Eyeball Analysis Of Sonny Gray's First Big League Start

Brad White

Just as an aside, can I mention that following an Astros game on Gameday, when you're rooting for them to win, is a lot like slowly following your own root canal through online updates?

"Needle in, pain(s)"...
"Nico winces on a needle into the gum, numbness at 1st and 2nd bicuspid..."

Anyway, Sonny Gray threw 6 IP today, charged with 4 runs, 2 ER, on 4 hits, with 3 BB and 5 K. How did he look to this "eyeball scout"? What looked good and what didn't?

Just as a more general overview, Gray followed a common pattern for rookies making a debut in that his 1st inning was rocky (featuring 2 BBs and a HR) and then he settled down quite a bit (in his last 5 IP he was charged with 0 ER and walked only 1). It is also worth noting that he was consistently betrayed by his defense, with a passed ball on a strikeout, a huge E5 by Josh Donaldson on a routine DP ball, and an Alberto Callaspo error, all occurring in the 6 IP Gray was on the mound.

The positives:

- Gray's curve is excellent. It buckled several batters, missed a few bats, and induced some weak contact because it's a difficult pitch to square.

- I have to give Gray a lot of credit for composure, because the last thing a rookie needs in his first start is for a strikeout to turn into a base runner opening his second inning, and for a DP to be turned into no outs the very next inning. In each instance, Gray gave up an unearned run but he most certainly did not get rattled and he did minimize damage in each frame. Ultimately, he wound up pitching well enough to give the A's a chance to win and given how the 1st, then 2nd, then 3rd inning developed it would have been easy for this not to happen.

- The last 3 innings we saw of glimpse of what Gray might be long-term, as he mixed his pitches well, threw a lot of strikes but also expanded the zone strategically, and really shut down a very good offense.

The negatives:

- While Gray had life on his fastball, with his 4-seamer clocking in regularly at 94-95 MPH, it wasn't much of a "swing and miss pitch". This is something I really want to watch over Gray's next few starts because ultimately the hitters, not the radar gun, will tell you what your fastball is like. I would like to see hitters miss Gray's fastball more than I did today.

- Gray's overall command was about what I expected based on his college and minor league numbers, and scouting report. It's not that he is "all over the place," but he can fall behind in the count missing with pitches that aren't tempting (as he did with several fastballs high and away), and he can miss his spots in the strike zone (as he did when he hung an 0-2 breaking ball to Rajai Davis).

- Gray's changeup was pretty much a non-factor today, mostly "taken for a ball". That pitch is a work-in-progress, so this is not surprising. I was impressed with a couple changeups I noted in Gray's two relief appearances, so hopefully that pitch will continue to emerge.

Overall:

To me, Gray needs for one of two qualities to emerge in order for him to be effective long-term with the stuff I saw today: Either he needs to miss more bats with his fastball or he needs to command his pitches better. If and when one or the other of these occurs, Gray is probably a solid middle of the rotation SP. If both occur, he could be even a bit better than that.

When you start with "good stuff" and "a bulldog mentality" there is a lot of reason for optimism. Now it's a matter of refining and harnessing Gray's skills, and when I look at the command, how hitters reacted to the fastball, how they reacted to the curve, how they reacted to the changeup, I see a very mixed bag.

It was not only one start, it was Gray's first -- and in that context I think you would have to say the positives outweighed the negatives. Now if Gray's 10th start looks the same as this one I won't be nearly as bullish, but my hope is that it won't look the same.

Moving Forward:

Keep an eye on the fastball. At 95MPH it should miss a few bats, and we know that the curve will. With Gray's stuff, you're not looking to "pitch to contact" -- certainly not with your 4-seamer -- and we know that the baseball graveyards are littered with pitchers with "high octane fastballs" that just couldn't miss enough bats.

If you saw the game, what are your thoughts?

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