*Written originally for FanRag Sports’ Today’s Knuckleball I realized that there were parts that I wanted to highlight and pieces that I wanted to add. To read the original version, you can click on the link below:
Sonny Gray might not be leading the American League in ERA now. He has struggled a bit in his last two starts but he has, for the majority of the season, been the AL’s ERA leader.
He might not be leading the league in wins. His team couldn’t provide him with the proper run support. The Oakland Athletics have not played the way a team should while being led by a guy who’s allowed four or more runs just six times in 30 starts so far this season.
Gray isn’t leading the league in innings pitched. That said, his total is over the 200-mark and he’s third in batting average against (.217). He’s also pitched more complete-game shutouts than any other pitcher in the American League (2).
The bottom line is, regardless of his place on all the different statistical lists, it is time to finally acknowledge Sonny Gray.
Gray is just 25 years old. So why is it “finally” time for a 25-year-old in just his second full big-league season to already be due an award? It begins with a common misconception of Gray and how well he has done over the past two and a half seasons.
Part of CBS Sports’ Mike Axisa’s headline Sunday read, “Gray emerges as an ace.” However, anyone who has seen Sonny Gray pitch knows that he has been the A’s ace since the first day he stepped foot on a major league mound at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park on July 10, 2013. In that outing, the young rookie pitcher struck out three batters, had no walks and allowed only one hit in just two innings.
Gray made one more scoreless, two-inning appearance that year before he became a full-time starter for Oakland. He made ten starts for the Athletics in 2013, pitched a total of 64.0 innings and had a 2.67 ERA during the regular season. Because he was a mid-season call-up, despite his remarkable stats, he was not considered by many for Rookie of the Year Award that year. Instead, it went to Tampa’s Wil Myers; Gray didn’t receive a single vote.
Subsequently, because he had eclipsed 50 innings pitched in 2013, he no longer had his rookie status in 2014, and was ineligible for consideration for Rookie of the Year that year as well.
Gray was ineligible to win the award in 2014, a year in which he started for the Athletics on Opening Day and went 14-10 with a 3.08 ERA, pitched two complete-game shutouts and a total of 219.0 innings. To compare, Matt Shoemaker went 16-4 with a 3.04 ERA, and finished second in the voting to Jose Abreu.
Still, the words “emerges as an ace” haunt me in this situation. He “emerged as an ace” long before now, two and a half years to be exact.
And, while the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) doesn’t use a player’s postseason numbers to decide their awards, Gray’s postseason accomplishments support his emergence as an “ace” much earlier than this season.
- In 2013 Gray, having had only half a season in the majors, was selected to start game one of the American League Division Series against Detroit Tigers’ almost superhuman, 2011 Cy Young Award-winner, Justin Verlander. He also pitched game five, also against Verlander.
- In game one of the ALDS, Gray pitched eight scoreless innings, allowing just four hits and two walks with nine strikeouts. In game five, he pitched five full innings, allowing nine hits, three runs and four walks while striking out three.
- Gray took on Verlander with an uncanny calm, his first year in the majors when Verlander was at his prime. All Gray needed was run support that the A’s, against the almost-unhittable Verlander, could not give him.
Being named the Opening Day starter of 2014 further solidifies his status as the team ace. In fact, not only has Gray emerged as an ace, he should be considered for the American League Cy Young. After circumstances left him out of the Rookie of the Year race, Gray has put together a heck of a resume to support this award run:
- Again, named the Opening Day starter this season. Gray almost pitched the second Opening Day no-hitter in baseball history, not allowing a hit until the eighth inning. He did end up pitching a complete game shutout on Opening Day 2015, as the A’s defeated the Texas Rangers by the score of 8-0.
- Gray has led the league in ERA more days this season than any other pitcher.
- Overall, Gray’s been highly effective, with 22 of his 30 starts being considered quality starts.
- Gray has only once failed to complete at least five innings in a start.
- It’s also important when considering Gray for such a prestigious award to not forget that he has at least two starts left this season in which he could easily take back control of having the league’s lowest ERA. Gray is currently in third (2.72), behind Toronto’s David Price (2.42) and Houston’s Dallas Keuchel (2.56).
With Gray, who has been a dominant ace for Oakland since 2013, missing out on even being given a chance to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2014, isn’t it time to award Gray for what he has done during his brief career?
Of course, the award should be only for what Gray has accomplished this season. In 2015, Gray has been masterful, dominating his opponents and always giving his team a chance to win the game. Gray should not be penalized in the vote because of his lack of wins (and luckily, in 2015, likely won’t be).
Gray has had a fantastic year, making the timing right to finally give him an award to acknowledge his many accomplishments and stellar play in 2015.
Of course, the award will more likely go to one of two other also brilliant pitchers on contending teams. Either Houston’s Dallas Keuchel or Toronto’s new ace David Price will probably take home the Cy Young honors this season but Gray’s status as an ace isn’t anything new and that certainly should be recognized.