Sonny Gray has not been good this season. He technically does not qualify for league leadership as a pitcher must pitch at least one inning per games played by his team. As of July 7, the Yankees have played 85 games and Gray has only pitched 84.2 innings. But place him on the list, and the 28-year-old right-hander would rank third-worst in the entire league with a 5.85 ERA.
So what happened? This is the same guy who went toe-to-toe with Justin Verlander in the 2013 ALDS as a rookie, tossing eight scoreless innings. And while he wasn’t a front-of-the-line last season during his half a season with the Yankees, he was most definitely still serviceable. He pitched to a 3.72 ERA in 65.1 innings pitched. Let’s dig into some Statcast measures to see the differences.
One stark change is that he is using his changeup much less in 2018. He threw the pitch 9.4 percent of the time in 2017 compared to just 3.6 percent this year. And hitters are not fooled by it: they whiff on that pitch at a clip of only 11.8 percent compared to a much higher 34.6 percent rate in 2017. He has not recorded a strikeout with any of the 53 changeups he’s thrown this season.
Furthermore, he is not able to get his breaking pitches over as much. The Yankees have been notorious for straying away from the fastball, while Gray typically utilized it a lot while in Oakland. Perhaps that is a change that has made him uncomfortable, as his walk rate on his slider is up to 7.5 percent from 1.4, and on his curveball it is up to 6.1 percent from 1.9.
Exit Velocity and Launch Angle
In terms of exit velocity and launch angle against, those metrics have trended in the wrong direction. Last year, hitters managed a relatively low 4.8-degree launch angle on average with an exit velocity of 86.7 miles per hour. This year: launch angle is up over double last season’s mark at 8.9 degrees, and exit velocity is at 89.6 miles per hour. His exit velocity against as well as his 41.7 hard-hit percentage rank in the bottom 9 percent of the MLB. And higher launch angles mean more hits, which is exactly the case: his 10.1 hits per nine is the highest of his career barring his only real “down” season in Oakland back in 2016 when the mark was at 10.2 (he had a 5.69 ERA that season).
These are just a few stats that show just how much Sonny Gray has regressed this season, and as Gray himself said “[they’re] the best team in baseball four out of five days.” Unfortunately, that is not a winning formula for a team expected to do a lot of just that – winning. But Gray has been unable to figure it out, and with the trade deadline rapidly approaching, everyone knows the leash is getting shorter every start.