Just who is Robbie Ray? You may remember has as part of a 3-player deal that occurred a couple months after the 2013 season ended where the Washington Nationals received Doug Fister from the Tigers in exchange for two pitching prospects, Ray and Ian Krol. At the time, it looked like a pretty nice fleece job done by the Nationals to acquire Fister’s final two arbitration seasons for a couple of pitching prospects that were pretty decent but didn’t have overly impressive numbers in the Minors up to that point.
Ray spent most of the 2014 season for the Tigers at AAA, but did log 9 appearances and 6 starts for the Major League squad. However, the 8.16 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in 28.2 IP along with an unimpressive AAA performance must have been enough for the Tigers to have seen from the lefty, as they then shipped him over to the Diamondbacks in a 3-team deal that netted them Shane Greene upon the conclusion of the 2014 season.
Ray arrived with the Diamondbacks and was assigned to AAA out of Spring Training where after 9 starts, he had a 3.67 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, and 57 K/27 BB in 41.2 IP. Ray struck out a lot of batters, but he also issued a ton of free passes and got hit pretty hard as well. So when the Diamondbacks called him up when the need arose, not much was to be expected of the 23-year old lefty, especially after his huge disappointment in Detroit.
With the strong 7 inning performance where he did not allow an earned run against the Rangers on Tuesday, Ray improved to 3-4 with a 2.16 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 38 K/12 BB in 50 IP. Those are some quality numbers and at first glance at his career numbers both in the Minors and Majors, it would be easy to dismiss this performance as a fluke. However, three things that we need to look at are his pitch velocity, arm slot, and pitch arsenal.
Last season, Ray’s average fastball velocity according to PITCHf/x data was 91.3 MPH, and that was with a few relief appearances worked in there (pitchers generally throw harder in relief because they don’t have to “save” their arm for the whole game). But this season in his time with the D-Backs, he’s averaged 93.3 MPH — a full two ticks higher on the radar gun. We see it so often how pitchers with increased velocity from one year to the next go on to have more success for the simple reason that harder thrown pitches are generally harder for batters to hit. Then looking at FanGraphs, we can see his release point from last year was higher and closer to his head than this year. In other words, he is pitching the ball from a lower arm slot that is more of a 3/4 motion than overhand. So perhaps Ray is finding much more comfort from a lower arm slot, and maybe it is even the reason why he is generating more velocity. But whatever it is, it seems to be working for him and is likely more than just a coincidence. Lastly, his pitch arsenal from last season had him throwing his slider just 3.5% of the time and his changeup 27.1%. But this season, he’s using his slider much more often at 17.1% while his changeup is down to 9.2%. Also, his slider appears to be much harder with a 4.2% velocity increase from last season.
So looking at these things, we are seeing a different Robbie Ray than before, which could arguably be the reasons why Ray is having much better luck this season. And while Ray is bound to regress from his excellent ERA and WHIP numbers that he is posting right now, he may not completely implode. His BABIP currently sits at .255, which is lower than the league average around .300, but as a fly ball heavy pitcher he should be able to post a lower BABIP as long as he’s not giving up a ton of line drives (which he’s not). Then his strand rate of 73.2% is slightly above the league average, but it’s certainly not crazy high. But where his regression should come primarily is in the form of more home runs allowed. As a fly ball pitcher, he can post below a below average BABIP, but that also should mean that he should allow home runs at a higher rate than his current 0.36 HR/9 mark — especially pitching his home games in a hitter friendly park at Chase Field. If he maintains his current strikeout and walk rates, then I could see Ray finishing the season around a 3.50 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, which would be much more than anyone expected from him.
Let’s take a look at the rest of Tuesday’s action!
Anthony Rizzo – 2 for 5, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, 3 BB, 1 K. Rizzo has cooled of late, with his batting AVG being under .300 for all of July now. But he hit his 16th HR of the season in game 1 of a doubleheader and is still having a breakout season, much in part thanks to an improved strikeout rate from 18.8% last year to 11.9% this year.
Alex Gordon – 7 for 9, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 1 R. Apparently Gordon was unhappy with me publicly blasting him about his All-Star nod, so he goes and hits his 11th HR of the season and collects 7 hits in a doubleheader. Too bad he’s still not All-Star material!
Greg Holland – 1 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K with the BS and W. Holland’s velocity has steadily been increasing as the season has gone on, but he’s still nowhere near the 96 MPH that he’s averaged on his fastball the last 3 seasons. A better performance has coincided with the increase velocity, but he’s definitely not the best reliever in the Royals bullpen this season. The blown save was only his 2nd of the season, but Wade Davis is surely capable of closing games out and you have to wonder if manager Ned Yost will consider a switch over the second half.
Matt Moore – 4.1 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 K. I’ve said previously that Moore already had command and control issues to begin with, so returning from Tommy John surgery won’t help matters initially. He turned in his second poor start to begin his 2015 season and I recommend letting someone else take the risk on the lefty.
Brad Boxberger – 0.1 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 0 K with the L. Boxberger imploded on Tuesday to give up a walkoff grand slam to Paulo Orlando. Just a day after being named to the All-Star team, Boxberger loses to the All-Star manager Ned Yost’s squad. I’m not making any accusations, but sounds kind of fishy to me… I still contend Huston Street would have been a better All-Star selection over Boxberger.
John Jaso – 3 for 4, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB. Jaso returned to the Rays lineup after a long time on the DL and he’s going to bring to that lineup a much needed left-handed presence in the order against right-handed pitchers out of the DH spot. He made his presence immediately felt by getting a pinch hit in game 1 of the doubleheader and then by hitting his 1st HR of the year in game 2. He should be catcher for fantasy purposes even though he’s not likely to play behind the plate this season, so he makes for a sneaky pick up and play if he is available. He doesn’t have a lot of power, but he can be useful.
Joey Butler – 1 for 5, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K. I mentioned a while back in “The Butler Did Do It, But Can He Continue To?” that Joey Butler would have a swift downfall where his batting average would fall below .300 due to the super high BABIP that he was posting. Over his last 12 games now, he is just 6 for 39 to bring his AVG from .338 to .296 and yet his BABIP is still very high at .407. The downfall isn’t done yet. His AVG should come down to around .250 with still a very unsustainable BABIP. Also, with Jaso back to DH against righties, Butler will be losing a lot of playing time. He might be very irrelevant in short time.
Max Scherzer – 4.2 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 0 BB, 4 K with the L. It just wasn’t Scherzer’s day on a humid evening in D.C. He dropped to 9-7, but his 2.12 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, and 143 K/14 BB in 123.1 IP are still very elite.
Joey Votto – 3 for 5, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R. Votto wasn’t named to the All-Star team on Monday much in part due to a big slump that he had been in over the last couple of weeks. But he busted out of the slump in a big way by knocking around the best pitcher in the game this year. He’ll be getting hot soon enough and this may be the start of it.
Johnny Cueto – 9 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 11 K with the W. A dazzling game from Cueto who outdueled Scherzer. Cueto’s name is on the final man ballot for the NL All-Star team and this was a marvelous showcase for it. This should quiet any concerns about his elbow bothering him. He’s now 6-5 with a 2.61 ERA and 0.87 WHIP.
Sonny Gray – 7 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 K. Gray had missed his last start due to a bout with salmonella poisoning, but he was able to take the hill this time around to post a quality start. He should show some regression over the second half of the season, as he is kind of the AL’s version of Zack Greinke but to a lesser extent. What I mean by that is that he is by all means a very good pitcher, but his BABIP is riding a little low and his strand rate a little high, while his strikeout rate is solid but not elite at 8.01 K/9.
Kevin Gausman – 3.2 IP, 7 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 4 K with the L. After a marvelous start in his last outing against the Rangers, Gausman was named to the Orioles rotation but did nothing on Tuesday to suggest that he deserves to keep the spot. He’s always been a good prospect who throws hard, but he just seems to groove a lot of pitches and gets hit hard. Keeper leagues can take a look at him and redraft leagues can stream him, but this didn’t turn out to be a great streaming game. He won’t start again before the All-Star break and may get optioned down to AAA to get additional work.
Miguel Sano – 2 for 3, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB. Sano has had a pretty nice first 6 games of his Major League career with a .450 AVG, 1 HR, and 5 RBI after slugging his first career HR on Tuesday. As I’ve mentioned before, he’s a great power prospect, but he’s going to have some strikeout issues, especially in his first year in the Majors. The strikeout issues shouldn’t be as bad as Joey Gallo, but it should be enough to keep him from hitting much higher than .250 for the season. But he should be given kind of a long leash as the Twins DH, so unless he falls into a huge slump, he should be here to stay. Pick him up for power if you can stomach the strikeouts and lower batting average, but the bonus with him is that he might be eligible at shortstop in your fantasy league.
Corey Kluber – 6.2 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K with the W. Kluber wasn’t very efficient with his pitch count, but he did a nice job to keep the Astros bats quiet for nearly 7 innings. Kluber brought his ERA down to 3.45 and WHIP to 1.13 and figures to continue to see gradual improvements despite a lousy defense behind him.
Josh Donaldson – 1 for 3, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R. DONG-aldson goes dong for the 21st time this season.
Felix Doubront – 6.2 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K with the W. Doubront pitched a nice game on Tuesday in his first start of the season, but the caveat is that it came against a poor White Sox offense. Doubront has always had some good strikeout upside, but he has his control issues. I wouldn’t expect many more outings like this from Doubront if he is to remain in the Jays rotation.
Mike Trout – 2 for 4, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R. I’m not sure what has gotten into the Angels offense, but is it just a coincidence that they have exploded with 3 double digit run games in a row nearly right after Jerry Dipoto resigned as GM? Maybe Mike Scioscia really did know what he was doing all along… But Trout hit a laser shot to left field for his 22nd HR of the year as he continues to be one of the best players on the planet.
Albert Pujols – 1 for 5, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 R. On the day that Pujols announced that he would participate in the HR Derby, he hit his AL leading 26th HR of the season. He is just a HR machine this year.
Andrew Heaney – 7.1 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 K with the W. The rookie Heaney had a great two first starts that both came at home, so to see him go on the road to a hitters haven like Coors Field and pitch a nice game is pretty impressive. I like what I am seeing from the young lefty and as I’ve mentioned before, he should be comparable to Eduardo Rodriguez of the Red Sox.
Yovani Gallardo – 5.2 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 5 BB, 4 K with the L. As the whole Rangers starting rotation has begun to implode over the last few weeks, I’ve said that Gallardo should soon join the implosion party, but instead he rattled off 3 scorless starts in a row. But the Diamondbacks got to him on Tuesday as he was unable to find the plate. This should be the beginning of what will be a regression period that I think should bring his ERA to 4.00 as the summer heats up. If you own him, then I would try to sell him off before things get much worse.
Manny Banuelos – 5.1 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 1 K with the W. Banuelos made his second career start on Tuesday, but it didn’t go over quite as well as his debut. However, it was still decent and he should be solidifying a spot in the Braves starting rotation after being one of their top pitching prospects. The rookie lefty is worth a flier, but he’s likely to encounter some control issues along the way, which will end up biting him in the back in some starts. He only had 1 strikeout on Tuesday, but he’s capable of a strikeout rate of 7.50 K/9 or higher.
Jonathan Lucroy – 1 for 3, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB. Lucroy is heating up, watch out! He should be one of the better hitting catchers from here on out.
Adam Lind – 2 for 3, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB. With a HR on Tuesday, Lind is now batting .312 with 15 HR and 47 RBI in 231 AB versus right-handed pitching this year to pretty much account for all of his production. Remember when I talked about him in “Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Using Platoons to Your Advantage.”
Taijuan Walker – 6 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 K. Walker was on a really nice roll, but he ran into one of the league’s hottest offenses on Tuesday, so I think we need to give him a pass on this one given how dominant he had been over the last couple of months. Expect him to pick things back up in his next start.
Yasmani Grandal – 2 for 2, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB. Grandal keeps slugging home runs off right-handed pitching.
Matt Cain – 6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K with the W. Cain shutout the Mets for 6 innings while striking out 7 on Tuesday, but I wouldn’t put too much stock into it since the Mets are one of the worst offenses in the league. I would like to see him do it against better teams before thinking about recommending him for fantasy.
Fernando Rodney – 1 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K with the BS. I’m not sure what Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon is doing. He came out and said that he wanted Rodney to earn back the closer’s job, and so Rodney had been doing well and even collected a couple saves lately. So with that, it seemed that Rodney had taken back the job from rookie Carson Smith. But on Tuesday, it was Rodney who entered the 8th inning with a one run lead, not Smith. So of course, Rodney went on to allow a home run and get charged with a blown save. Meanwhile, Smith went on to pitch 2 scoreless innings with 5 strikeouts. This situation isn’t very clear anymore, so Smith should be held onto in fantasy leagues.
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