It has not been very Sonny in the Bronx to start the 2018 season. When the Yankees traded for the 28-year-old starter last season at the trade deadline, Brian Cashman and the Yankees front office felt that they had solidified a 1-2-3 punch at the top of their rotation with Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, and Masahiro Tanaka for the next couple seasons; so far that is not the case.
Sonny Gray finished third in the Cy Young Award race in 2015 and after the Yankees acquired him on July 31st, he was starting to return to his Cy Young potential after a series of injuries in 2016. Fast forward to this season, and Sonny looks like a disaster.
He has had a bunch of trouble getting ahead of hitters forcing him to work from behind in the count and causing him throw more pitches per at-bat; so far his numbers have reflected it. He currently has a 5.98 ERA over 49.2 innings and a 1.71 WHIP, and probably the most troubling of all of his numbers is the fact that his strikeout percentage (18.6%) is down, and his walk rate (11.9%) is up.
He has not been getting the swings and misses he has before in his career in Oakland, even though according to fangraphs, his velocity has been virtually the same. Gray is averaging 93.9 MPH on his fastball his highest average since 2015 (94.1), but it seems as though he is not throwing it as often as years prior.
Gray is throwing his fastball only 32.6% of the time, which would absolutely crush his former career low 55.1%. Sonny is a pitcher who throws a bunch of different pitches using a bunch of different arm angles to try to confuse hitters, but one major issue with that is he has not been changing speed, allowing hitters to time up his pitches. Here is a breakdown of his pitch speed so far this season:
Almost all of his pitches average around low to mid-80’s, and no matter how many different pitches he throws, if he can’t speed up an at-bat and keep a hitter off balance, he will not be able to have any success at the major league level.
Hitters typically make adjustments the second or third at bat in a game; timing up their pitches and seeing the different looks they use to get through the lineup, and Sonny has had some extreme issues the second time through the order. Hitters are batting .382 with a .456 on-base percentage their second time seeing him, showing that they are able to get their timing on his repertoire.
Sonny has yet to figure things out thus far in 2018, and if the Yankees want to have any success in the postseason, they have to get Gray back into his 2015 form. The team has invested a lot in Sonny; trading away three highly rated prospects in order to obtain his services for through 2019, so they have to hope he figures out his issues on the mound.
The Yankees are going to look for help in their starting rotation by July 31st, but Sonny will be a large part of what their future success will be for this season and the next; for better or for worse.