Following the All-Star break, it became painfully clear that the Yankees needed help in the starting rotation. Masahiro Tanaka struggled through the first half and Michael Pineda suffered a season-ending UCL tear. The Bombers appeared ready to make noise in the second half, but only if the pitching reinforcements arrived. Brian Cashman had his work cut out for him as the trade deadline approached. He didn’t disappoint either, landing arguably the most coveted pitcher on the market in Sonny Gray.
Prior to the trade, Gray pitched very well for the Athletics. He posted a 3.43 ERA with a 3.25 FIP across 97 innings. Of course he missed the start of the season with a strained lat. That conjured up images of his disappointing and injury riddled 2016 campaign, but he shook off those concerns quickly. During his final four starts in Oakland, he pitched to an insane 1.48 ERA with top-notch peripherals.
After coming over to the Yankees, the right-hander continued his success. Through his first eight games, he pitched to a 2.66 ERA. While he outperformed his peripherals by a large margin — his 4.14 FIP didn’t look great — the results proved an unqualified success. He was the frontline starter the Yankees envisioned at the time of the trade.
Gray’s last three regular season starts, however, were disastrous. He ran up an awful 7.36 ERA with a 7.38 FIP. The most damning part of this stretch was his complete lack of control. Gray lost the ability to throw strikes, as told by his 6.14 BB/9 over this stretch. He also surrendered an inordinate amount of home runs. His 2.45 HR/9 underscores how much trouble he had keeping the ball in the park. It was an alarming finish to his otherwise impressive 2017.
His postseason numbers also represented a mixed bag. Gray owned a 4.32 ERA over 8.1 innings. That’s a small sample size, and he kept the Yankees alive in Game Four of the ALCS. The Yankees were hesitant to turn to the right-hander, but that shouldn’t deter from his brilliant run in pinstripes. Without Gray, it’s tough to imagine the team making it as far as they did.
Perhaps the most notable adjustment Gray made between 2016 and 2017 has to do with pitch selection. The 28-year-old is essentially a five-pitch starter (with a show me cutter), and he works best when he mixes them all in regularly.
In 2016 he relied almost exclusively on his fastballs and curveball. This season, however, he had the whole arsenal working. Gray will never overpower a batter. He’s not that type of pitcher. He succeeds largely because of his craftiness. He’s a cerebral starter, and while that can occasionally lead him to being a nibbler, it more often than not brings about success.
Gray is entering his first round through arbitration, with his earliest free agency slated for 2020. A controllable, frontline starting pitcher is exactly what the Yankees needed. The fact they got him for Dustin Fowler, James Kaprielian, and Jorge Mateo stands out as even more remarkable. If he can build upon this season’s success and remain healthy, the team has a dynamic starter at the top of the rotation. Now if only the lineup could give the poor man some run support.