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Sonny Gray should start the Wild Card game

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If the Yankees find themselves in a one-game play-in, the trade deadline acquisition should be The Man

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees have made it clear that they’re going for the AL East title, juggling their rotation multiple times to try and set a perfect rotation down the stretch. Winning the division is obviously preferable, but it’s going to take a lot of luck for everything to break the right way.

Should the standings remain the way they are, the Yankees will have to make another pitching decision: who do they start in the Wild Card game. The last time the Yankees were in the playoffs, in 2015, there was only one logical choice to start the do-or-die game against the Houston Astros in Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka did alright, going five innings and giving up two runs, but it wasn’t enough after Dallas Keuchel shut down the offense.

Fast forward to 2017, and there isn’t just one choice now. Both Luis Severino and Sonny Gray have great cases to be The Man on October 3rd. It really should be Gray’s game, though.

First things first, Sevy’s been fantastic. Nobody would make a serious case that he has not been among the AL’s best pitchers in 2017. Nobody could make a case that Gray hasn’t either, though. The trade deadline jewel is in the AL’s top ten in ERA and FIP, the top three in ground ball rate, and has the same home run rate as Corey Kluber.

It’s not just the stats that make Gray a great candidate, it’s the experience. His coming out party to the baseball world came in 2013, in his playoff debut against the Detroit Tigers during the ALDS:

He followed up that stunning performance with a second near-quality start in that same series. We’ve seen that Gray can handle the national TV spotlight, and can navigate one of the game’s best lineups in pressure spots.

The other chief reason Gray should get the ball is that he has the highest floor of anyone on the Yankee staff. We’ve seen his games where he doesn’t have his best stuff, and he can usually grind through five innings and keep the game close. With the Yankees bullpen, that’s really all the Wild Card starter needs to do. If Gray can keep that high floor and turn it over to Chad Green, David Robertson and the rest, it’s probably a good formula for the game.

Severino is only a year removed from being a pretty ineffective starter, and so while he’s been incredible this year, I don’t think his floor is quite as high as Sonny’s, at least not yet. With the Yankee offense and relief corps, the best plan is to raise the starter’s floor and solidify it as much as possible.

The one drawback some claim with Sonny is his increased propensity for home runs. He gives up fewer than he did a year ago, but the rate has risen in the second half. This shouldn’t disqualify him from the one-game playoff, though, because Severino’s HR/9 is identical, and that metric itself can be super volatile. We’ve seen in 2017 pitchers like Tanaka and Mike Fiers completely suppress a high home run rate, and so there’s no reason to imagine Gray can’t do the same.

There isn’t really a wrong answer to the Severino or Gray question. Sonny might be a better answer, based on his experience and higher floor, but it’s better to avoid the decision entirely and just win the AL East.