Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
In the current era of great pitchers there seems to always be an up-and-coming hurler who gets fan bases excited and the experts salivating. The New York Mets have Matt Harvey (just not for this season). The St. Louis Cardinals have Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, and Joe Kelly. The Nationals have Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, and Gio Gonzalez. Meanwhile the Oakland Athletics hope they join that group as well with a couple of their young starters. Twenty-four year old righty Sonny Gray is the youngest of the bunch (which includes RHP Jarrod Parker, RHP A.J. Griffin, and RHP Dan Straily).
Gray emerged on the national stage in Game 2 of the 2013 ALDS against the Detroit Tigers when he outdueled Justin Verlander to give the A’s the win. This will be his first full-season in the big leagues and while Gray has struggled in spring training so far this year, he’s planning on staying for the duration of the season. Furthermore, on a team that lacks a true ace of the staff, Gray is as good a candidate of anyone.
MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince encapsulated why Gray has the making of a star in the league:
"He brings a fastball with bite and late movement and a confounding curveball. If Gray can gain confidence in a changeup that would be an especially worthwhile weapon against left-handers, you’re looking at a kid who can live on the fringes of the zone and let the ball do the talking."
Castrovince adds that Gray’s pitches have so much movement that batters refuse to swing at them. According to FanGraphs, only 39.9% of his pitches were swung on, fourth lowest percentage in baseball. However, that information does correlate with wildness. In 64 innings last season, Gray only had two wild pitches, walked 20 batters and boasted a 1.109 WHIP.
Catcher John Jaso explained that nothing he throws is straight and it screeds batters away from swinging:
"“I think the movement on his ball catches hitters off guard and freezes them,” Jaso said. “I know, as a hitter, I want to swing at what I see every day out of the coach’s hand in BP, you know? A nice four-seamer floating in there. So as soon as the ball starts going in a certain direction, I think hitters hesitate to swing a little more.”"
Gray is aware of his reputation for movement and he offered an explanation:
"“I throw a lot of pitches that start out of the strike zone and end up in the strike zone,” Gray said. “My curveball will start out of the zone a lot. Then I’ll throw a four-seam that sometimes has a tendency to cut six or eight inches. Maybe they won’t swing because it starts for a ball.”"
In ten starts in 2013, Gray record a 5-3 record with a 2.67 ERA and 67 strikeouts. There has been no decision made regarding the Athletics Opening Day starter, but Gray has a good chance. He may not be an immediate star like Matt Harvey, but Gray will likely be around for awhile.