Oakland A's: Why Sonny Gray Is Not the Athletics' Next Great Pitching Star
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I have got to be honest. The headline is deceiving because it sounds as if I am down on Sonny Gray. That could not be further from the truth. I think Gray is eventually going to be very good in Oakland with the A's.
However, I stated that Gray is not Oakland's next great pitching star, and in my humble opinion, he is not. That honor goes to a player I have been high on since his rapid ascension through the minors last year, Dan Straily.
The pitcher I felt Straily could be after observing him in Sacramento is the pitcher the A's coaching staff, management and fans have seen in his last two starts. Instead of nibbling around the plate and trying to make perfect pitches, Straily has trusted his stuff and let his defense work.
The results have been the two best starts of the 24-year-old pitcher's career. While a lot of scouts and talking heads were enamored with Straily's 190 strikeouts in just 152 innings in his 2012 minor league season, I also took notice of his 42 walks.
I say that because the pitcher Oakland saw in an abbreviated stint in 2012 was not the same one who shot from Midland in Double-A to the Major Leagues. His walk ratio and strikeout to walk ratio were both markedly worse than in the minors.
None of this was as bad as the 11 home runs Straily allowed in just 39.1 innings. The ironic thing is, his surface numbers (hits allowed, walks allowed, strikeouts) look better in 2013, but his ERA sits at 5.08, as opposed to the 3.89 ERA Straily posted in 2012. Much of this is due to a trio of bad starts against the Angels, Yankees and Mariners.
The last 13 innings have shown how good Straily can be: A 2-0 record with just one earned run allowed on six hits with six strikeouts. As long as he continues to pitch to his strengths (fastball location and a plus slider), I expect the success to be sustained.
As for Gray, he has definitely been everything advertised as the first-round pick of the A's in 2011. At Triple-A Sacramento, Gray is 5-2 with a 2.38 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 56.2 innings. As a matter of fact, if the A's were not so deep in starting pitching, I'd go so far as to say he would likely have had his chance to play with the big club.
Ultimately, though, I expect Gray to get a legitimate shot to start in Oakland in 2014. Even though Bartolo Colon has been very good for the A's so far, he is 40 years old. And in the last full second half he pitched in (2011), Colon posted a 4.96 ERA in 14 starts. It would be foolish to expect 30-plus starts like the ones he has had thus far in 2013.
So yes, Gray will be with the A's soon. And yes, he will be good. Maybe even sooner than later. But the next great A's pitching star is establishing himself right now in Oakland. And that's Dan Straily.
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