Wednesday, February 28

Compact Righty Sonny Gray Lands a Compact Deal With the Cardinals

Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

On the heels of their worst document since 1990, the Cardinals have made early splashes within the free-agent market, including Kyle Gibson and Lance Lynn in strikes supposed to stabilize their underperforming rotation in unspectacular style. On Monday, they made a way more impactful addition, signing Sonny Gray through a three-year, $75 million deal.

Gray, who turned 34 on November 7 and who spent the previous two years with the Twins, is recent off a among the best seasons of his 11-year profession. You wouldn’t understand it by his pedestrian 8–8 won-loss document — he didn’t get good assist from both his offense or his bullpen — however he made his third All-Star crew and completed second to Gerrit Cole within the AL Cy Young voting. In 32 begins and 184 innings (his highest whole since 2015), he posted an AL-best 2.83 FIP, positioned second to Cole with a 2.79 ERA, and tied with Kevin Gausman for the AL lead with a career-high 5.3 WAR (0.1 greater than Cole). All instructed, it was a really perfect marketing campaign for a participant hitting free company.

It’s not arduous to identify two large causes for Gray’s stellar marketing campaign: higher well being and a reconfigured arsenal. He made simply 50 begins in 2021–22 with the Reds and Twins, taking three journeys to the injured record in every of these seasons; in ’21, he missed time as a result of strains of his mid-back, groin, and rib cage, and in ’22, it was his proper pectoral and proper hamstring (twice). He’s made at the least 30 begins in a season simply as soon as prior to now eight years (31 in 2019), averaging 26 begins and 147 innings within the seven full-length seasons in that span. While it’s doable the Twins simply caught lightning in a bottle, he did overhaul his offseason program, as he defined final February following a season through which he felt unprepared after the top of the lockout:

“Started earlier. Changed up a little bit, for sure. Worked out. Physically tried to get stronger. Throwing was earlier. Eating habits. Vitamin habits,” Gray stated. “Doing things that I’ve seen people do and I’ve learned from other people and other guys to get farther along in their career. Just changing habits and consciously being aware (that) it’ll pay off in the long run.”

As the Reds’ union consultant in the course of the negotiations for the Collective Bargaining Agreement that ended the lockout (shortly after which he was traded), Gray didn’t throw a single bullpen session in the course of the 2021–22 offseason after which battled a number of accidents. By his estimate, he got here to camp this previous spring having thrown “about 15” bullpen periods, and the hassle clearly paid off.

Gray’s four-seam fastball perked as much as a 92.9 mph common, his highest since 2020, however he’s a pitcher who depends extra on spin, command, and deception than velocity. He did his finest to shake issues up in 2023 by including a cutter and a changeup (each of which he’d thrown intermittently prior to now in response to Statcast however which accounted for simply 20 whole pitches in 2022), doubling the utilization of his sweeper, mothballing his extra conventional slider and dialing again the utilization of his curve and sinker:


Gray threw the curve and changeup far more typically to lefties, the sinker and cutter far more typically to righties, and the sweeper extra typically to the latter as properly. In June, Esteban Rivera did a deep dive into his remixed arsenal; the visuals make the entire piece price studying, however this will get at Gray’s reasoning:

In this interview with Rob Friedman, Gray goes into deep element in regards to the form of every of his pitches and why he thought it might be useful to incorporate two new ones, significantly the cutter, in his repertoire, and in regards to the worth of his cutter serving as an in-between for the 2 fastballs and two breaking balls. From the hitter’s perspective, doing that complicates attacking or locking in on one zone or velocity. If you’re a left-handed hitter sitting on a four-seam fastball on the inside third, a cutter may transfer in and jam your barrel or, if it has a little bit extra vertical depth, slide proper underneath. The identical thought will be utilized for anticipating breaking balls; the cutter can keep up and freeze you rather than having the extent of drop or sweep of a curveball or sweeper. In addition, the cutter velocity is just some ticks quicker than the 2 breaking balls and some ticks slower than the 2 fastballs.

Gray has has achieved virtually all the pieces doable to guarantee he maintains deception. His launch factors are constant. He has a number of layers of motion each vertically and horizontally. He can range velocity and motion inside a given pitch. If you have been to construct a pitcher who doesn’t have nice velocity however can spin the heck out of the ball, this can be a darn good blueprint.

Though his efficiency regressed considerably from the purpose at which Esteban checked in, when Gray had a 2.37 ERA and a couple of.53 FIP, the brand new additions produced his two highest whiff charges (the cutter was in a digital tie with the curve) and Statcast run values:

Sonny Gray’s New Pitch Mix

2022 2023
Sweeper 10.3% .230 30.8% -3 20.4% .114 41.3% 19
Cutter 0.1% .689 0 13.1% .273 28.2% 7
4-Seam 28.2% .289 15.6% 11 27.2% .352 16.4% 5
Curveball 24.6% .228 24.6% 7 16.9% .295 28.2% 4
Sinker 25.9% .311 17.9% 0 15.7% .359 17.7% 4
Changeup 1.0% .295 66.7% 0 6.7% .308 17.4% -2
Slider 9.9% .375 35.3% -1

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Gray’s sweeper ranked tenth amongst all certified choices when it comes to run values and tops amongst all sweepers; no person who threw the pitch even 100 occasions allowed a decrease wOBA on the pitch. Meanwhile, his cutter ranked fifteenth in its class.

While his 24.3% strikeout charge and seven.3% stroll charge have been fairly constant together with his 2022 charges, Gray boosted his groundball charge from 44.5% to 47.3% (his highest since 2020) and greater than minimize his dwelling run charge in half, from 0.83 per 9 to 0.39, tops amongst all qualifiers in both league. There was a bit of excellent fortune concerned there, as his contact stats (89.1 mph common exit velo, 6.9% barrel charge, 39.2% hard-hit charge) have been fairly just like 2022, as was his 3.67 xERA. His -4.3 homer hole between precise and anticipated longballs was the key’s ninth-lowest, and it’s price noting that it wasn’t only a product of spacious Target Field; his charges at dwelling (0.41 per 9) and on the street (0.38) have been constant, as have been his 2022 splits.

Between Gray’s observe document for lacking time and his age — the oldest of any of the top-tier free-agent pitchers by about three years — it is smart that his contract is for simply three years. Aaron Nola, who will flip 31 on June 4, obtained seven even whereas coming off a much less spectacular marketing campaign (4.46 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 3.9 WAR). Via Dan Szymborski, right here’s a take a look at Gray’s three-year ZiPS projection:

ZiPS Projection – Sonny Gray

2024 9 5 3.33 3.89 28 28 159.3 142 59 16 49 134 126 3.5
2025 8 5 3.51 4.09 25 25 141.0 132 55 15 44 115 120 2.9
2026 6 5 3.75 4.36 22 22 124.7 123 52 15 42 98 112 2.2

The ZiPS contract projection is three years and $71 million, so that is mainly proper on the cash. Gray’s $25 million common annual worth really tops Nola’s $24.57 million, however then there’s an extended decline section constructed into the latter’s deal. When we evaluate the {dollars} per projected WAR, Nola is available in 52% greater ($12.6 million per win versus $8.3 million), however it’s not arduous to grasp why. The Phillies have been clearly satisfied that his 2023 efficiency was one thing of an aberration and anticipate significantly extra worth over the course of that deal.

For the Cardinals, who additionally pursued Nola, Gray joins a rotation that was brutal in 2023, rating twenty sixth within the majors in ERA (5.08) and twenty second in FIP (4.61). That unit has already skilled appreciable turnover: Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty have been traded upfront of the August 1 deadline, Adam Wainwright retired, and Dakota Hudson was non-tendered. Even in its restructured kind, what’s left nonetheless seems somewhat unimposing besides with regards to stamina, with the returning Miles Mikolas (4.78 ERA, 4.27 FIP in 201.1 innings) joined by Gibson (4.73 ERA, 4.13 FIP in 192 innings) and Lynn (5.73 ERA, 5.53 FIP in 183.2 innings); with Gray within the fold, that’s 4 of the highest 23 pitchers by whole innings in 2023. Steven Matz is the possible fifth starter, with Matthew Liberatore the highest different except one other pitcher is acquired.

As for the Twins, that is the second beginning pitcher they’ve misplaced to free company in as many days, as Kenta Maeda agreed to a two-year, $24 million take care of the Tigers on Sunday. Because they gave Gray a qualifying supply, the Twins will obtain a supplemental first-round draft choose as compensation for him signing elsewhere, however they’ll have so as to add an impression starter or two to offset these losses.

Gray doesn’t resolve all the Cardinals’ issues. Even so, this can be a good, compact deal for a pleasant, compact pitcher, and it offers president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and vp/normal supervisor Michael Girsch a soar on getting their offseason work achieved.

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