As we continue to down the road of looking back at the 2019 Cincinnati Reds we get to the best pitcher on the staff in the 2019 season, Sonny Gray.

The Preseason Projection

Sonny Gray was coming off of his worst season as a professional in 2018. The New York Yankees had changed up his pitch usage and the Reds felt that they could get him back to the pitcher he had once been. So Cincinnati traded for, and extended Gray in January with the hopes that they were correct.

Here’s what Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections for the 2019 season had to say for the Cincinnati Reds right-handed starter:

IP ERA H HR BB K WHIP ERA+
145.2 4.14 135 18 55 138 1.30 106

The 2019 Season

The Cincinnati Reds debut for Sonny Gray did not go as he or the Reds would have hoped. On March 31st he struggled and didn’t get out of the 3rd inning, walking four batters without a strikeout and left the game trailing 3-0. He quickly turned things around, allowing a run in 6.2 innings with no walks and seven strikeouts the next time out, and during the month of April he made five starts with a 3.33 ERA.

In May things got out to a bit of a tough start. In the first three starts of the month Sonny Gray walked eight batters with 12 strikeouts in 14.1 innings and allowed nine earned runs in 14.1 innings (5.65 ERA). But he closed out the month with two strong starts where he allowed just one run over 12.0 innings with 16 strikeouts. June, though, was a little bit below-average. Gray made five starts and saw his ERA for the month come in at 4.78 over his 26.1 innings pitched.

On July 3rd he put together what may have been his best start of the season. Against Milwaukee he struck out 12 batters with just one walk in 8.0 shutout innings. That lowered his ERA on the season to 3.59. It may have been responsible for his placement on the National League All-Star team as a replacement. For the second time in his career, Sonny Gray was an All-Star – but for the second time in his career, he didn’t pitch in the All-Star game. When he returned to the mound following the break, he would go on a run in the second half that took him from being an above-average pitcher to being among the best in the entire league. He made four more starts in July, posting a 2.96 ERA in 24.1 innings.

That run in July was just the beginning of what was to come. Over his next seven starts he dominated the National League, allowing just four earned runs in 42.2 innings – that’s a 0.84 ERA for those of you keeping track at home. That run included back-to-back 10 strikeout games against the Cardinals and Padres on August 15th and 20th.

The season would come to an end with three starts after that, which were strong, but not quite on par with the run he had been on. In his final start of the season he struck out six batters, putting his total  at 205 on the season – giving both he and Luis Castillo 200+ strikeouts on the year. They were the first Reds teammates to ever accomplish that feat in the same season.

What Happened?

The Reds took a bit of a gamble on Sonny Gray. And they hit the jackpot. When the season was over, Gray was 5th in the National League with a 2.87 ERA and he had just set a career high with 205 strikeouts. His ERA+ of 158 was easily a career best, as was his 6.3 hits allowed per 9-innings pitched. A lot of things went right for Gray and the Reds when he was on the mound in 2019.

In a year where the baseball was flying out of the ballpark at record rates due to manufacturing standards being all sorts of out of whack, Gray’s 51% ground ball rate that was 7th best in all of Major League Baseball helped him avoid the long ball unlike most other pitchers in the game. Coupled with an increase in strikeout rate, and a career low .255 BABIP and he was able to put together an outstanding 2019 campaign.

Season Stats

IP ERA H HR BB K WHIP ERA+
175.1 2.87 122 17 68 205 1.08 158

What’s to come?

Coming off of a career best type of season, it’s probably not expected that Sonny Gray can repeat what he did in 2019. Fair or unfair, that’s likely the reality. His BABIP was a career best, and if it goes back towards the norm – which for him has been .280 for his career (still much lower than the league average), he’s probably going to see some sort of regression in his ERA.

With that said, there’s also a reason to think that he could balance that out if the baseball is more “normal” in 2020. While he’s an elite ground ball rate guy among starting pitchers. That helped him negate some of the juiced baseball issues in 2019, a normal ball could help him shave a few extra-base hits off of the total that did take place in 2019.

Sonny Gray’s very likely going to be an above-average starter in 2020. He keeps the ball in the park, he doesn’t give up extra-base hits, he misses bats, and his walk rate is acceptable. That’s a good formula. But he’ll likely have to improve in some areas in order to match what he did in 2019 when it comes to keeping runs off of the board because there were a few areas where luck was on his side, too.

27 Responses

  1. Mark Moore

    Seems like a solid #3 overall with potential to be the #2 guy at times. I like the way he settled in during the season.

    • Michael Smith

      @mark,

      He is a 2 already. #3 is an average starter

      • Mark Moore

        Understood is is OUR #2 … I was thinking in broader terms across the league. Still, if he repeats anything close to what he did, that’s definitely a good move to sign him. He seems to like being in Cincy and on the Reds. I never discount those factors.

      • Redleg4life

        Gray was our most consistent starter.

    • Michael Smith

      And my point still stands. By saying he is a 3 in the league you are putting him in the 61-90 range. I am disagreeing with you. Him and Castillo are hanging around top 30 at the moment, if not better. I

  2. AirborneJayJay

    The streak Sonny Gray had of 30+ starts with giving up only 7 hits or less was phenomenal. Gray had an incredible season. He certainly was a main reason the rotation showed such stark improvement. If Gray and DeSclafani can match their 2nd halves of last year for a whole season in 2020, watch out.
    Is it going to be worth it for the Reds to pay Bauer $18MM+ in 2020 to be their #3 or #4 starter? Bauer will be the Reds top paid starter, but will only fill the #3 or #4 spot in the rotation.
    The Dodgers, Angels, Astros, A’s, and Braves are still looking for a top line starter. Interest could also come from the Phillies, Cubs, Cards, D-backs, Rockies, Twins, and possibly the Rays. Can the Reds turn 1 year of Bauer into a SS or CF?

    • Doug Gray

      If you want to win baseball games, then yes, Bauer is worth that – assuming you believe he’s as good as the Reds do.

      • Bromleyjake

        Doug,

        I think a lot of people were unimpressed with Bauer and grew to think he was overvalued by the Reds along with the rest of baseball. If you take away his 2018 season, he’s not a special pitcher. Yet every time the average Red’s fan tuned in to see him pitch, we were being told how good he is by the Reds’ commentators and there was a disconnect from the guy we were watching.
        Be that as it may, I still believe he will be at least a league average pitcher this season which is all the Reds should need from him.

      • Doug Gray

        Trevor Bauer isn’t nearly as good as his 2018 was. But he’s not nearly as bad as his 2019 Reds version was. He’s an above-average starter who will dominate at times, and who is mediocre at times. And he’s a guy who eats up innings. That’s quite valuable.

      • Old-school

        He also finished 9th in the decade of K/9 innings.

  3. RedsFan11

    I was at his March 31st debut man what a COLD DAY. It was a beautiful 70 degree day on Opening Day and I couldn’t find a ticket. Just three days later the high temp was a balmy 37 degrees! I had no trouble finding a ticket to my first game of the year then haha. That is a tall ask for any starter to pitch in that cold of weather. He battled though; I remember a gbdp he got to get out of an inning and he was pumped.

    I was also at his July 3rd start which I mentioned in a previous post was my personal highlight / high point of the season. That game truly had the feel of a game that mattered and you could actually feel it in the crowd.

    He has honestly become my favorite pitcher on this staff after his performance last season. Here’s to hoping he can repeat!

    • RedNat

      I was at both games too. weird because I think the attendance was higher for the bitter cold march game than the July game although I remember that game being fairly hot.

      I felt too that after that series with the Brewers we had a chance to make the playoffs. But then Scooter struggled, we trade Puig, Bauer struggled and we wind up below 500 again

  4. burtgummer

    Having a Gray ,Castillo as your 1 and 2 pitchers is something most teams really envy

    • Redleg4life

      Indeed, we have one of the best one two combos in the national league.

  5. AirborneJayJay

    Jose Iglesias is now not an option for SS as he is signing with Baltimore.
    Galvis as the starting SS? That is not a sign they are in it to win it. That is more of a sign they are in it to wing it until July 31.
    Then again, the lack of interest in Iglesias by the Reds could also signal something big at SS is afoot.

    • Slicc50

      I just saw that……surely they are working on a deal for a SS then right?

    • Optimist

      I’d be interested in Doug’s view on this (or any analytics reviewer). IIRC, Iglesias was viewed as having an essentially empty year on offense, and while defensively superior, that skill seems to be of lesser importance nowadays.

      Add to that a throwaway comment about having off-the-field issues, he wasn’t going to matter to the Reds one way or another. They simply chose Galvis amongst the two, and given his power, that seems a wiser choice. They’re the same age, Galvis has more power and GABP is made for that. He’s likely marginally better, but it almost doesn’t matter. Certainly do not need both of them.

      Blandino seems a perfect AAAA backup, if needed, but if this is the only hole in the lineup, at least it will produce an occasional power outburst. Stick him in the #8 spot, and go shopping at the trade deadline.

  6. SultanofSwaff

    Ridiculous spin and break on Gray’s curveball. Saw it from 5 feet behind Casali in the Brewers bullpen prior to a start—WOW. The metrics concur.

    If there was a quibble with Gray it’s that he ran into trouble quite often the 5th/6th inning, third time thru the order after dominating……probably why he didn’t reach 200IP. Still, a real bargain and coup for the Red’s front office to acquire and extend.

  7. Hotto4Votto

    Gray is a complete success story for the FO from last offseason. Really helps anchor the rotation and seems to enjoy being a Red. Glad we got him, and got him to sign the extension.

  8. Steve Schoenbaechler

    This is the one of the two question marks I see with the upcoming season.

    One, the pitching, like with Gray. The entire staff, as a whole, took a huge step last season. Forget stepping it up more, if they can simply keep where they were, I would be very happy.

    Two, the hitting. As a whole, it took at huge step down last season. Most everyone, besides Suarez, could have done better. Do they? Will they? Or, did we just have high expectations?

  9. curt

    Can you really give the FO the credit for Gray though? I’d think Derek Johnson was the key to that deal. Yanks were happy to get rid of him and I’m not sure that was known before Reds hired Johnson. Kinda fell into their laps after that. I would guess Johnson was the one who assured the FO that he believed he, along with getting Gray out of the Bronx, would set him right. And it did. Right place, right time for everybody. The extension was an easy sell to reunite with Johnson. Shed Long wasn’t anything important to the Yankees, they flipped him to Seattle in a beat. You or I could have made the phone calls…ha! So a success story for the team no doubt, but for the FO, more of a lucky break than a coup. -2cents

    The FO did hire Johnson though, so I’ll give them that.

    • Hotto4Votto

      Yes you absolutely give the FO credit. As you mention, the FO hired Derek Johnson, and even away from a division rival. The FO said they would #getthepitching and came out of the offseason with three proven starters to add to the rotation. Not only that, but they identified a guy who would sign a reasonable (at the time, in hindsight even better) extension. They identified a guy who the Yankees wanted to sell low on as a guy they could help tap back into his previous production. And they did it all for the price of Shed Long and a comp pick. That’s a good piece of work.

      And you and I couldn’t make those calls because we’d never get through. Why would the Yankees talk to some random yahoos off the internet? haha

      • Curt

        “random yahoos” ha, touché…
        We see it as we see it. I appreciate the feedback Hotto and your comments on RN in general. thanks

  10. DaveCT

    Gray is this fan’s ideal guy to follow because he just competes so much. He’s like a Votto in never giving one inch. Really fun to watch go to work.

  11. GhostRunner

    Reds have signed Shogo to a 3 year 21m contract.

  12. centerfield

    For most of 2019 Gray threw a large number of pitches per inning. Sometimes I thought the ump just couldn’t believe the break. Toward the latter part of the season, his SO’s declined and he started to go deeper in games. I honestly believe he is going to be better than last year AND if the bullpen and offense improves, he wins 20. Mark it down!
    As for Bauer, he needs to follow suit and cut down on pitches per inning. He will also benefit from being more familiar to the umps. It is what it is, but some well know pitchers miss by a half a foot and still get the call while new guys get squeezed. In the NL, Trevor was a new guy.

    • David

      He was pitching a lot of the year with bone chips in his right elbow. He had them out at the end of the season (missed at least his last turn).
      Sonny has a lot of grit, besides being good.

      I too believe he could be BETTER in 2020 than he was in 2019.