Why Sonny Gray Fits
Evident in his past performance are a few critical characteristics that the Cardinals were clearly enamored with. Gray has exhibited remarkable consistency. He's posted just two seasons with an ERA+ below 100. In each of those years, Gray struggled with injuries and that means he's only been a below-league-average pitcher twice during his 11-year career.
Across his other nine seasons, he's never finished below 112. In each of his other 8 seasons, he's finished with an ERA+ over 120. Sonny Gray is much more unlikely than an average pitcher to have a down season. In other words, his floor is incredibly high. In fact, it's about 25% above league average.
Let's compare Gray to another player many fans are eyeing. Dylan Cease has had one incredible season. His 2022 season is better than any of Gray's 11 seasons. And Cease did that at just 26. He seemed like a surefire ace for 2023. Then he had a down year, posting an ERA of 4.58 and an ERA+ of 97. That would be the worst full season of Sonny Gray's career. Blake Snell profiles similarly. He's been incredible twice, capturing two Cy Young Awards. In his other six seasons, Snell has only topped a 112 ERA+ once, and that was the shortened 2020 season! Gray provides a unique level of certainty in a volatile league.
But let's not pretend that Gray is merely a solid pitcher. He remains an elite talent. Far too often, I've seen fans on Twitter complaining that he's not a frontline starter. That's simply untrue. Gray is the best pitcher to wear the birds on the bat since 2019 Jack Flaherty. And that season, Gray was every bit as good as Flaherty. Gray led all of baseball with a 2.83 FIP. That's an elite mark, no matter how you slice it. And he doesn't strike out as many guys as Dylan Cease or Blake Snell, but he's every bit as capable of turning in top-notch performances. Just check out this start against Houston.
Almost nobody is better at preventing home runs than Gray, and he excelled in that department in 2023. But, that's not a recent development. Gray rarely allows more than one home run per nine innings pitched, a strong mark. Remember, he was doing this at Great American Ballpark, sometimes affectionately referred to as Great American Smallpark.
All jokes aside, that's an incredibly hitter-friendly park. Yankee Stadium and Target Field, the homes of the Yankees and Twins, respectively, also fit into that category. Each of them ranks significantly higher than Busch Stadium in home run park factor, according to Statcast. Gray's ability to suppress home runs will be further amplified!
He's going to fit in well in St. Louis. He's excelled in small markets in the past and was intentional in describing how much he wanted to be in St. Louis. They've gone after him before. Gray also expressed a desire to be close to his family. He seems like an excellent fit from a cultural standpoint as well.