Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Day with Gray

If you're going to watch an A's game from here on out, make it a Sonny Gray game. He made his second career start today against the Astros and looked spectacular. Here's his line:

8 Innings 4 hits 1 walk 0 runs allowed and 9 strikeouts

Now, take that with a grain of salt as he was striking out Brandon Barnes and Marc Krauss twice each and his toughest competition was Jose Altuve (Read: The Astros are bad). Nevertheless, the Astros have scored 452 runs this season and the point is that zero of them have come of Sonny.

Anyway, Gray showed off why the A's made him their first round selection in 2011 today. He basically survives off two nasty offerings: fastball and a 12-6 curveball. Sonny's fastball sits between 91 and 95 mph. He keeps the ball down early in the count but can also dial it up with swing-and-miss high heat. I was also impressed by how well he maintained his velocity, hitting 94 mph multiple times in the 8th inning.

Sonny's fastball is certainly effective, but it's barely an appetizer to his wicked curveball. A quote from the visiting play-by-play broadcaster:

"Sonny Gray has a good curveball... That thing is nasty" - Bill Brown, Astros' TV Broadcaster

And right he is. It's a Zito-esque bender with a big sharp break right in front of the plate. More impressive still is his ability to throw it for strikes. Coming into tonight's matchup, the pitch only resulted in a ball 30% of the time. The other 70% consisted of 22% whiffs (nearing on Kershaw's slider type levels) and just 3% line drives. Extreme small sample warning here, but it's all we have and it's impressive enough for me to include here.

Here's where the million $$$ question comes in. Can he be a starter long term or is he best suited for the bullpen?

The big facts working against him are that he is basically a two-pitch pitcher, only 9 change ups in 146 total pitches before tonight, and his small stature, just 5'11" 180 lbs. Gray is obviously set on proving the skeptics wrong as he's stayed very healthy in his career to date and as his 118 pitch performance tonight showed, he has the potential to stick in the rotation.

Only time will tell, ultimately, but for now he's carved out a space in the A's rotation. It'll be interesting to see if Oakland has him on an innings limit as we near the playoffs. He's already about 15 innings short of his career high.

What is clear is that Sonny will be a crucial and much needed weapon in the A's pitching staff from here on out.

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