Oakland Athletics: Is Sonny Gray MLB’s next star pitcher?


Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Jose Fernandez, Justin Verlander. Some of the biggest stars in the MLB are starting pitchers, and the Oakland Athletics may have their own.

With the 18th overall pick of the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft, the Oakland Athletics selected Sonny Gray out of Vanderbilt University. After blazing through the minor leagues in two years with Midland (AA) and Sacramento (AAA), he made his big league debut with Oakland in 2013.

And since then, it’s been relatively smooth sailing for the talented righty. In his first summer with Oakland, Gray started 10 games (12 total appearances) and went 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA. He was striking out batters at an astounding rate, 9.4/9, and was a vital rotation piece leading the Athletics to a second straight AL West title.

Because of his hot inaugural season, he was an immediate piece in Oakland’s rotation come 2014. It’s only been 7 games, but Sonny has shown that his impressive 2013 wasn’t an accident. With a 4-1 record, 1.91 ERA, a shutout and a 7.5 K/9 rate, Gray has been more than impressive.

You’d be hard pressed to find a pitcher having a better season than he is after one month, in both the American League and the National League. He’s second in the AL in ERA, wins, and HR/9. He’s also among the league leaders in innings pitched, and WAR for a pitcher. Basically, he’s had an awesome month.

There’s no doubting his talent, especially at the age of 24. Through his first 111 innings in his MLB career, he’s compiled a 1.76 ERA, 107 Ks, and only 36 walks. To put it in a similar perspective, through his first 84.1 career innings, Felix Hernandez posted a 2.67 ERA with 77 Ks (adjusting the 77 Ks over 111 innings to match Gray would give Hernandez 101 Ks). For Clayton Kershaw, his first 107.2 innings saw him strike out exactly 100 (103 adjusted to match Gray’s total innings), with a 4.26 ERA.

You could go through and look at the stats for any of the elite pitchers in the league right now to compare them to Gray’s hot start, but you’re going to get the same results; Gray has started off as good as, if not better, than any of them. Say what you want to say, but the numbers are on Sonny’s side telling that he’s in some great company.

So, what does all this mean? It means that Gray has incredible potential, and at the age of 24 on a team that has a history of breeding solid starters, the future looks bright for him. He seems to be the whole package (high strikeout rate, low walk rate, high powered fastball) and the type of player to lead Oakland back to the playoffs.

Maybe it would be wise to wait until he’s around for a full year before we slap a “star” label on him, but it’s becoming hard not to by the way he’s pitching. He’s beginning to enter his “prime” and we can expect him to grow further into the next few years, and develop into the next pitching phenom shutting down batters on the west coast.