The lowdown on Robbie Ray

November 29th, 2021

Coming off a career season with the Blue Jays that earned him his first Cy Young Award, left-hander tested the free-agent market and reached a five-year, $115 million deal with the Mariners (per a source).

Here’s what you need to know about Ray:

Birthdate: Oct. 1, 1991 (Age 30 in 2022)
Primary position: SP
Height/weight: 6-foot-2, 215 pounds
Bats/throws: Left/left
Place of birth: Brentwood, Tenn.
School(s): Brentwood (Tenn.) HS
Drafted: 12th round, 2010, by Nationals
MLB debut: May 6, 2014
Qualifying offer: Received one; declined

2021: 13-7, 2.84 ERA (154 ERA+), 248 K, 6.7 WAR* in 193 1/3 IP
Career: 62-58, 4.00 ERA (110 ERA+), 1,290 K, 15.1 WAR in 1,035 2/3 IP
*Per Baseball-Reference

The Blue Jays got one of the game’s best bargains last offseason when they signed Ray to a one-year, $8 million deal on the heels of a 6.62 ERA he posted in 2020. Ray led the AL in ERA (2.84) and innings (193 1/3) and became the first Blue Jays pitcher to lead the Majors in strikeouts (248). The southpaw compiled 10 games with double-digit strikeouts, also the most in the Majors.

It wasn’t a surprise to see Ray lead the AL in starts and strikeouts, as he’s excelled in staying on the field and missing bats for most of his career. The stat that did surprise? Ray’s 6.7% walk rate, a significant improvement from his lifetime 11% rate entering 2021. That change didn’t come about on Opening Day; Ray walked three Yankees in five innings in his season debut April 12, and then walked six Royals in five innings on April 18. He walked three or more batters in just six of his final 30 starts after that, not issuing even four free passes until his penultimate start against Minnesota on Sept. 25.

Ray believes he found something in his mechanics that enabled him to attack the zone more, and the Mariners clearly think his improvements are sustainable.

He's the ninth pitcher to change teams immediately after winning a Cy Young Award
Ray was the rare pitcher to hit free agency after a Cy Young Award-winning season, and his deal with the Mariners makes him the ninth reigning Cy Young winner to change teams -- five via free agency, four via trade -- in the offseason immediately following their win.

He sits atop a pair of all-time AL/NL leaderboards
And hey, they’re great leaderboards to top! When Ray struck out 10 Orioles on Aug. 30, he set an AL/NL record for most strikeouts (1,241) across a pitchers’ first 1,000 career innings. He also shot to the top of the all-time AL/NL leaders in career strikeout-per-nine inning rate (min. 1,000 innings, per Baseball-Reference’s standard) at 11.2, just ahead of Chris Sale, Yu Darvish, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Randy Johnson. That is some serious company, but it’s well-earned: Ray’s K/9 rate hasn’t dipped below 11.3 since his first full season as a starter with the D-backs in 2015.

He’s got several ways to beat you
Ray was one of this year’s hardest-throwing left-handed starters, averaging 94.8 mph on his fastball. Improved command helped Ray get whiffs on 24% of hitters on swings against his four-seam fastball, his best rate on that pitch since he earned his lone All-Star Game selection with the D-backs in 2017. Cincinnati’s Tyler Mahle (134) was the only pitcher with more four-seamer strikeouts this year than Ray’s 116.

But that heat also set up equally devastating pitches in Ray’s slider and curveball. Hitters whiffed on 46.6% of their swings against those breaking balls, a rate topped by only six starters in 2021. Ray’s 122 strikeouts on sliders were 14 more than any other pitcher.

Ray was MLB's only pitcher with 100-plus strikeouts on two different pitch types this year.

He’s one of MLB’s most stylish moundsmen
Skinny pants may be out with Generation Z, but Ray is keeping them alive for the millennials out there. You might have noticed this year that Ray wears some of the tightest pants of any MLB pitcher, and as his play started grabbing more eyeballs, so, too, did those trousers. Ray wound up embracing the phenomenon; he and his wife, Taylor, created “Robbie Ray 2021” T-shirts with a tight pair of pants forming the “a” in the middle to support the Jays Care Foundation.

A shoutout to ... the 2014 Tigers?
Likely no one in Detroit knew it at the time, but the 2014 Tigers wound up boasting one of the finest collections of pitching talent in recent memory. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander led the team in starts, and we know all about what they’ve done in their careers. Next on that list was Rick Porcello, who went on to win the AL Cy Young Award with the Red Sox in 2016. David Price came over from the Rays at the July 31 Trade Deadline, two years after he won the Cy Young with Tampa Bay.

You know who else started games for the 2014 Tigers? A 22-year-old rookie named Robbie Ray, who appeared in nine games (six starts) for Detroit across the summer. That means the ‘14 Tigers had five different Cy Young Award winners start a game for them that year. Oh, and that team had Aníbal Sánchez and Drew Smyly in the rotation, too.