Sonny Gray wasn’t a great fit for New York. He needed a change of scenery and got one, as the Yankees traded the right-hander to the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds sent second baseman Shed Long to the Yankees, who swapped Long for Josh Stowers with the Seattle Mariners. After the Reds acquired Gray, they signed him to a three-year, $30.5 million contract extension.
Gray is coming off an awful season in his first full season with the Yankees. He went 11-9 with a 4.90 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and a 123:57 K:BB ratio in 130.1 innings. Gray had the worst hard hit rate of his career at 35.5 percent and while one would think home runs were a problem, they weren’t. Gray had a 50 percent groundball rate and a 27.1 percent fly ball rate.
Gray was putrid at Yankee Stadium. He pitched 59.1 innings at home with a 6.98 ERA, 1.90 WHIP and walked 35, struck out 45 and allowed 11 of his 14 home runs with a .399 wOBA. On the road, he pitched 71 innings and allowed three home runs, 22 walks and struck out 78 with a .274 wOBA.
This seems like a case where a pitcher didn’t have confidence at home and put a lot of pressure on himself. He could have been so worried to make a mistake that he nibbled and tried to be too fine. Gray had a 5.98 FIP at home and 2.65 on the road. He had a 5.31 BB/9 at home and 2.79 on the road.
New York is a tough place to pitch when things aren’t going well and everyone handles it differently. Judging from the numbers, it wasn’t a fit for Gray, who had a 3.90 ERA at Yankee Stadium in 2017. For his career, Gray is 59-52 with a 3.66 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 20.9 percent strikeout rate and 8.2 percent walk rate.
The move to the National League should help Gray, but the home park in Cincinnati isn’t an upgrade. Great American Ballpark was fourth in runs and first in home runs, according to ESPN’s MLB Park Factors, while Yankee Stadium was sixth in both. Still, Gray doesn’t allow many fly balls and the mental challenge of pitching in New York is gone and there will be little pressure in Cincinnati. Gray also gets to work with his college pitching coach Derek Johnson, who is the Reds’ pitching coach.
An adjustment in pitch mix could help, too. Gray had a good curveball that held hitters to a .221 average and a 15 percent swinging strike rate last season. If he throws that more along with his slider, the stats can get better.
Gray is the 86th starting pitcher off the board with an ADP of 308.89 on fantrax.com. I took Gray with the second to last pick of round 17 in a 15-team draft. While Gray isn’t a target, if he remains in this range, he’s worth taking a shot on as one of your last starting pitchers.
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