Another round of MLB Playoffs, another round of pitcher previews from WFNY’s Mike Hattery. Over the course of the next several weeks, we will provide insight as to how the Cleveland Indians can best prepare themselves for that night’s starting pitcher. First up: Sonny Gray
As the Cleveland Indians prepare for Game 1 of the ALDS, they will face the New Yorks Yankees mid-season acquisition, starting pitcher Sonny Gray. Gray has been an excellent mid-rotation-type performer for both the Oakland Athletics (where he was an All-Star) and the Yankees. Gray posted a 10-12 record with a 3.55 ERA and a 3.90 FIP.
Indeed, outside of a contact management advantage, Gray would look somewhat similar to Cleveland’s Trevor Bauer. Of course, Bauer has significantly more devastating stuff which potentially plays better in the postseason where arsenal usage is changed and strikeouts increased. While Gray has roughly average swing-and-miss skills, his weakness lies in control as he has the 15th highest walk rate of 58 qualified starting pitchers. For the Indians, a team with the fourth highest walk rate in baseball at 9.7 percent, patience will be a driving factor.
The Sanchez Factor
Before diving into key individual pitcher versus hitter matchups, a consideration of the base-running portion of offense. The Indians have one key advantage offensively as the margins narrow in the postseason: Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. Sanchez has a competent arm—perhaps better than average—but the complexity and danger existing for the Yankees occurs in playoff arsenal changes. While the arsenal usage discussion below is important, playoff pitchers will generally lean on secondary offerings more to increase strikeout rates. The Yankees, however, are pitching to Gary Sanchez who has the blocking skills of a soup strainer. Sanchez leads the American League in passed balls and struggled again on Tuesday evening when the Yankees beat the Twins to punch their ticket to the ALDS. The Yankees can either be more careful throwing breaking balls with runners in scoring position, increasing the number of fastballs the Indians hitters receive, or they can risk giving away free bases with additional breaking ball usage.
The Indians vs. Sonny Gray
Finally, a surface level assessment which could impact the lineup: Sonny Gray has even to reverse splits. Gray is a right-handed pitcher who allows a .291 wOBA against right-handed hitters, and .285 wOBA against lefties.1. This allows the Indians to rely on a more balanced lineup.
Here is WFNY’s Projected lineup against Sonny Gray:
1 Lindor SS (S)
2 Kipnis CF (L)
3 Ramirez 2B (S)
4 Encarnacion DH (R)
5 Bruce RF (L)
6 Santana 1B (S)
7 Chisenhall LF (L)
8 Perez C (R)
9 Urshela (R)
Gray uses three pitches—a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, and curveball—with ancillary offerings mixed in.
As is easily visible, Gray does not rely on top end velocity for success but rather contact management, generally sitting between 92-94 on the four-seam fastball.
Once devastating, Gray’s curveball is no longer a knockout offering with both of his key secondary offerings being punished frequently.
Here are three hitters who pose interesting matchups for Sonny Gray’s usage pattern.
Gray uses his four-seam fastball over the plate and to keep left handed hitters honest inside.
If Gray leaves the fastball on the inside frequently to Jose Ramirez, the punishment may be costly.
Gray will then play his sinker off the fastball to induce ground balls on contact on the lower outside third of the plate.
The sinker away is a strong offering but the Indians have a few hitters who can punish it, Lonnie Chisenhall perhaps the most dangerous.
Finally, the hammer curveball. Gray will lean on the burying the curveball down and at times away to left-handed hitters.
Could Jason Kipnis have a big playoff moment? If Gray leaves his curveball in the strike zone it is quite possible.
While Gray is a fine pitcher the matchup is not in any sense daunting. Gray has solid stuff paired with mediocre command. A disciplined approach which the Indians offense is built on should place them in a situation to take the upper hand in the series.
- wOBA being weighted on base average which elevates a valuation of extra base hits in its calculation as compared to OBP [↩]