Sonny Gray is littered across the RotoGraphs bold prediction posts, so I felt obligated to break Gray down and elaborate on why I and most of the team feel so confident in Gray this season.
Starting with what he did last year, it’s easy to see why we are quite fond of Oakland’s budding ace. He had a ground ball rate over 50%, his ERA/FIP/xFIP were all under 3.00, he struckout more than a batter per nine, and he was able to mix a very solid fastball with a devastating curveball which allows him to keep things relatively simple.
One slight against Gray is his size, standing under six feet is not usually too confidence inspiring when drafting a pitcher who you are hoping is a high strikeout guy. Both ZiPS and Steamer have his strikeouts dropping closer to seven or eight batters per nine rather than his high total in his 12 starts last season. I simply use strikeout per nine there knowing it isn’t the best stat, but it’s easy to use in this scenario.
It should be noted that overall, neither ZiPS nor Steamer love Gray. The confidence we have in him is essentially all of our own doing without any of the backing of projection systems. With that said, where I have been able to draft Gray has made me extremely confident in the upside available for the risk taken. I like his odds of keeping a high ground ball rate and high strikeout rate, but even if one declines he still has the other which should allow him to remain productive even if he regresses as the projection systems suspect.
I have Gray as a top five Cy Young candidate this year, as I just love his overall situation outside of the great stuff he has. Pitching in that ballpark with lackluster offenses throughout the division (Angels and Rangers are obviously not lackluster, but the injuries in Texas help) and a solid defense behind him should allow him to keep his ERA down and amass wins at a high clip. That’s what fantasy baseball is all about. We can find the best strikeout guys and players that are out producing their peripherals, but if they are not producing in the areas that matter most in fantasy they aren’t going to pay the dividends we want them to in the long run.
Additionally, there is a ton of keeper value in where Gray can be acquired this season, which varies depending on the league settings and quality of the league. I was able to get in him one keeper league and missed out on him barely in another, winding up with Michael Wacha and Danny Salazar instead. Of the three, I like Gray the most and think he will not only have the best season but the best career. With that expectation, I am obviously glad that I have him in at least one long term league, where I am hopeful he outplays his draft spot and can be on my roster for a number of years. It is not often that you can get a player with the upside of Gray after somewhat of a breakout for the price he was going for in drafts. If your league is very active, he can still be had via trade – make an attempt at him and be glad you did so later in the season.
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