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Sonny Gray is good again, and that’s huge for the Yankees

Sonny Gray has shown promise since the beginning of May, is this improved version here to stay?

MLB: Oakland Athletics at New York Yankees Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

When The Yankees traded for Sonny Gray last year, he had been in the big leagues for around four full years. In that time he accumulated a 3.42 ERA, was once an All-Star, finished third in Cy Young voting, and even had a pretty good playoff showing against Justin Verlander and the Tigers in 2013. To say that he hasn’t lived up to expectations so far would be fair.

In his Yankees career to date, Gray is pitching to the tune of a 4.26 ERA with a 4.60 FIP and 1.357 WHIP. His strikeouts are actually up, 8.2 K/9 with New York vs. 7.7 with Oakland, but so are his walks, 4.0 BB/9 vs 2.9 BB/9.

A lot of Yankees fans were down on Sonny Gray after his slow start to 2018, and maybe they should have been. Then something happened, Gray started quietly putting together some good starts — with one clunker against the Angels mixed in. Over his last seven games, he owns a 3.38 ERA, striking out 22.4% of batters faced while only walking 8.1%. Those numbers don’t exactly jump off the screen, but they are a vast improvement from his first five starts in which he had a 7.71 ERA, 17.3% strikeout rate, and a 14.6% walk rate.

This recent surge of good pitching was capped off with a gem in Toronto on Wednesday. He tossed eight innings of shutout ball, striking out eight. He posted a game score of 84, his highest since July 28th of 2015.

So what was different on Wednesday that made Gray so effective? He has four primary pitches that he mixes well, a four-seam fastball that he throws 31.1% of the time, a two-seam fastball/sinker (25.6%), a curveball (23.5%), and a slider (15.1%).

On Wednesday against the Blue Jays, 44 of Gray’s 99 pitches were sinkers (44%). Naturally the next question you ask is why? Well it seems that he had quite a bit more zip on his sinker that night.

Who knows why, maybe it was because the roof was closed, but Gray’s sinker was averaging 94.1 mph, a full mile per hour higher than his career average. At some point the brain trust in the Yankees’ dugout realized this and adjusted the game plan, having Gray throw more fastballs. In doing so they must have made him feel more comfortable because he was not only attacking the zone, but staying away from the upper-middle part of it.

As you might recall, Gray never worked with any sort of lead, as the game was tied at 0-0 for 12 innings. So this was all relatively high-leverage work, and still he attacked the strike zone with his improved sinker.

It will be interesting to see moving forward if the Yankees continue on this trajectory with Gray’s adjusted game plan, or will they continue to be malleable and adjust on the fly based on how Gray is pitching on any given day. Either way it seems that Sonny Gray has turned some sort of corner, and I eagerly await his next start.