Buy ‘Em or Deny ‘Em: Can Sonny Gray Put It Together For A Full Season?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

It’s easy to get excited about the A’s Sonny Gray, considering that he is a groundball pitcher calling a cavernous park home. Any time you put those two things together you are going to get success. Does that mean that we should automatically slot him into the top of the rankings, though?

While it appeared to be the case in the first half of 2015, as the season wore on the questions mounted. Just look at his split:

First Half2.047.862.1813.8%.249
Second Half3.746.513.0920.3%.263

Not only did all of the metrics regress, it would also be easy to argue that his performance was on the luckier side in the second half considering the line drive rate and BABIP. As it is no one would’ve reasonably expected him to maintain his first half line drive rate, which meant a regression was coming. The question now goes to the strikeouts and control.

Over his first two seasons he posted walk rates of 2.81 and 3.04, and he also has never shown an ability to get opponents to chase outside the strike zone (O-Swing%):

  • 2013 – 22.8%
  • 2014 – 29.3%
  • 2015 – 29.5%

In other words the second half mark seems to be closer to what we’d expect.

He has shown more strikeouts, overall, over his first two seasons (K/9 of 9.42 and 7.52). Of course given his Whiff% you have to wonder how realistic his debut mark was. Just look at them from 2015:

  • Fourseam – 7.42%
  • Sinker – 6.16%
  • Changeup – 9.95%
  • Slider – 24.41%
  • Curveball – 9.07%
  • Cutter – 14.67%

His slider has always been his big swing and miss pitch, but he also hadn’t throw it all that often. Last season he nearly doubled the usage, going from 8.7% to 15.9%. That’s promising, but it also doesn’t give us reason to believe that he’s going to suddenly be a strikeout per inning pitcher.

Over his minor league career he posted a 7.3 K/9 and while he’s better than his second half mark, he’s never going to return to the number he made in his initial splash in the Majors (64.0 IP).

Yes there are a lot of groundballs, but given the depth there is at starting pitching at this point neither the control nor the strikeout rate give us much hope. You also have the concern about a further regression in the BABIP, given the line drive rate in the second half (which is far more believable than his first half number). Put those things together and, while the groundball rate keeps him as a usable option, you get a starter that you shouldn’t go crazy to own.  Think of him more as an upside SP3/4, as opposed to someone to build around.

Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Brooks Baseball

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