The hottest name on Major League Baseball’s summer trade market is also one of its biggest enigmas.
Looking at you, Sonny Gray.
With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline now less than a week away, just about every team in need of starting pitching is circling. The Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees have frequently been mentioned as suitors for the Oakland A’s right-hander. So have the Milwaukee Brewers, who Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported could be the “most aggressive” team in the hunt.
There are also dark horses out there. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported that the Seattle Mariners are one. Per Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Atlanta Braves are another.
Two years ago, the answer would’ve been an obvious yes.
Gray arrived late in 2013 but quickly made an impression with a 2.67 ERA in 12 regular-season appearances and a star-making performance opposite Justin Verlander in the playoffs. He went on to post a 2.91 ERA across 427 innings in 2014 and 2015.
Per Baseball Reference, Gray ranked 12th in MLB in wins above replacement in those two seasons. Among those who ranked below him were Madison Bumgarner, Jacob deGrom, Jon Lester and, yup, Quintana.
Pretty impressive for a guy who, at 5’10” and 190 pounds, doesn’t strike an imposing figure on the mound. But Gray’s stuff is certainly imposing, as David Ortiz vouched on The Player’ Tribune in 2015:
“He looks like the guy who fixes my computer at the Apple Store. I’m thinking, Here we go. This is gonna be fun. Then he took me for a ride, man. Fastball. Sinker. Slider. Curve … Whap. Whap. Whap. You have no idea what this kid is going to throw. He drives me crazy.”
However, a lot has happened between then and now.
Gray’s 2016 was a lost cause in every way. Disabled list stints for a strained trapezius and a strained forearm limited him to 22 starts, and he managed just a 5.69 ERA when he did pitch.
All this is made even harder to overlook by the fact that Gray missed the first month of 2017 with a lat strain, and then struggled with a 4.84 ERA in his first 10 starts.
In light of Gray’s small stature and the recency of his injury troubles, concerns about his durability can’t easily be brushed aside. There are also nits to pick with his actual pitching. Such as how his curveball has gone from oft-used and unhittable to, as Brooks Baseball shows, little-used and very hittable.
So, as hot as Gray’s been lately, it’s just one small step in the right direction. To believe he can take more steps in that direction, interested parties need more positive signs.
Fortunately for them, these signs do exist.
Above all, Gray does seem to be healthy. At 93.1 miles per hour, his average fastball is the hardest it’s been since 2013. And after dropping in 2016, Brooks Baseball shows that his arm slot is up again.
“I haven’t really changed my mechanics,” Gray said in January, per Joe Stiglich of CSN Bay Area, “it’s more or less just staying more under control and taking away some of the movement. To someone watching, you wouldn’t even notice. But to me, moving something three or four inches is a big deal.”
source: bleacher report