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    Breaking Down the Curious Case of Sonny Gray

    New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman acquired Sonny Gray from the Oakland Athletics for a trio of top prospects in Dustin Fowler, James Kaprielian , and Jorge Mateo on July 31, 2017 in an attempt to bolster the rotation for last season’s playoff run and beyond.

    Cashman, along with most in the baseball industry, thought Gray would be a top-of -the-rotation starting pitcher. According to Sheryl Ring at FanGraphs, the 28-year old right-handed pitcher produced a 75 xFIP and 75 FIP with Oakland before the trade and regressed to post 101xFIP and 107 FIP clips with the Yankees. That equated to a 6-5 record with a 3.43 ERA pre-trade and a 4-7 record and 3.72 post-trade.

    Gray has struggled mightily in four of his six starts this season. He owns a 1-2 record, 6.67 ERA, and has walked 19 in 27 innings pitched. The Nashville, Tennessee native also has thrown a whopping five wild pitches to add insult to injury.

    His last start, which came on Monday in Houston, saw ‘pickles’ fire six strong innings against a very tough Astros lineup.

    The biggest problem that Gray needs to fix is the command issues. Once this improves, it appears that we should begin to see the Sonny Gray that went 33-20 with a 2.88 ERA for the Athletics from 2013-2015. Prior to Monday’s contest, the Vanderbilt alum has fallen behind 17 hitters to a 2-0 count. Nine of these at bats resulted in walks.

    On Monday he threw more strikes, got ahead of hitters and just take a look at the results. The proof is in the pudding.

    Stuff wise Gray looks good and he feels good too. His manager Aaron Boone said, “He gets great movement on his pitches, he’s got really good stuff, he’s able to do things not a lot of guys are able to do…I sometimes feel it’s a case of, he feels like he can always make the perfect pitch…He needs to go out and attack hitters, and I think success will follow.”

    He has made some mechanical adjustments as well. The Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said, “We were just trying to clean some stuff up delivery-wise…It goes back to when he was hurt (in Oakland), just trying to make adjustments off of that.” The pitching coach continued to say, “He’s gotten behind in the count a little bit, and he’s got a chance to be really good and he’s got a chance to really help us.”

    Boone added after Gray’s second to last start that, “With his hands, we think he might pull out and be a little more athletic, because that’s one of his strengths, athleticism. So he actually identified it, and it’s something he’s done in the past. So he incorporated that a bit today and felt good about the results.”

    Here is a visual from FanGraphs on his mechanical adjustment made with his hands from 2015 to the beginning of 2018:

    On Monday’s start against Houston it was evident that Gray made the adjustment and completely reverted back to his old hand position. He is now separating his hands like he did back in 2015 and is more balanced throughout his windup. Sonny isn’t as rushed and seems much more comfortable. As previously stated, the early returns are promising.

    Ring noted in her article that, “When Gray was with Oakland, he never threw his four-seam and two-seam fastballs less than a combined 55% of the time. Gray’s known for having a deep repertoire, but he always leaned heavily on his fastball and sinker to generate plus ground-ball rates.

    In September and October 2017, Gray began using the no-fastballs approach the Yankees are now making famous. By October, Gray’s four-seamer usage was down to 25%, his cutter usage up to 15%. Gray posted a 5.79 FIP and 4.34 xFIP, and his HR/9 spiked all the way to 2.29 per nine.

    So far in 2018, Gray’s using his fastball and sinker less than 50% of the time combined, the first time he’s ever done that. He’s throwing his so-called “secondary” pitches at a career-high rate. The results, as noted, have been subpar.”

    This was great research and I completely agree that Gray, along with Dellin Betances and other need to start using their impact fastballs more frequently.

    He has thrown 26% curveballs, 23.8% four-seam fastballs, 23.6% sinkers, 12.9% sliders, 7.1% changeups, and and 6.4% cutters.

    Gray usually gets 42.5 percent of hitters to swing at his fastballs. This year, that number has sunk to 33 percent.

    A good reason for this could be the velocity at which he is throwing his pitches at. There is simply no variance between his four-seamer (93.4 mph), sinker (93.2 mph), and cutter (92.5 mph).

    He also throws an extremely hard changeup at an average of 89.4 mph. Gray’s off-speed is decently similar as well at 82 mph and 85.6 mph for his curve and slider, respectively.

    Another interesting note is that Sonny has posted much better numbers with Austin Romine as his catcher. With Oakland a few years back, Gray threw better to the Athletics backup catcher Josh Phegley over starter Stephen Vogt.

    Boone has come out publicly and said that Romine will not be a personal catcher because of lineup logistics. The Yankees are better with the combination of Sanchez behind the dish and either Aaron Judge, Miguel Andujar, Brandon Drury or Giancarlo Stanton at designated hitter.