Why the Braves should trade for Sonny Gray

Sonny Gray
Sonny Gray #55 of the New York Yankees delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on September 11, 2018 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Source: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

We’re closing in on being just a month away from Spring Training and most of the biggest stars of this year’s free agent class have yet to find new homes. The Braves were never likely to be a major player in the free agent market, especially not after spending $23 million right out of the gates on Josh Donaldson, but the Braves are in desperate need of the free agent market to start moving so the trade chips can start to fall.

The Braves have been all over the place this winter in terms of rumors, but the off-season started with word getting out that they’d like to beef up the starting rotation if they could. Corey Kluber was the big name being floated around back then, but now it looks like Cleveland is intent on keeping him. A host of other names popped up after that. Most recently, Sonny Gray’s name hit the news as reports came out from Jeff Passan that the Braves, Yankees, and Rangers were discussing a three-way trade that would have sent Gray from New York to Atlanta.

If you’ve followed me on Twitter for a while, you’d know I’m a huge fan of Sonny Gray and that I have been trying to drive the Gray to Atanta train for years. I kind of gave up on it when he was traded to the Yankees at the 2017 trade deadline, but the idea resurfaced last July when it became apparent to everyone that Gray is not cut out for New York.

It was then that I did some more research on Gray and the more research I did, the more I decided it was the right move. My argument at the trade deadline was along a lot of the same lines that ended up being true for Kevin Gausman once he came to Atlanta.

The basic premise was this: Move a pitcher out of the AL East and into the NL East and watch him flourish. Gausman had a 4.43 ERA and 4.48 FIP with the Orioles, but once he came to Atlanta, his ERA dropped to 2.87 with a 3.78 FIP. Those numbers indicate a true change, but mostly, for Gausman, it was moving from having a putrid Orioles defense behind him to pitching in front of the Braves defense in combination with getting away from the Yankees and Red Sox.

To me, Gray is in a position where he’d benefit even more from the move. While he didn’t have to pitch against the Yankees, he did have to make half of his starts in their ballpark and he’d receive a big boost defensively, as well. Over Gray’s career, he has a 53.3% GB rate, which would be a huge plus for him when pitching in front of the Braves infield defense, as the Braves have one of the better infield defenses in baseball, and one that is better across the board than that of the Yankees. While the defensive boost would be big for him, SunTrust Park should be of even greater benefit to Gray. Throughout his career, Gray has always had a bit of a problem with the homerun (career 12% HR/FB rate, but 15.3% in the last three years), and moving from Oakland Collesium to Yankee Stadium certainly didn’t do him any favors.

Before being traded to the Yankees, Gray had a 3.56 career FIP, but since moving to New York, his FIP has climbed to 4.40. His homerun rate at home as a Yankee has boomed to 21.3% HR/FB with just a 7.4% HR/FB rate on the road. The 21.3% is a full 3% higher than the league leader last year (Jon Gray – 18.1%). Going even further with his home/road splits during his time with the Yankees, his home FIP has been 6.06 with a 3.05 road FIP. Last season, Mike Foltynewicz (3.37) was the only starter that made more than 5 starts to have a FIP under 3.50.

FanGraphs breaks down their park factors by overall rank as well as by singles, doubles, triples, and homers. While Yankee Stadium ranks right at league average overall, when looking at the park factors for just homeruns it ranks the highest in the major leagues at 112, and Oakland Collesium ranks near the bottom at 94. With a pitcher like Gray that loves to give up the homerun, that’s quite the jump and goes a long way in explaining his home/road splits since becoming a Yankee. SunTrust Park comes in just below league average at 99, in case you’re wondering.

What all of this boils down to is that there isn’t a better change of scenery pitcher in baseball than Sonny Gray, and the Braves are just the type of scenery he needs. Not only do the Braves play in a more neutral pitcher park that should be a lot more kind to him as a pitcher, but they also provide a location close to where he grew up and went to college. Don’t tell me you don’t want another press conference this winter with a player talking about how happy he is to be closer to home.

We have talked at length on the podcast about our feelings as to how the Braves should fill out their rotation and the general consensus is that they should stop trying to trade for the true ace like Kluber and focus more on beefing up the middle of the rotation, leaving the upside in the rotation up to the group of young guys. Gray would be a perfect target to beef up the middle of the rotation and shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg in trade, given that he only has one more year before being eligible for free agency and is projected to make $9.1 million in his final year of arbitration according to MLB Trade Rumors. Trading for Gray should allow the Braves to keep a good amount of their young pitching group, leaving those guys in play for the rotation this spring. Between Max Fried, Sean Newcomb, Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, Bryse Wilson, and Kyle Wright, the Braves have a number of pitchers ready to jump into the front of the rotation with Foltynewicz and guy like Gray with Gausman slotting in right behind them.

And that list of young pitching doesn’t even include Luiz Gohara, who last year I thought was the Braves best pitching prospect before his season was derailed by a tumultuous off-season, or Ian Anderson, who isn’t really that far away anymore.


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