Sonny Gray had a promising season in 2014. The Oakland Athletics’ starting pitcher won 14 games and logged a 3.08 ERA. Most importantly, Gray pitched 219 innings in the first full campaign of his career.
No matter how epic the A’s collapse of last season was, when Oakland needed a hero in Game 162 to clinch a playoff spot, Gray delivered. The 25-year-old tossed a complete game shutout against the Texas Rangers. He also famously outdueled Justin Verlander in Game 2 of the 2013 ALDS, gunning through eight shutout frames of brilliance.
With Gray’s ascension in motion and his clutch nature partially established, here’s to thinking bigger. The AL Cy Young Award in 2015 is not thinking too large. Corey Kluber won it in 2014 out of nowhere. Why can’t a rising star like Gray take home the hardware?
It’s far from an unrealistic thought. Gray already has one of the best fastball/curveball combinations in baseball. He threw the hook 27% of the time in 2014. His slider and changeup, each thrown under 10% of the time, are more of a work in progress. Developing one or both even further will do wonders for his Cy Young candidacy.
FanGraphs credits Gray with 274 sliders in 2014. Opponents only hit .185 against it. With a much bigger sample size, opponents batted .192 against Gray’s 907 curveballs. These are promising figures. The opposition hit under .200 against Gray’s two primary breaking balls. Each offering will be a growing staple in 2015.
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If Gray wants to reach Cy Young status, one primary improvement will have to occur. His splits reveal that his ERA was only 3.60 at home compared to 2.51 on the road. O.co Coliseum is a pitcher’s fantasy. It’s full of deep outfield walls and unfathomably wide foul territories. Cy Young Award or not, Gray has to drastically alter his comfort zone pitching in Oakland.
Furthermore, Gray allowed 15 home runs last year. This is a more than acceptable number, but 10 were hit while he pitched at home. There’s no reason for a pitcher with Gray’s stuff to allow 10 bombs in Oakland’s vast array of green space.
What will hurt Gray is that he’s not a huge strikeout pitcher. His K/9 rate was 7.52 in 2014. It’s also unknown how his right arm will respond to a second consecutive season of heavy work. Regardless, a competitor like Gray might take his status as Oakland’s ace to heart now that Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija are elsewhere.
This is simply a gut feeling of mine based on the eye test. Gray has moxie that can’t be measured and the responsibility of being Oakland’s top starter. Scott Kazmir should provide support, but Jesse Hahn, Drew Pomeranz and other possible starters aren’t guarantees. Oakland will rely on Gray solidifying the top of the rotation as the rest of the slots develop structure.
Should an increased role lead to Cy Young Award optimism? Not by itself. But Gray’s pitches are wicked enough to be in the realm of ace worthy stuff. His clutch gene is strong. 2014 might have been the first step before a large hurdle toward a higher class. Sonny Gray can win the AL Cy Young Award in 2015. If he does, don’t be shocked.