Sonny Gray: Opinions vs. Facts

Since the trade in which the Yankees acquired Sonny Gray, the majority of what I read and heard in the media, in personal interactions on social media and personal conversations, it seems the consensus was this:

The Yankees improved their chances of winning the World Series this season.  Simpleton Summer Camp’s Jack Curry went so far as to compare Gray’s acquisition to the acquisition of David Cone in 1995.  [Pinches bridge of nose…]

I believe Sonny Gray to be a number three starter, with no discernable difference between he and current Yankee starters Jordan Montgomery, C.C. Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka.  As usual, my opinion and view are somewhat different and definitely in the minority.  But if you know anything about me, I gave up trusting my eyes and my opinions long ago, so I went to check some facts that could shed some light on the issues at hand here.

If you like to measure players based on recent performance and small sample size, look at the following chart.  It shows the innings pitched, Wins Above Replacement, adjusted ERA, strikeout percentage, walk percentage and Fielding Independent Pitching of Gray, Montgomery, Sabathia, and Tanaka in 2017 (not in that order.  I removed the names and listed them randomly, so we can just evaluate numbers).

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As you see, there is no clear cut choice as to who has been the best (or worst) pitcher this season.  I prefer pitcher A’s ability to miss bats and not put runners on, but pitchers B, C and D have their relative strengths and weaknesses.

In other words, whomever you’d choose as your best among this group, the Yankees did not acquire a clear number 2 starter, and therefore are still Luis Severino and a few good pitchers – no better or worse than before the trade.

If you prefer larger sample sizes, here’s how Sonny Gray ranks among other starting pitchers since his first full season in 2014:

Since 2014, 70 pitchers have logged 500 innings in the Major Leagues.  Among those 70, Gray ranks…

…22nd in WAR, 25th in ERA+, 42nd in K%, 48th in BB%.

That places him a little past the top half among MLB starters.  I.E., about a 3rd starter.  (Incidentally, he ranks behind Tanaka in all the above categories.)

These aren’t knocks or criticisms.  Number three starters are good major league pitchers who usually have good major league careers.

You just don’t trade high level prospects for them.  And make no mistake, the Yankees gave up high level prospects for Sonny Gray.

According to Fangraphs: The White Sox and the A’s did the best among teams who acquired prospects in July trades.  The Yankees did the most damage to their farm system among teams who dealt prospects in July.  Dustin Fowler was ranked as the 2nd best prospect dealt in July.

And again according to Fangraphs:  As a result of stocking the farm systems of the White Sox and the A’s in separate trades, the Yankees did in fact, improve their chance of winning the 2017 World Series – it now stands at 5.6%.

Five. Point. Six. Percent.

Yes, I know, percentages and probabilities don’t always play out.  I certainly hope this is one of those times because the evidence and probabilities don’t look good.

 

Thanks as always to Baseball Reference and Fangraphs for the numbers.

FYI – in the chart above: A is Tanaka, B is Montgomery, C is Gray and D is Sabathia.

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