Yankees: What in the world is wrong with Sonny Gray?

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 12: New York Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild talks to Sonny Gray
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 12: New York Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild talks to Sonny Gray /

Once thought to be a piece of championship No. 28 for the Yankees, Sonny Gray is now a train wreck waiting to happen. A former All-Star and Cy Young candidate, Gray has been off to a rough start this season, but can he turn it around?

When the Yankees traded for Sonny Gray they, along with most of their fans, thought that the deal was a bargain; three minor leaguers for a 26-year-old established starter. But as the seasons have passed, Gray has slowly worsened statistically up to this season, which he sports an ERA of 7.71 thus far.

A season later and those three minor leaguers have a total of one Major League appearance, coming from the well-recognized prospect Dustin Fowler. Fowler, 23, hit well all of last season in AAA and has continued to hit above .290 this season (also in AAA), but has yet to receive a full-time call-up to the big leagues.

As for the other two-thirds of the Yankees portion of the trade, Jorge Mateo saw success last year for both the Yankees and Athletics AA squads. Mateo has also shown his versatility, playing some outfield as well as the two middle infield positions.

James Kaprielian, on the other hand, hasn’t played a game since 2016 due to injuries. On top of that, his stats pre-injury were not too fantastic.

Least to say, the Gray trade has been worthwhile. In his limited playing time with the Yankees last season, Gray was solid, leaving 77.3 percent of his runners on base, showing his aptitude to pitch out of jams.

But this season has not been kind to the Tennessee native, leaving many to question whether or not the success early in his career was a fluke.

In five games thus far, Gray has walked 16 while allowing 18 runs. To further this debate, Gray has also seen that left-on-base percentage and his ground ball percentage drop.

What’s to blame for Gray’s troubled performances? Could it be the big stage of Yankees baseball that has plagued many newcomers to the Bronx, including teammate Giancarlo Stanton? Possible, but unlikely. Gray pitched fairly well last year in his short stint with the Bombers.

Could a personal catcher get Gray back on track?

Perhaps the blame is to be put not on something, but someone. Catchers are rarely looked upon as the reasoning for a pitchers successes and/or failures. But nonetheless, we’ll compare Gray’s performances with both Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez behind the plate.

As we all know, Romine is a defensive-oriented catcher, compared to Sanchez who is the better hitter of the two. That being said, Gray has been seen to pitch far better when paired with Romine than with Sanchez.

In fact, over all of Gray’s starts with the Yankees, he has averaged over two runs more on his ERA with Sanchez than with Romine. To add to that, Gray gives up ten percent fewer ground balls with Sanchez catching than with Romine, meaning Gray is giving up more fly balls and line drives while “The Kraken” catches. That could explain the higher average number of home runs given up by Gray while the two catch; over one home run per game with Sanchez compared to less than .2 with Romine.

This is not the first time Gray has seen more success with one catcher than with another. In 2015, Gray’s best season by far, two catchers did most of the work behind the plate for the Athletics in Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley.

Although Gray’s numbers were more similar between these two catchers than the Yankees’ current pair, the same contrast of ground ball percentage to home runs allowed exists. Allowing around .6 more home runs per game while Phegley caught while also giving up around ten percent fewer ground balls with Phegley than with Vogt.

This puts the Yankees stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they choose to have Romine catch Gray, in hopes of improved pitching, they lose a powerful bat in their lineup.

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With little room to play around with the lineup and Stanton being the DH on most days, the Yankees’ best bet would be for Sanchez and Gray to improve their compatibility. Unfortunately, that seems to be easier said than done.