After 2 straight World Series losses, Los Angeles is probably feeling a little Gray. We would all be better off if it was a bit more Sonny.
If you didn’t catch that, The Dodgers should attempt to acquire right-handed pitcher Sonny Gray from the New York Yankees. Yes, the same Sonny Gray coming off a season in which he had a 4.90 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 4.10 xFIP, and 5.00 DRA in 130.1 innings.
Back in 2017 when he was on the Oakland A’s, there was constant speculation that he was a target for the Dodgers. He ended up getting traded to the Yankees where his career took a turn for the worse but we’ll get back to that.
This off-season, the Dodgers have been connected to about every top starter available. While Gray isn’t an obvious candidate for ‘top starter available’ anymore, there are some underlying reasons to believe he could be a front of the rotation pitcher again.
Gray, 29, was the staff ace of the Oakland Athletics in 2014 and 2015. He threw over 200 innings both seasons and posted a 3.08 and 2.73 ERA in those years. The following year, he didn’t to stay healthy and that led to on-field struggles. During the 2017 season, he rebounded and was back to his old self until he was traded to the Yankees. In 2018, he was bad, and the Yankees have been openly documented in their attempts to trade him this off-season.
Gray is currently in his final year of arbitration, MLB Trade Rumors projects him to make $9,1 million for the 2019 season.
A deeper look at Gray
When looking at Gray, you can see his style just didn’t match up with the Yankees’ philosophy. The Yankees limit their pitcher’s fastball usage and have them throw more off-speed pitches. In 2017, the year they acquired Gray, their pitchers threw fastballs only 44.9% of the time, which was the lowest in the league. In 2018, they were again last in the league at 47.4%. That number dropped to 41.3% when only looking at their starting pitchers.
To compare, the Dodgers had their pitchers throw fastballs 54.8% of the and their starters throw them 47.8% of the time. Part of the gap for the Dodgers is likely because Walker Buehler and Rich Hill were the only Dodgers’ starters with really good fastballs. Nearly 60% of Hill’s and Buehler’s pitches were fastballs so the Dodgers are clearly ok with high fastball usage.
When Gray was successful, he was throwing his fastball anywhere from 55% to 62% of the time. The Yankees had him cut that down to 35% to throw his cutter more (2% with the A’s to 20% with the Yankees) and his curveball more (14% with the A’s to 23% with the Yankees). What is so significant about that is Fangraphs ranked his cutter as his worst pitch.
As a result, this led to an increase in hard hit rate and walk rate without making him significantly better at anything else. That’s a recipe for disaster for any pitcher. There is a lot of reason to believe Gray could return to form with improved pitch sequencing, something the Dodgers excel at doing with their pitchers.
Another reason to be optimistic on Gray is his average fastball spin rate is still above league average at 2448 RPM. That’s even higher than his 2015 average, his best season, of 2362 RPM. His average spin rate on all his pitches in 2015 was 2315 RPM and it 2018 they averaged 2533 RPM. That’s likely the reason his strikeout numbers slightly increased even during his struggles (20% to 21% and 22%). It’s also a potential indication that his stuff is still good and not declining. It’s possibly getting better.
Sonny Gray is the perfect buy low candidate. He only has 1 year of control left, he’s coming off a down year, the Yankees don’t have room for him in their rotation, he doesn’t fit their pitching philosophy. Putting that all together, his projected contract is not worth it for the Yankees and it probably lowers his value if they hold onto him to start the season.
Since the Dodgers are already deep in starting pitching, they can afford to take on a risky but high reward player. If he works out, the they add another top starter and improve their bullpen by moving one of their current starters there, likely Kenta Maeda. If it doesn’t work out, the Dodgers would still be perfectly fine. They could also attempt to turn him into a reliever like they’ve successfully done or attempted to do with other starting pitchers.
The cost for acquiring Gray should be pretty low for a player with his talents. It wouldn’t be for any of their top prospects. I don’t want to throw out a trade suggestion but players like Yadier Alvarez or Edwin Rios could possibly interest the Yankees. Both have some upside and are blocked on the Dodgers’ roster.
Obviously we all want the Corey Kluber’s and Noah Syndergaard’s of the world, but sometimes the best move isn’t the obvious one.
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