Yankees fans have always had players they irrationally disliked. Any acquisition is supposed to be THE ONE that returns the Yanks to their rightful place atop the MLB forever, or so they would have you believe. And if they don’t become that, they are forever discarded as trash, with “Yeah well he didn’t do it in the Bronx so it doesn’t count.”
Gray had a rough September upon his arrival in New York in 2017, with a 4.58 ERA and even worse peripherals as he came to terms with the far different environs of Yankee Stadium than from the Coliseum in Oakland. In the East Bay you can actually give up a fly ball without it sending off sirens, but as we know that’s not the case in New York.
Gray wasn’t much better last year in pinstripes, as he was definitely spooked by the previous experience, as his walks tickled four per nine innings, by far the highest of his career. He still wasn’t that bad, worth 1.6 fWAR last year for a playoff team with a 4.17 FIP. But that wasn’t good enough for the Yanks front office, which was eyeing upgrades in the rotation to run with Sale, Eovaldi, and Price in Boston (which has worked out, you’d have to say). So Gray was moved to Cincinnati, which isn’t exactly a more forgiving park for pitchers.
Hasn’t mattered to Gray this year, who was an All-Star, has lowered his ERA by a run and a half, his FIP by a full run, and upped his strikeouts by nearly two per nine innings/seven percent. Gray has only given up nine homers, including only four at his home park where hitters can generally sneeze and get one over the fence (or is that just Cubs pitchers?). So how has he done it?
Gray has eschewed a sinker/cutter he was using in New York, and has opted for more four-seam fastballs. He has not approached the levels of fastballs he threw in his prime years in Oakland yet, but he’s back over 50%. He has rediscovered some velocity though, throwing it harder than he ever has at 93.9 MPH.
And like a lot of other pitchers, Gray has tried to live higher in the zone than before, trying to get past hitters and their new and fancy uppercut swings. Visual evidence you require? We got it:
That has seen a slight uptick in whiffs on his fastball, and gotten more pop-ups and fly balls, at least of the weak variety in the latter.
But still, giving up fly balls in Cincy can be a death wish, so Gray had to find a way to get more grounders for what’s a pretty good infield defense, especially now that Scooter Gennett is back. Gray is getting a career-high ground-ball rate this year, up five percent from last year as a Yankee.
Gray has gotten that through his curve and slider, which are just two versions of the same pitch depending on how much he takes off and puts on it. Both have seen a 10% increase or so in grounders, playing off the focus on being high in the zone or above it with the fastball.
After his travails in New York, eyebrows were moving upward when the Reds signed Gray to a three-year extension immediately upon getting him. However, now the $10M per season he’ll be earning after this one seems a bargain, taking him until he’s 32. With Gray and Castillo locked in for the next few years, the Reds might actually have the base for a good rotation for the next little while. When have we ever said that?