this is a small sample size of just 30-40 innings at each location. What about his career numbers? His home ERA is 3.57 and on the road it is 3.39. Ok, so now I feel better. I’m going to go with the much larger sample.
Best Pitcher on the Market
It seems to me that Gray is very worthy of being a trade target. He has shown the ability to pitch well in the AL and has whiffs and grounders in abundance, which are even more necessary in the #yearofthehomerun. The best way to limit damage from homers is to get strikeouts, ground balls, and limit walks. I think Gray can handle that. Other than the injury issues, I think Gray is a great option. In fact, it is hard to find a better option that will be available.
Justin Verlander is way too expensive and pitching worse than Gray right now. Jose Quintana has a 4.82 ERA. Alex Cobb, Ervin Santana, and Jason Vargas are just not on Gray’s level and all have their own issues. If Chris Archer or Gerrit Cole are seriously on the trading block, then I would slot them each ahead of Gray, but that’s about it. Those two are still young and cheap, so it is unlikely they get moved, especially with Cole struggling so much and the Rays still in the playoff mix.
So, there you have it. Gray is likely the best starter on the market this July and is performing as well as he ever has. I believe he will be traded this month, but don’t ask me to predict where. Fantasy owners should expect a change in teams. Those in AL-only leagues, like me, might end up losing him if he goes to the Dodgers, Cubs, Rockies, or Brewers. We all hope he doesn’t go to the Rockies, though. That would be sad. And, if for some reason he’s still available in your league after his slow start to 2017, pick him up! Tschus!