Sonny Gray always seems to be overlooked by so-called experts but the numbers don’t lie!
**This is the MUCH longer, much wordier version of my column … there’s a lot in here that you don’t necessarily need to know but that you may want to know! So if you would like to scroll to the bottom you will find the link to the shorter, more condensed version of the story with what you DO NECESSARILY need to know. So you can pick your poison -either way you’ll (hopefully) agree that the A’s ace is very much overlooked and underrated!
Oakland Athletics’ ace Sonny Gray is seemingly always underrated by experts and baseball fans alike. It doesn’t help that he plays in Oakland where even when the team is winning, not many people seem to notice. Three CBS Sports writers’ Matt Synder, Mike Axisa and Dayn Perry recently continued the pattern of underestimating Sonny Gray’s ability when the got together to rank the Top 30 Pitchers in the Major Leagues on February 3. They did not even rank the pitchers by fantasy standards but by their all-around play and who they would most like to have on their own team if money were no object.
Snyder, Axisa and Perry ranked Gray as the number 16th best pitcher in the Majors and seventh in the American League after David Price, Chris Sale, Dallas Keuchel, Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber and Chris Archer. Some of the pitchers ranked higher on the list make sense, especially the ones from the National League, like Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Max Scherzer.
A case could be made for Price and Hernandez to be ranked above Gray. Even the lefty Sale, who is the same age as Gray, came up in the league much earlier than his peers, is a four time All-Star and has put up some incredible number over the past six seasons. It’s truly surprising that he hasn’t yet taken home the coveted Cy Young Award. He, along with Price and Hernandez have had sustained success over a number of seasons.
However Keuchel, Kluber and Archer haven’t always been as good as Gray has been since his first outing or even his first three and a half months in the big leagues. In 2013 Gray made 12 regular season appearances while posting his 2.68 ERA over 64 innings.
If you look at the first 12 appearances of the other three pitchers who are ranked above Gray you’ll notice a few differences. In his first 12 appearances Keuchel pitched 66.2 innings while posting a 5.54 ERA and Kluber tossed 48.2 innings while posting a 5.78 ERA. Kluber pitched the fewest amount of innings among the four pitchers and only Archer was able to come close to Gray in ERA. Archer pitched 60 innings over the course of his first 12 major league appearances and posted a 2.85 ERA. Keuchel was the only one whose first 12 appearance were all starts, yet he only pitched two and a third innings more than Gray.
Gray has been an ace since he first took the mound as a 23-year-old kid in mid-July with the A’s down 5-0 in Pittsburgh against the Pirates. He pitched two innings of relief that day in what was already planned to be a certain kind of warm up to the big leagues. As it turned out, Gray really didn’t need a warm up to the majors, in fact he barely even got one that day before heading out to the mound.
The two short innings he pitched that rainy day in July should have showed the baseball world how much of an ace Gray already was. He faced just one batter over the minimum, getting his first major league strikeout against the first batter he faced. He finished out the inning with another strikeout and a pop fly to right. In his second inning of work Gray allowed a leadoff single to Jose Tabata but got his next three batters, including Andrew McCutchen who struck out looking. It was quite an impressive way to begin a big league career and on top of that Gray didn’t even feel nervous, telling reporters after the game,
“I felt more relaxed tonight than I’ve felt in (Triple-A) Sacramento.”
By season’s end Gray had started 10 games for the A’s while posting a 2.67 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. The Athletics won the AL Western Division crown and the young rookie went head to head with Detroit’s Justin Verlander in both Games 2 and 5 of the ALDS. While Gray didn’t get a win, he got a no-decision in Game 2 allowing just four hit and no runs over eight innings.
He did allow three runs over six innings in his Game 5 loss. He was slightly out pitched by the reigning 2012 Cy Young Award winner. Verlander held the A’s hitless into the seventh inning enroute to a 3-0 Tigers victory over Oakland.
Gray faced that challenge without fear or hesitation even against Verlander, who at the time was considered the league’s best pitcher. He was chosen by manager Bob Melvin to make these postseason starts was after only 12 total big league appearances.
Gray hit the ground running when he was called up from Triple-A and hasn’t looked back since. He should have won the 2015 AL Gold Glove Award over Keuchel last year. Still Keuchel took home the award for the second straight year. Gray was obviously over looked in this case as well have two Gold Gloves from 2014 and 2015 but going strictly by the numbers the 2015 AL Gold Glove should have gone to Gray who did not make an error all season, while Keuchel did commit one.
All four pitchers in question here are very close in their accomplishments but on the whole Gray has accomplished more in his two full big league seasons than the other three have over their longer careers.. Granted, Keuchel and Kluber each won the AL Cy Young in their third full season in the majors but neither had ever finished in the top five in the voting prior to winning their award. Kluber came out of nowhere to beat the Cy Young favorite, Felix Hernandez, in 2014. Neither Archer nor Gray have won the award yet but Gray finished third in the voting in 2015 and Archer just cracked the top five, last season when Keuchel won his.
He’s been consistent since that first rainy July day in Pittsburgh almost three years ago. He’s accomplished almost as much in his shorter career than at least four of the pitchers rated above him by Axisa, Snyder and Perry in their rankings. Sonny Gray will win the Cy Young Award and that time is not far away. In all likelihood he will win more than one along with that Gold Glove that alluded him in 2015.
When you look at each pitcher’s numbers, not even considering the team they had playing behind them, Gray comes out on top, even if he has yet to win his inevitable Cy Young Award.
Gray more than holds his own when it comes to the numbers. Gray has a better career WHIP (1.13) than Archer (1.18), Kluber (1.62) and Keuchel (1.25). He and Archer have the same career FIP at 3.36, sitting between Kluber (2.96) and Keuchel (3.67). Gray allows fewer walks per nine than Archer and gets more strikeouts per nine than Keuchel. His career ERA+ (134) bests Kluber (118), Archer (115) and Keuchel (111), and by a rather large margin. He is also the only one of the group with a career ERA under 3.00. If you want a well-rounded pitcher who won’t allow the other team to score, Gray’s your man.
The biggest testament to just how good Gray truly is, is written in The Player’s Tribune. One of the league’s most prolific hitters who will be going into his 20th and final season of his career in 2016, named Sonny Gray as one of the top five toughest pitchers he has faced during his long and legendary career. The man that every knows simply as Big Papi (David Ortiz) put Sonny Gray in the company of legends, most notably one Hall of Famer, Pedro Martinez, and another future first ballot Hall of Famer know to the baseball world as “The Sandman”(Mariano Rivera). If there is a higher compliment to Gray’s ability, I certainly cannot find it.
As usual Gray’s greatness was overlooked by the writers at CBS Sports. However his talent cannot possibly go unnoticed too much longer. Even if the Athletics end up losing 90-plus games for each of the next five seasons, Sonny Gray will remain one of the game’s top pitchers and probably win a Cy Young Award or two along the way.
** If you scrolled down to read my somewhat less wordy version of this column you can read it on Today’s Knuckleball by clicking the link below: