Robbie Ray continues to be enigmatic

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The lefty is one of the premier strikeout artists in the league. He’s also one of the worst at limiting walks.

Even though the Arizona Diamondbacks have already traded away the face of their franchise, they haven’t yet gone into a full rebuild. There has been some talk of the Diamondbacks trading away Zack Greinke to shed payroll, but Greinke’s 15-team no-trade clause makes that difficult. That means the next candidate to be dealt from the rotation would be Robbie Ray. Even if the Diamondbacks don’t figure to be competitive in the next two years, they’re in no rush to deal Ray.

Ray, who is entering his second year of arbitration, is paid much more modestly than Greinke. MLB Trade Rumors predicts he’ll earn $6.1 million in 2019, and Steamer projects he’ll pitch to a 3.63 FIP and be worth 3.2 fWAR.

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At the beginning of 2019, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports ESPN reported that if the Diamondbacks were to trade Robbie Ray, they would be looking for a return larger than what James Paxton brought back. It’s a little curious because Paxton has been the better pitcher over the past two years, but one can look at Ray and see two very different pitchers.

One of these pitchers is a strikeout machine. Since donning the many, many Diamondbacks uniforms since 2015, Ray’s 28.7 strikeout percentage ranks sixth among all qualified starters. Over the past two years, that mark has been north of 30.

The other pitcher is a guy who has no idea where the ball is going. His 10.4 walk percentage is tied for fifth-worst over that same four-year period. 2018 was his worst year for giving up free passes. His 13.3 walk percentage was the highest among all starters with 100 innings thrown.

It used to be that Ray would often mix in a changeup and sinker but in recent years, he’s moved away from that pitch in favor of the curve. Ray is now primarily a three-pitch pitcher. He throws a fastball in the mid-90s as well as a 12-6 slider and a hard curve. It used to be that Ray would throw it a few times a game, but in the past two years, he’s thrown it every fifth pitch.

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It’s been his arguably his best pitch in the past two years, saving him an estimated 11.8 runs by pitch values. In that time, opposing batters have whiffed on the hook 18 percent of the time. His slider is still better at missing bats, but the curve has been better than a combination of the changeup and sinker.

Ray has also been better able to hit the strike zone with his curve than with any of his other secondary pitches. It’s still not a pitch he can turn to when he needs to throw a strike, but curves rarely are.

For Ray to pitch to his potential, he’ll obviously need to cut down on the walks. Steamer thinks that he’ll walk one fewer batter per nine innings this year, but even if that’s true, his BB/9 would still be over 4.00. The good news is that Ray is continuing to miss more bats.


Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles.

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