Sonny Gray just hasn’t cut it in the rotation this year. His 5.56 ERA in 23 games as a starter is nearly two whole points above his career average, and he was a clear weakness during a stretch where almost every other starter was getting the job done.
In an attempt to fix Gray, the Yankees moved him down to the bullpen, where he could work on his issues in low leverage situations and figure out whatever it is that’s gone wrong this year. In an extremely short sample size of 9.1 innings across four appearances, it would appear on the surface that Sonny has improved His ERA as a reliever has plummeted down to 2.89.
When you look at nearly any other statistic, however, you’ll find Gray has been fortunate to see his ERA fall so dramatically. In a span of 46 batters, Gray has allowed 13 hits and five walks, good for a WHIP of 1.821. His OBP and OPS have actually gone up in his stint as a reliever, and both his K/9 and K/BB ratios are down. Moreover, what’s most frustrating about these results is that its not just against bad teams, or in low leverage situations. He’s performing poorly in both scenarios at the same time.
Gray’s four appearances have come against the Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays; clubs that hold a combined .450 winning percentage. The only appearance that Sonny made of those four games that wasn’t low leverage was the White Sox game, where he entered in the 11th inning simply because the Yankees had run out of arms.
Perhaps Gray’s inability to play up in the bullpen can be traced to the fact that his stuff hasn’t exactly taken a leap in shorter stints. Pitchers that transition from the rotation to the bullpen generally see a sizable step forward in performance, mostly due to the fact that they can air it out over the course of an inning or two. Their velocities increase, and they narrow their pitch mixes to focus on their best offerings.
Gray hasn’t seen much of that. According to Brooks Baseball, his four-seam fastball velocity has barely ticked up, from 93.9 mph before his demotion and 94.2 mph after. Remarkably, his two-seam velocity has actually fallen, from 93.8 mph and 92.8 mph. His slider and curve each have generated fewer whiffs per swing, and instead of trimming his arsenal, he’s still using a four-pitch mix. The samples are small, of course, but the early indications are that Gray’s stuff hasn’t played up in relief.
Despite the lack of improvement, the Yankees will in all likelihood have to rely on Gray for another start, since they don’t have enough starting pitchers available for the doubleheader on Saturday against the Orioles. It’s hard to imagine there being a way back into the rotation off of this chance for Sonny unless he turns in an outing unlike any he’s had this season. Another dud performance, and its likely that he never sees the rotation for the remainder of the season.