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Dodgers: Making Los Angeles A Little More Sonny

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Potential cost

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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Written by Blake Williams

I'm a journalism major currently studying at Los Angeles Pierce College. I've been a Dodgers fan since 2007 and a stats nerd since 2012. Around the age of 13, I decided I want to work in baseball and be around the game as much as I could. I wasn't good at playing it so I looked for other ways to make working in baseball possible. I believe writing about it is my path, so here I am!

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  1. Since the Dodgers are already deep in starting pitching how could they give him enough innings to make a difference. He would have to be good coming out of spring training to get a chance.

    • While it’s true that the Dodgers do currently have a deep starting rotation, I don’t think that’s a major factor. I’m a Dodgers fan, and I’ve been saying they should go for Gray for about 3 months now. I think if he pitches to his strengths, he is the third best pitcher in the Dodgers rotation. This alone would be enough to get him plenty of innings. Aside from his personal abilities, I also think the Dodgers willingness to put starters in the bullpen would help Gray get some more starts. Now factor in trades. The Dodgers have already dealt Alex Wood this off season and I definitely think it’s still possible that they trade Rich Hill to clear up more payroll as well. Potentially I see a rotation that looks something like this: 1. Kershaw, 2. Buehler, 3. Gray, 4. Ryu, 5. Maeda. This would put Stripling, Urias, and potentially Ferguson in the bullpen. Plus it’s the Dodgers. You know AT LEAST one or two starters are going to miss a few starts because of some random inexplicable injury. I think trading low for Gray would be a very solid move.

  2. Barring a trade, Kershaw, Buehler, Hill, Maeda, and Ryu are locks for the starting rotation (according to Roberts) with Stripling, Urias, Ferguson, and Santana as backup options with SP prospects Gonsolin and White close to being ready. Looking ahead, both Hill and Ryu are free agents after 2019 and if you add Gray then there would be 3 SP headed to free agency. I like Gray, but he seems like an unnecessary acquisition at the cost of a couple of prospects. Better to use prospect capital to strengthen another part of the roster like catcher, or OF, or 2b with Taylor moving to the OF.

    • There were talks early on the Yankees and Dodgers were talking a trade for Hill. I personally would swap Hill for Gray and save about 4 million on the payroll. Production wise it’s impossible to predict, but i’d expect similar production. What do you think?

      • Since that time the Yankees have re-signed Sabathia, traded for LH’er Paxson, and re-signed Happ; I don’t think they are interested in another LH starter like Hill. I had the same thought early in Hot Stove league, but I don’t see it happening now.

    • They could also end up trading some of their own guys in other deals. It also strengthens the bullpen by moving someone else there. There isn’t much risk in adding him but he has the potential of a #2 starter. And no matter how many starters they have in the offseason, they almost always end up trading for one.

      • Yes, I considered that but unless it is Hill or Ryu it creates more of a problem for 2020 with 3 free agent starting pitchers. And, both Hill and Ryu pitched much than Gray. Dodgers could flip Gray to another team in a package (Phillies for Cesar Hernandez, Reds for Tucker Barnhart, Twins for Jason Castro, Rays for Michael Perez and Ryne Stanek, or ??) but I don’t see him being an upgrade for Dodgers starting rotation. Then there is the question of who Dodgers would have to give up? It might take Conner Wong and Omar Estevez.

  3. The Yankee’s are praying some gullible franchise takes this white elephant off their hands. The Yankee’s are worse off than the Dodgers with starting pitching so if they want to unload Grey ask yourself why.

  4. Serious Blake. He threw 5/6 less fastballs per game and that’s why he was so bad last year? Maybe more to it than that.

    • The difference of 60% to 35% in a 100 pitch start is 25 pitches. He threw his cutter for 20 of those pitches and that’s his worst pitch. Throwing your worst pitch 20 times a game is a recipe for disaster. Sure it’s possible there was more to it but the Yankees took a very successful pitcher and changed what he was doing. There are a lot of variables with pitching. It’s entirely possible his cutter was too similar to his slider and hitters were getting a better look at it or his fastball and off-speed were thrown from the same arm slot but his cutter wasn’t so hitters knew it was coming. I’m just pointing out that a very successful pitcher became bad and that was the only major change he made so the Dodgers would be wise to see if that was the problem, similar to how they fixed Tony Watson and Tony CIngrani. Thanks for reading.

  5. He didn’t say that was THE reason, he was merely stating that inconsistencies may have been the biggest reason why his effectiveness took such a nosedive in New York.

  6. I still say this makes little actual sense. Trade or buy for need not picking up a probably project when you have a 2-3 deep starting rotation as it is..

    Now your just making stuff up…..Silly There is very little time in the Spring. They have layers of pitchers with the usual 6 but then they have all of those Farm Arms.

    They will need to be evaluating outfielders, Second base, Seager’s arm, and the catching position. Plus all of those pitchers for when we have some holes in 2020 with Ryu & Hill gone.

  7. Gray did not exactly distinguish himself this past year. And, we already have pitchers like Hill and Maeda who are not exactly dependable. Why add another non-consistent hurler to the team? We have other bigger and more important concerns than Gray : a catcher, power bat, and a pitcher who can pitch at or near the top of the rotation. Go Blue!!!

    • BLUE LOU! Freidman has struck again by getting Jaime Schultz , a reliever from his other team, the Rays. As far as Sonny Gray, well Dodgers need an impact RH bat, a catcher, a 2nd baseman much more than they need Gray.

  8. I’ve been hoping the dodgers would take a look at Gray before he was traded to the Yankees. He would be a good fit and is an excellent pitcher… Hope they try and get him..

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