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Sonny Gray, the Yankees’ forgotten ace

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With hot stove talk centering around acquiring another starter like Gerrit Cole or Yu Darvish, it’s easy to forget that the Yankees already made a major move to improve the 2018 rotation.

Sonny Gray in action against the Houston Astros in Game Four of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium on October 17, 2017. The Yankees won 6-4.
Sonny Gray in action against the Houston Astros in Game Four of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium on October 17, 2017. The Yankees won 6-4.
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

With less than three weeks to go before spring training commences, the biggest addition for the Yankees this offseason remains the trade acquisition of National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins. Although Brian Cashman has repeatedly stated that improving the starting pitching was a goal, so far the only move this winter to that end was the re-signing of CC Sabathia.

While the team offered top prospects in a failed effort to secure Gerrit Cole — and the Yankees continue to be connected to free agent Yu Darvish — they actually already made a huge move to improve the rotation. It occurred last year at the trade deadline when the club landed Sonny Gray in a deal with the Oakland Athletics.

There’s a reason why the Yankees made the pursuit of Gray such a high priority, and it wasn’t just about the 2017 playoff race. Gray has been one of the top pitchers in the league since making his debut in 2013. This sortable table demonstrates just how effective Gray has been compared to other top AL starters over the last four seasons:

Top AL Starters: 2014-2017

Player GS IP WHIP ERA FIP ERA+ BAbip BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ K% BB% HR
Player GS IP WHIP ERA FIP ERA+ BAbip BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ K% BB% HR
Chris Sale 121 823.2 1.017 2.99 2.83 136 .297 .219 .270 .351 .621 70 31.0% 5.1% 87
Corey Kluber 127 876.1 1.022 2.83 2.76 152 .292 .219 .268 .349 .617 64 29.0% 5.4% 79
Carlos Carrasco 101 664.0 1.078 3.24 3.03 134 .296 .229 .278 .370 .648 71 27.6% 5.7% 67
Masahiro Tanaka 105 668.1 1.097 3.56 3.75 119 .280 .239 .277 .411 .689 84 23.6% 4.6% 97
David Price 112 773.1 1.126 3.26 3.11 127 .302 .241 .283 .380 .663 80 25.3% 5.0% 80
Felix Hernandez 106 677.2 1.135 3.21 3.69 120 .276 .229 .291 .369 .659 84 23.1% 7.1% 75
Dallas Keuchel 111 745.2 1.140 3.15 3.38 124 .283 .236 .288 .354 .643 79 21.0% 6.5% 63
Justin Verlander 119 773.0 1.168 3.59 3.65 116 .282 .233 .291 .383 .674 83 23.4% 7.1% 88
Sonny Gray 113 706.1 1.213 3.52 3.76 113 .278 .236 .299 .361 .660 83 20.5% 7.9% 69
Jake Odorizzi 120 668.1 1.215 3.81 4.23 103 .270 .234 .297 .408 .705 95 22.1% 7.9% 97
Chris Archer 133 809.0 1.227 3.66 3.37 108 .305 .237 .300 .370 .669 86 26.7% 7.8% 88
Rick Porcello 125 803.0 1.239 3.98 3.93 108 .305 .267 .307 .430 .738 96 19.3% 4.7% 104
Table by Brett Borzelli, stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com

Among those making at least 100 starts from 2014-2017, Gray ranks ninth in WHIP, seventh in ERA, tenth in FIP, and ninth in ERA+. He has the fourth lowest slugging average against, behind Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, and Dallas Keuchel. His OPS against is the fifth lowest behind the same group plus Felix Hernandez. That’s some very elite company that Gray has pitched himself into.

I found myself wondering whether the great numbers have anything to do with Gray making half of his starts at the pitcher-friendly Oakland Coliseum. It apparently doesn’t. Gray’s home versus road splits are fairly comparable. In fact, his slugging and OPS against are actually worse at home. He has also given up far fewer home runs on the road.

Sonny Gray: Career home versus road splits

Split GS IP WHIP ERA BAbip BA OBP SLG OPS SO/BB K/9 HR
Split GS IP WHIP ERA BAbip BA OBP SLG OPS SO/BB K/9 HR
Home 65 414.2 1.177 3.65 .273 .235 .292 .364 .657 2.81 7.6 45
Away 58 355.2 1.237 3.21 .283 .233 .302 .346 .647 2.48 8.0 28
Table by Brett Borzelli, stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com

In light of last year’s performance by veteran stopper Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka’s Koufaxian playoff efforts, and Luis Severino’s dominance that resulted in a third-place finish in the Cy Young voting, it would be easy to simply consider Gray the Yankees’ number four starter. But he’s so much more.

Gray’s history clearly establishes him as an ace. If he pitches up to his resume this year, then the Yankees will have a formidable rotation — perhaps even one of the best in baseball.