After the mid-season trade with the Athletics in 2017, Sonny Gray was a good pitcher for the Yankees. Perhaps he didn’t completely live up to what people hoped to get from him, but a 122 ERA+ is strong. Not to mention, his performance against the Astros in game four of the ALCS helped the Yankees get back to even in that series.
Gray was not expected to be the staff ace this year. Luis Severino emerged as a dominant starter last year. Masahiro Tanaka was coming off an excellent playoff run. Gray even got pushed back to the fourth game behind CC Sabathia to break up the handedness of the rotation. The Yankees would have taken another 120ish ERA+ from him. That’s a dependable pitcher. Sonny Gray didn’t even come close to that.
Thanks to his disappointing season, which saw him yanked from the rotation in August and left off the playoff roster, Gray gets the unfortunate distinction of the Yankees least valuable player in 2018.
Things actually started alright for Gray, as he allowed four combined runs in his first two starts. He proceeded to allow five or more in four of his next eight after that.
Throughout the season, his starts were mostly below average, but he would occasionally sprinkle in a good one to tease you that he was turning things around. There was his eight shutout innings against the Blue Jays on June 6th. He struck out seven against the Nationals a couple starts later. However, a bad start was always just around the corner. After that Nats’ game, he gave up a combined 15 runs in 11 innings across his next three games.
Things came to a head on August 1st as Gray was hit around by the historically bad Orioles. He gave up seven runs in just 2.2 innings, and he wouldn’t be a regular part of the rotation after that. The bullpen stint actually made some of his stats look better than they actually were. He finished with a 4.90 ERA (86 ERA+), a 4.17 FIP, and a 1.496 WHIP.
In terms of WAR, there are a few players on the Yankees who had worse seasons. Yours truly even wrote a post arguing that Shane Robinson was worse than Aaron Judge if he tried to hit without a bat. There will also probably be the extreme reactionary types who think it’s someone like Giancarlo Stanton because of his contract or whatever.
Yet the Yankees just needed Gray to be a good mid-rotation starter, and he couldn’t do it. That’s why he’s getting this “honor”. He had fairly high but not overwhelming expectations and didn’t come close to reaching them. He got replaced in the rotation mid-season by Lance Lynn, who had been having a bad season with the Twins.
For as bad as this season was, the process behind the Sonny Gray trade back in 2017 was fine. They needed a starter and got one. Dustin Fowler is the only player sent over to Oakland to have played in the majors, and he hasn’t exactly been good. Jorge Mateo has a below .700 OPS in AAA this year, and James Kaprielian hasn’t pitched since 2016. It’s not as if the Yankees have been burned by the trade. After the 2018 season, though, they haven’t gotten what they wanted from it either.