As part of our Trademas in July series, we’ll take a look at potential trade targets for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Today, we look at Sonny Gray, the young ace of the Oakland Athletics pitching staff.
Yes, another trade profile involving the Pittsburgh Pirates and a starting pitcher. As the trade deadline nears, it becomes clear that the Bucs are in need of pitching depth, both in the bullpen and starting rotation.
Recently, Steve Kubitz wrote a piece on Oakland Athletics left handed starter Rich Hill, an intriguing southpaw option. This made me want to take a closer look at Sonny Gray, a top of the rotation starter who could very well stay in Oakland, but could also find himself wearing a different uniform come next week.
Profile and Performance
The 26-year old right hander, who was drafted 18th overall in the 2011 MLB draft out of Vanderbilt, has been in the majors since 2013. Prior to this season, Gray was putting up Cy Young caliber numbers, sporting an ERA less than 3.08 in each of his first three seasons.
When it comes to pitch selection, Gray has a five pitch arsenal that includes a fastball that only averages around 93 on the gun. He also mixes in a curveball, slider, cutter and changeup. Throughout his career, Gray has relied primarily on his fastball, throwing 59.4 percent of the time. However, he is also known to mix in his breaking pitches, throwing his curveball 20.2 percent of the time and his slider at a 11.1 percent rate. He throws his changeup and cutter as well, but less at a less than 10 percent rate.
|162 Game Avg.||14||10||.567||3.34||34||34||2||1||217||189||90||80||19||70||183||3.60||1.196||7.9||0.8||2.9||7.6||2.63|
The above numbers are proof of Gray’s dominance in just a few short years in the big leagues. Gray is coming off of a year in which he finished third in the American League in ERA (2.73), 8th in wins (14) and third in AL Cy Young voting, while also making his first All Star appearance. Prior to this season, Gray had never had a year in which he compiled a WHIP above 1.20 and has pitched 200 plus innings in each of his first two full seasons in the majors.
This season has by far been Gray’s worst since debuting in 2013. This year, Gray is 5-9 with a 5.43 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 19 starts.
Gray’s 7.36 K/9 rate is still somewhat consistent with his career average of 7.62, but his walk rate is noticeably higher. This season, Gray’s BB/9 sits at 3.34 compared to his career average of 2.90. Gray’s 4.73 FIP is also relatively higher this year and his Swinging-Strike Percentage of 8.0 is lower than his career average of 9.1 percent.
Another key to Gray’s success in the past has been his ability to make guys chase at pitches outside of the strike zone. His O-Swing Percentage, which is the percentage of outside pitches that a hitter swings at, is relatively lower this year compared to years past. In fact, this season hitters are swinging at Gray’s pitches outside the strike zone at a 24.9 percent rate, a drastic difference from his 29.2 percent rate last season.
Case for Gray
- The young star has a friendly contract and is making near the league minimum this season. He is also eligible for arbitration starting next season and won’t be a free agent until 2020.
- Putting his 2016 slump aside, Gray is only 25 years old and still has prime years left in his career. He could be more than just a rental investment for any team trying to acquire him.
- This season, Gray has induced ground balls at a higher level. His 54.4 percent rate is higher than his ground ball rate of 52.7 percent last season.
- His reputation and his numbers in his first three seasons shouldn’t be ignored.
- Gray showed a bit of improvement in his last start against the Texas Rangers, allowing three earned runs on five hits while walking two and compiling a season-high eight strikeouts.
- A change of scenery and the opportunity to play for a contending team, whoever it may be, could possibly benefit Gray and help him get out of his slump.
Case against Gray
- This year’s slump has lowered Gray’s trade value mightily. However, the asking price for him may still be high despite the struggles
- Aside from hitters not swinging at pitches outside of the zone and an increased BB/9 this season, Gray also leads the majors with 14 wild pitches. His lack of command could be alarming to possible trade partners for the A’s.
- This season, the Pirates pitching staff ranks seventh in the National League in home runs allowed (111). If Gray were to join the Pirates, he would only add on to that number. In fact, Gray would rank tied for second on the team in that category. Gray has allowed 17 home runs this season, tying his career high that he set in 31 starts last season. What is alarming is that fact that he has tied that number in only 19 starts this season.
- The Pirates may not really need a top of the rotation starter like Gray. They may be more suited to trade for a bottom of the rotation starter and give up less in that type of deal.
- Gray has had injury issues this season, going on the disabled list on May 22 with a trapezius strain. This was Gray’s first career DL stint.
What it might take
The farm system for the Athletics needs a drastic change and if Gray is indeed dealt, they will look at this deal to help their minor league system.
Out of the 14 pitchers within the Athletics top 30 list of prospects, only three of them are left handed pitchers. The Pirates could offer up some of their left handed prospects in the deal, including Steven Brault or Brandon Waddell. However, this wouldn’t be all it would take to get Gray.
The Bucs would also have to be willing to part ways with at least one of their top five prospects. Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows or Josh Bell would likely have to be involved in the package deal that would have to be sent to Oakland.
In the past, Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane has been known to trade young starting pitchers to get younger prospects in exchange. Gio Gonzalez, Tim Hudson and Dan Haren are just a few examples. Beane has also been known to trade stars such as Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson for prospects.
It shouldn’t be a surprise if Gray is traded, but is this likely going to happen with the Pirates involved? No. Would it be an intriguing possibility? Maybe. Gray has proven throughout his short major league career to be a very capable and talented pitcher. Despite the struggles and the injury issues, he is a stellar option and he wouldn’t have to be the ace of the Pirates staff.
The haul would definitely be too much for the Pirates to agree to this deal. It wouldn’t be worth it to completely give up on some of the top prospects for a young pitcher that has struggled this season. However, it brings up an interesting debate as to whether a blockbuster deal for the Athletics ace would be worth it.
Featured Image Credit – Keith Allison