Remember Sonny Gray? After a disappointing year and a half in New York, the Yankees traded the right-hander to the Cincinnati Reds this offseason. That deal should have closed the chapter on Gray’s relationship with the Bombers, but of course it couldn’t be that easy.
The 29-year-old made headlines on Tuesday by discussing his experience pitching for the Yankees in a wide-ranging interview with Eno Sarris of The Athletic (subscription required). In particular, he took umbrage with the organization’s insistence on pitchers throwing sliders, a pitch he admits he doesn’t throw all that effectively.
“They love sliders,” he said of the Yankees. “Sliders are a great pitch. The numbers say slider is a good pitch, but you might not realize how many shitty counts you’re getting in while throwing all those sliders. They wanted me to be Tanaka and I’m way different from him.”
After having a solid run down the stretch with the Yankees in 2017, Gray had a disastrous 2018 season. He pitched to a 4.90 ERA (4.17 FIP) over 130.1 innings. He posted a career-worst walk rate (3.94 BB/9) and gave up a startling amount of hard contract (35.5%). The Yankees demoted him to the bullpen in early August and kept him off the postseason roster.
When discussing Gray’s struggles, fans and commentators often pointed to the Yankees’ anti-fastball strategy. Like Gray, they blamed the organization for tinkering with his pitch selection. That explanation, however, seemed too convenient. As Jake mentioned back in November, the troubles appear to have have stemmed from fastball usage:
“No, decreased fastball use isn’t what torpedoed Gray. Pitching poorly is what torpedoed Gray. His zone rate hit a career-low this year, and his chase rate decreased, per FanGraphs. That led to fewer swings and misses and more walks, with his walk rate hitting a career high. Overall, opposing hitters posted a .339 wOBA, a spike from the .290 mark he allowed in 2017.
“What’s notable about Gray’s fastball is the extent to which it was tattooed. According to Statcast, hitters batted .339 with a .554 slugging in at-bats that ended with Gray’s four-seamer. Conversely, they slugged below .350 against both Gray’s slider and his curveball. Maybe the Yankees actually should have had Gray throw fewer fastballs!”
When one considers Gray’s pitch selection over time, it becomes clear he didn’t dramatically up his slider usage.
That’s pretty consistent! Perhaps Gray threw sliders in situations that he didn’t find comfortable, leading him to poor counts? In terms of overall usage, however, there is no major change.
It’s a shame the Gray trade didn’t work out. Longtime Pinstripe Alley readers will remember that I advocated for the deal and stuck up for him when things went south. Hopefully he has a better run in Cincinnati. I just don’t think it’s fair to blame the Yankees for his poor run in 2018.