Sonny Gray has been pitching lights-out since the calendar flipped to July. In 5 starts, Gray has allowed 4 total runs in 35 innings pitched and lowered his ERA from 3.20 to 2.65. He is pitching like an ace, even at the young age of 24. Before long, Sonny Gray will become an elite pitcher, and there is one key that could expedite that process.
Aces are pitchers that will get a team a win after a loss. Gray does that. Aces can make sure the bullpen is used sparingly. Elite pitchers give the bullpen the day off.
If there is one nitpick that can be made about Sonny Gray, it’s that he walks too many batters. This season his BB/9 is at 3.17. By comparison, Clayton Kershaw‘s BB/9 is at 1.2, and Felix Hernandez holds a rate of 1.6. I do not want to compare these pitchers to Sonny Gray, because this is his first full season in the bigs, but Kershaw and Hernandez are on a short list of the best pitchers in the game. If Gray hopes to join them on the list, this is one area he must improve.
To his credit, once batters get on, they don’t score terribly often. So why is lowering the walk rate so important if the runners aren’t scoring? Throwing more balls means more pitches are thrown. If Sonny Gray can limit the number of pitches he throws, he will be able to go 8 innings instead of 7. That extra inning or sometimes two, is what separates an ace from an elite pitcher. In his only complete game this season, Gray walked only 1.
Gray is a gritty pitcher, and no moment is too big for him. Sonny doesn’t even hit arbitration until 2017, and isn’t a free agent until 2020. With all of the talk about the Athletics’ window being small, and trading top-prospects away, it should be noted that Sonny Gray will be developing into one of the game’s best pitchers in that same time frame.