There’s been a nice little influx of young pitching talent to make its way to the Major Leagues in the last couple of seasons, with some of these young arms already making their way to join the league’s elite. That list, of course, includes the likes of Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey, despite the Tommy John surgery that the latter is currently recovering from. When you talk about this group of young hurlers, one name that doesn’t get as mentioned nearly as much as he should is that of Oakland Athletics starter Sonny Gray.
Sonny Gray started Opening Day for the Athletics after making an impact in only 10 starts for Oakland last season. He tossed 64 innings in his brief stint with the club last year, posting a 2.67 ERA to go along with a 2.70 FIP, indicating that his performance wasn’t much of a fluke. He struck out 9.42 hitters per nine, his highest mark at any level since he broke into the professional ranks, while walking a respectable 2.81 per nine.
His ground ball rate, at nearly 53 percent, played well in front of a defense that ranked second in the league in Defensive Efficiency Ratio, successfully converting about 71 percent of their opportunities into outs. Given what we saw from Gray in the second half of last year, in addition to his playoff performance and what he’s done early this season, there’s little doubt about the fact that Sonny Gray is certainly the real deal for Oakland.
Gray isn’t the type of pitcher that’s going to overpower hitters with his stuff. He isn’t a Fernandez type among these young pitchers that mows folks down with a blazing heater and nasty off speed stuff. He relies on a solid mix of pitches and precise location. His fastball sits in the low to mid-90s, and he leans on that more than anything, throwing it about 65 percent of the time last year and 56 percent in his two starts this year.
Where Sonny Gray racks up his strikeouts is with the curveball. Nearly half of his strikeouts in 2013 came on the curveball, and he generated 14 percent of his swinging strikes with the hook. That figure was higher with the slider last year, and with the changeup in his pair of starts this year, but the sample size in which he actually uses them far favors the curveball, which is easily his most effective out pitch.
Overall, though, Sonny Gray doesn’t generate a ton of swings and misses. He’s at a 9.9% swinging strike rate for the season so far, which isn’t exactly overwhelming but still a decent mark. Nonetheless, the mix of the stuff that he does have, in conjunction with the solid defense behind him, has made him an extremely effective pitcher thus far for the Oakland A’s. It’s probably time to start mentioning his name with a little more regularity, and he’s clearly establishing himself as a legitimate front end starter.