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For Sonny Gray, leaving the Yankees means a clean slate

A new city and not terrible 2018 peripherals may be the start of a renaissance for the right-hander.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It’s a weird feeling when something you always expected to happen finally does. The writing was on the wall for Sonny Gray all winter - he was as good as gone from the Yankees’ starting rotation. Now he’s officially heading to the Cincinnati Reds in a trade completed Monday afternoon.

For Gray, it’s the chance to turn the page on an unfortunate chapter in his career. He came to New York as the biggest trade deadline acquisition for a surprising contender in 2017, and while he pitched fine in his first few months with the team, that evaporated quickly in year two.

He just couldn’t get anything going last year, being knocked around after almost every good start, just when you thought he was putting it together. This was evident almost right away, as he started the year with two solid if not great starts against Toronto and Baltimore, going 10 combined innings with a 3.60 ERA and 12 strikeouts. His next two starts came against Boston and the Blue Jays; six combined innings and 11 earned runs.

What was funny about Gray was that his peripherals weren’t awful. He walked more men in 2018 than ever before, but struck out batters at identical rates to 2017, and cut his home run rate down sharply. All that left a 4.17 FIP, and while you can’t rely on just one stat to just performance, Gray’s expected go-forward ERA - essentially what FIP measures - was better than that of Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, and Sean Manea (and equal to CC Sabathia’s).

If those peripherals hold up, it’s not hard to imagine Sonny returning to his old self, or at least looking more like that then he ever did in the Bronx. A move to the NL will help as well, but it certainly feels like the most important thing for Gray was getting out of New York, no matter where that was.

We all know the dramatic home/road splits, and the body language, and Gray laughing in apparent disbelief at his own inability to pitch effectively. Hopefully, that’s all behind him now. He can play for a young, up and coming team, without the win-now pressure that’s omnipresent in the Bronx.

I was a Sonny Gray cheerleader, and an excuse maker. Longtime readers will know the hours I’ve spent looking over Gray’s stats, mechanics and past to justify a turnaround. I hope he gets there, and I hope it’s in 2019 in Cincinnati. Best of luck Sonny.