Sonny Gray has always been about harnessing himself and his stuff. Known for indulging in great experiments on the mound, mechanically, Gray often finds he gets away from himself. Forever seeking the ultimate state of control, the Yankees patiently await the arrival of the pitcher they bought last year.
There wasn’t another pitcher more in demand at the trade deadline last season than Sonny Gray. As we know, the Yankees eventually won the sweepstakes for Gray, outbidding as many as six other teams including the Brewers and Indians.
The price was steep as the Yankees knew it would be, with three prospects (James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo, and Dustin Fowler) moving to the A’s. None of the three are on the A’s 25-man roster, and each is currently injured and awaiting assignment to the minors.
Not that that has anything to do with anything. Because the focus and spotlight have been and will continue to be on Sonny Gray, who is now pitching in his seventh big league season at the age of 28.
Gray has only one truly good season to his credit, and that came three years ago in 2015 when he went 14-7 with a 2.73 ERA, finishing third in the Cy Young balloting. At a diminutive 5′ 10″, Gray is not an imposing figure on the mound, reminding a lot of David Cone in both stature and arsenal of pitches.
Gray’s swing and miss pitch, a devastating slider/curveball that falls off the edge of the plate, comes and goes from game to game. Of alarm this season in Sonny Gray’s four starts, that swing and miss stat has steadily declined from 16, 8, 5, and all the way down to one in his last start. By definition, not a speedballer, when Gray misses with his 94-95 mph fastball in the zone, look for double jeopardy as far as damage done on both pitches.
See what you think in this take following his last start:
The thing with Sonny Gray, all the way from high school in Nashville, to Vanderbilt University, to his signing as a first-round draft pick by the Oakland A’s in 2011, is he’s always gone his own way, either shunning or not needing coaching. At all stops along the way, he carved his career somewhat successfully, but never enough to satisfy those in the game who viewed his upside much higher.
Sonny Gray is once again at the juncture with the New York Yankees. He is not the only one as Dellin Betances has fallen within the crosshairs of the team, joining Gary Sanchez and his “low energy” effort of late.
The fooling around and the experimenting on the mound has to stop. The changes in grips on his slider in mid-windup, something he has become noted for because (when it works) it produces that “thing” I called a slider/curveball before, has to be stopped.
Arm slot changes with the grip to produce the spin Gray needs to make the pitch useful. Which means if you watch Gray, you’ll see several different arm slots, ultimately causing the erratic behavior of all his pitches.
Obviously, I’m not Aaron Boone or, more importantly, pitching coach Larry Rothschild. But someone needs to get through Sonny Gray’s head with a message that says, “Hey son, it ain’t working.”
Yankees fans will remember how every pitch delivered by Mariano Rivera look the same. Almost like a robot, Rivera never varied in his delivery to the plate. Gray, because of his four-pitch arsenal can never be like Rivera, but he needs to get a closer at least.
In closing, the Yankees season will not fall or thrive because of Sonny Gray, and this is not a case where the Yankees urgently need their catcher to wake up and smell the roses in Monument Park, as with the slumbering Gary Sanchez.
But when you talk about a team effort to win a title, Sonny Gray needs to provide much more than the 16 innings he has given the team over his four starts this season, getting back more to the range of six innings in his eleven starts for the team in 2017.
The question then becomes one that focuses squarely on Sonny Gray. Changing what you’ve been doing somewhat successfully since you were sixteen is a notable challenge. With coaching, and we have to assume the Yankees can provide it, Gray has a solid chance of altering the downward trend of his career.
Or, Sonny Gray can continue to roll the dice, doing it his way and remembering the glory days of high school and college when he could do no wrong, and even that “perfect game” he threw, now relived only by Duck Nazty on YouTube in fantasy baseball and elsewhere.
Sonny Gray is a decent number two or three starter on any team he plays for. He is salvageable and remains in the Yankees control for three years, including this one through 2020. And for that reason alone, Gray needs to be “figured out,” and the sooner, the better.
Gray (1-1) is not scheduled to pitch again until Wednesday, at home against the Twins and newly acquired Lance Lynn (0-1). A turning point in the Yankees thinking about Gray? Probably not, but it sure would be nice to see something different in Gray’s approach to this game. The Yankees need it from him, and most of all, he needs it from himself.