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The Red Report 2020 - Sonny Gray

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The Nashville native looks to again lead the Reds rotation in 2020.

San Diego Padres v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Fast Facts

  • Name is an oxymoron.
  • Born on November 7, 1989, in Nashville, TN
  • Sonny isn’t short for anything - his real name is Sonny Douglas Gray.
  • You can’t spell ‘Sonny Douglas Gray’ without ‘Young Gyro Sandals.’
  • Was teammates with catcher Curt Casali at Vanderbilt University, where current Cincinnati Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson was then Vandy’s pitching coach.
  • Born in Smyrna, Tennessee, which also produced MLB all-time name team member Johnny Gooch.
  • Johnny Gooch!
  • Finished 3rd in the 2015 AL Cy Young Award voting, 7th in the 2019 NL Cy Young Award voting, and made his second career MLB All Star Game in 2019
  • JOHNNY GOOCH!!

Organizational History

  • Drafted in the 27th round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs out of Smyrna (TN) HS, but did not sign
  • Drafted in the 1st round (18th overall) of the 2011 MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics out of Vanderbilt University, signed $1.54 million bonus
  • Traded by the Oakland Athletics with international bonus slot money to the New York Yankees for James Kaprelian, Jorge Mateo, and Dustin Fowler on July 31, 2017
  • Traded by the New York Yankees to the Cincinnati Reds along with Reiver Sanmartin for Shed Long and a 2019 Competitive Bonus Round A pick
  • Earned $7.5 million in 2019 (his final year of arbitration) while also agreeing to a 3-year, $30.5 million extension with the Reds that includes a club option for 2023 at $12 million. That included a $500K signing bonus, meaning he could earn up to $50 million in a 5-year window with the Reds, though his 7th place finish in the NL Cy Young Award in 2019 bumped each year’s base salary up $500K thanks to a clause in said contract. (H/T Cot’s Contracts for the info.)

Career Stats

Scouting Report


Source: FanGraphs
FanGraphs
FanGraphs
Baseball Savant

Sonny Dougif Gray

Projections

Outlook

The Cincinnati Reds traded for Sonny Gray prior to the 2019 season, and the former New York Yankee and Oakland Athletic rewarded them handsomely. Sonny set career-best full-season marks in fWAR (4.4), bWAR (5.6), K/BB (3.01), K/9 (10.5), ERA+ (158), H/9 (6.3), and FIP (3.42), making the contract extension he signed with Cincinnati prior to the trade - what could end up a 5 year, $50 million deal - seem like a complete bargain.

In other words, props to the Reds front office for landing Sonny for Shed Long and a competitive balance pick, and bigger props for being confident enough to extend the righty.

As for 2020, the Reds will again be counting on Sonny to help lead their potent pitching staff, and fresh off a 7th place finish in the 2019 NL Cy Young Award voting, the 30-year old Gray looks plenty capable. As MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon noted over the weekend, the elbow cleanup surgery Gray had performed immediately after the 2019 season ended has him fresh and ready in camp in Goodyear, and the pitching cadre of former Vanderbilt University players and coaches has him on course to open the year in his typical ace-ish form.

Sonny, quite frankly, is a spin-rate master, and he leaned on his elite breaking pitches nearly 47% of the time in his dominant 2019 season. His curveball was rated the 4th most valuable among 61 qualified MLB starters last year, while his slider ranked 11th, meaning he’s got a pair of wipeout put-away pitches to lean on aside from his potent 93-96 mph fastball. Finding the right mix of pitches was one of the primary issues pitching coach Derek Johnson and Gray worked to improve last winter, and the result was Gray abandoning completely the cutter the Yankees implemented with him, instead leaning again on his fastball/curve/slider mix some 94% of the time to noted success.

The one place where Sonny struggled in 2019 - and I’m not even sure that’s the correct word - was getting deep into games, as despite making 31 starts he only logged 175.1 IP for the season. On only 8 occasions did he record an out after the 6th inning, and only once did he clear 8 IP in a single start, though often that appeared to be as much by design as it was due to an inability to continue. Manager David Bell has shown already in his career that he’s a more proactive than reactive manager, and avoiding letting his starters be exposed to a batting order an additional time in individual games is something he has stressed in his management of the staff, and with a good enough bullpen that has proved to be shrewd more often than not. So, I’d expect a similar level of management with Gray in 2020, which is completely fine.

Frankly, it’s a bit odd to have a Reds pitcher who ranked 11th in MLB in bWAR and in the top 10 in H/9, ERA, and ERA+ and not be completely gushing about him. At any point in the last however many years, having a pitcher entering a season having just put that on display in a Reds uniform would’ve driven me completely bonkers with excitement, but it’s a testament to how large and well-built the Reds have remade their pitching staff that I have to spread that excitement around. Gray is a capable ace, but the Reds haven’t hung their hopes solely on him, with the likes of Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani, Wade Miley, and Tyler Mahle capably forming one of the deepest, most talented rotations in all of baseball. Gray will be expected to again play a big part in that group, but the Reds now have a core that on any given day could have a different front-runner, and that’s tremendously exciting.