Gray: Joining Reds 'just felt right the whole time'

RHP excited by new team's offseason moves, reunion with college pitching coach

January 22nd, 2019

CINCINNATI -- It was no secret all offseason that the Yankees were trying to move starting pitcher , and the Reds were long part of the rumors. Gray didn't have the leverage to turn down Monday's trade between the two clubs.
However, Gray's decision to sign a three-year, $30.5 million contract extension with Cincinnati as part of the deal was entirely his.
"For me, I've got a lot of relationships in Cincinnati," Gray said. "It's obviously notable, too, what the Reds have been doing. I've got a really good feeling that we're trying to turn the corner here and start winning some baseball games. That's exciting for me. That's exciting for sure. It just feels right to me. It felt right the whole time."
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A former All-Star with the Athletics, Gray was unable to put it together in New York. Last season in 30 games (23 starts), the 29-year-old was 11-9 with a 4.90 ERA. In 15 games (12 starts) away from Yankee Stadium in 2018, he compiled a 3.17 ERA compared to a 6.98 ERA at home.

Gray could not explain why he struggled while pitching in the Bronx.
"That's the question, isn't it? I'm not going to lie," Gray said. "I felt comfortable taking the mound. I felt good. It just didn't work out. I don't know. I don't have an answer."
The Reds not only liked Gray's overall track record -- 59-52 with a 3.66 ERA over six big league seasons -- but felt comfortable acquiring him after analyzing tracking data.
"We really didn't see anything that was diminishing in terms of the velocity and spin rates and things like that," Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams said. "From a physical standpoint, everything appears to be there. We think he's still, at his age, got plenty of upside. He shouldn't have any problem recapturing where he was."

According to Statcast™, this was the average velocity of Gray's four-seam fastball dating back to 2015:
2018: 93.3 mph
2017: 93.5 mph
2016: 93.5 mph
2015: 93.7 mph
And this was the measured spin rate of Gray's curveball:
2018: 2,852 rpm
2017: 2,891 rpm
2016: 2,818 rpm
2015: 2,605 rpm
With the available data, most experts note that breaking balls are tougher to hit when they possess higher spin rates.
Yankee Stadium, especially with its short porch in right field, isn't considered a great spot for pitchers. There could also have been some bad luck. Gray's home weighted on-base average (wOBA) was 33 points higher than his expected wOBA, the 14th-biggest gap out of 146 pitchers who faced at least 200 hitters at their home park. His road xwOBA, meanwhile, was .269 -- the 10th-best figure among starters.

With its tighter dimensions overall, Great American Ball Park's reputation as a haven for hitters is even more notorious. But there are reasons to believe that Gray's stuff will play in Cincinnati.
According to FanGraphs, only five pitchers in 2018 had 100-plus innings, at least a 20 percent strikeout rate and at least a 50 percent ground-ball rate. One of those pitchers was Gray (21.1 percent strikeout rate, 50 percent grounder rate).
Gray did not factor the Reds' home ballpark at all in his decision.
"I'm not huge into that type of stuff," he said. "You can pitch, and you're comfortable pitching somewhere, you can go out and get the job done for sure."
One factor that Gray said was important was his relationship with new Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson. When Johnson was the pitching coach at Vanderbilt University, Gray was one of his pitchers from 2008-11 before he became Oakland's first-round Draft pick in '11. Both still spend their offseasons in Nashville, Tenn.
"I've known D.J. since I was 14 years old," said Gray, who has thrown two bullpen sessions this winter with backup Reds catcher and former college teammate Curt Casali. "He knows what makes me go. He definitely knows what I'm about."

Johnson believes that Gray's makeup will help him succeed with the Reds.
"I really think that Sonny's best attribute is how competitive he is," Johnson said. "You're talking about a guy who ... blew through the Minor Leagues and became a quality Major Leaguer early. I think it's not only a testament to his ability, but also his drive, his competitiveness. He's almost a born leader. It shows on the field, and I'm just really excited about those traits coming back out and him doing his thing."
The Reds are banking on Gray being a big producer in their revamped rotation that includes fellow trade acquisitions and Alex Wood along with holdovers , , and others.
Gray feels like learning how to deal with the adversity he endured in 2017 and '18 has made him a better pitcher.
"It's no secret [last] year didn't go as good for me as you would like," Gray said. "But at the end of the day, I showed up every day and was ready to put in the work. I honestly think you can go through some hardships at times and come out the other end better than you ever were. That's honestly how I feel. I learned a lot [last] year."