The New York Yankees & Sonny Gray: Only Start Him on the Road or Trade Him?
Arguably one of the most sought-after starting pitchers around the 2017 Trade Deadline, Sonny Gray was the ace of the Oakland Athletics since 2013. Gray posted a 3.42 ERA in his 5 years as an A, in large part thanks to the pitchers park that is the Oakland Coliseum. The Coliseum has 50% more foul territory than any other ballpark in Major League Baseball and only .840 runs based on Park Factor, helping to make it the 3rd best pitchers park in baseball. Park Factor compares the rate of stats at home vs. the rate of stats on the road. A rate higher than 1.000 favors the hitter, whereas a mark below 1.000 favors the pitcher. Yankee Stadium on the other hand is the 6th best hitters park in the league, seeing 1.126 runs based on Park Factors. New York also sees 1.166 home runs compared to Oakland’s .756.
Those above factors loomed large on Gray’s numbers as a Yankee. In fact, it was virtually night and day. At home, Gray's ERA ballooned to 6.98, with 11 home runs given up and 45 strikeouts in 59.1 innings pitched. That comes out to a 6.8 K/9. On the road, Gray's ERA was an extremely respectable 3.17 with 78 strikeouts in 71 innings pitched, resulting in a 9.9 K/9 and only gave up 3 home runs away from home.
His overall ground balls percentage (GB%) decreased in 2018, while his fly ball percentage (FB%), walks (BB%), and Barrell% increased drastically which in turn caused home runs to take off. On the road though, his numbers were respectable. Known for inducing ground balls, Gray had a 52.1 GB% on the road in 2018, compared to a 48 GB% at home in Yankee Stadium. A severely outstanding number was Gray’s home runs per fly balls (HR/FB) ratio. On the road, he had a 6% HR/FB compared to a 20% HR/FB ratio at home. Away from home he walked only 2.8 batters per 9 innings. In Yankee Stadium, that number went up to 5.3 BB/9. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .303 on the road and .349 at home. He saw a .399 weighted on base average (wOBA) against him at home and a .274 wOBA away.
Granted, the limelight shines a little differently when under the bright lights of New York compared to any other city. Based off of park factors and Gray’s trends, he is truly best when pitching at a pitcher friendly ballpark or simply not at Yankee Stadium. The thought of starting him on the road only, jokingly comes to mind but also doesn’t seem foolish. The more likely route for Gray however will be a trade out of New York City.