Wednesday, May 29, 2024
AL EastAmerican LeagueAnalysisMLBToronto Blue Jays

Robbie Ray Has Stopped The Walks

The Toronto Blue Jays obviously had plans for Robbie Ray at the 2020 trade deadline, getting him for Travis Bergen (who is also now a Blue Jay). The 2017 campaign was a breakout for Ray, which saw him finish the season with a 2.89 ERA while striking out 12.11 batters per nine innings. The Jays re-signed Ray early in the offseason, giving the lefty a chance to have the full winter with the Blue jays pitching coaches.

In his limited time as a Blue Jay in 2020, Ray made four starts, and in over 20 innings pitched a 5.32 ERA and even less ideal 5.72 FIP. Since the 2017 season, we haven’t seen the same Robbie Ray. With the early results of the 2021 season, it’s time to wonder if Ray has turned a corner. Has working with pitching coach Pete Walker benefitted the 29-year-old?

Chart Source: MaxSportingStudio Leaderboards

Through his first full season in Toronto, Ray has been worth the $8 million extension. In 8 starts, Ray has a 3.42 ERA and sports a new-and-improved 5.2% walk rate, which is a career high. Ray came into 2020 with a lot of hype as a bounce-back candidate after re-working his mechanics. Then, in 2021, the hype had dampened slightly with many wondering if Ray will ever have the control to be as effective as he was in 2017. Well the control seems to be improving, and this could just be the beginning of a new(ish) Robbie Ray.

The Walks Are Under Control

Through his first two starts of 2021, Robbie Ray walked 9 batters over 10 innings; since then, he has made 5 more starts where he has only walked two batters over 30.1 innings. For the season, he has walked batters at a career-low 2.09 BB/9 rate while still managing the impressive strikeout rate (10.46 K/9). It’s no secret that Ray has always had control issues in his career, but through 2021 Ray has pounded the zone at a career-high 53.9% rate.

Graph Source: Fangraphs

Among qualified pitchers, Ray ranks third with the highest increase in zone % from 2020-2021, behind only Ryan Tepera and Carlos Martinez. The increased zone rate has caused hitters’ swing percentages to soar to a career high of 52% (career average, 45%). On pitches in the zone, Ray’s 74.6% swing percentage is also a career high and sits well above his career average of 65.6%.

One of the biggest improvements Ray has made in 2021, is his first-pitch strike percentage of 66.9% (another career high); it’s the 10th-highest among qualified MLB pitchers. Refined control for the left-hander, who came into 2021 not finishing a season with a BB/9 under 3.45, has led to a vastly improved 2.45 BB/9 through 7 starts. Ray has seen an uptick in velocity on his fastball early on (95.2MPH average) and has the whiff rate on it back up to 25% for the first time since 2017.

 

One of the remaining obstacles for Ray and the Blue Jays is keeping the ball in the yard. Ray’s HR/9 sits at 2.28 and is the highest of his career, topping his 2020 HR/9 of 2.26. He has the tendency to give up a lot of hard contact. Over the course of the last three seasons, opponents have an average barrel% over 10%. For his career, the exit velocity averages for Ray have been as low as 89.7mph and as high as this season’s 92.1mph. Recently, Ray has managed to lower his barrel rate – now down to 11.8% – but his AEV sits at 92.6mph, which ranks in the bottom 6th percentile.

Is This A New Robbie Ray?

From 2016-2020, Ray is sixth in strikeouts and the stuff from his time as a Diamondback has seemingly gotten better. Through 2021 Ray’s whiff percentage on pitches down the heart of the plate sits at 22.3% while having a “chase” whiff rate of 72%, and batters are whiffing on chase pitches at a career-high clip. If you haven’t gotten the clue, Robbie Ray has set A LOT of career highs early on.

Graph Source: MaxSportingStudio Leader-Boards

All of this leads to Ray posting a pwOBA of .296 and a 3.71 pERA. For a high strikeout pitcher, Ray has an intriguing 46% ground-ball rate, reaching the 45% plateau for the first time since 2016. From 2016-2020, Ray saw his K/9 sit north of 11 each season until 2021, where it sits at 10.46. The Blue Jays and Robbie Ray will look to continue the success beyond 2021, but nothing is certain regarding Ray’s pending free agency at season’s end.

 

 

 

Murray Brown

Murray is a student at Humber College and can be found on Twitter at @_MurrayBrown