Oakland Athletics’ ace Sonny Gray has been phenomenal in 2015. He’s posted a 2.72 ERA in 30 games, going 13-7 in 202 innings. He’s also struck out 162 batters while walking just 57 batters all season. That said, the A’s should consider having Gray sit – or at least not pitch full starts – for the remainder of the 2015 season.
Before anyone rushes to the comments section to rant about what a stupid idea this is, let’s consider the fact that not only is the Athletics’ season over, but Gray’s Cy Young chances are ruined, as well. David Price will likely take home the award given his September performance compared to Gray’s, and if not, Keuchel is a much more likely runner-up. Gray is now third in ERA, nearly a full 0.40 points behind Price, with Keuchel falling squarely in between. Both starters top him in wins, strikeouts and innings-pitched, and a resurgence seems improbable.
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Gray has had a devastating month of September. In four starts, he’s pitched six innings only once, allowed five or more hits each outing, and given up five or more runs three times. His September 8th start against Houston was excellent, pitching seven scoreless innings – and yet he’s managed to allowed 18 runs over the course of September anyway.
Gray is in his third season with the A’s major league club, but only his second full season. This marks the second straight season that he’s pitched over 200 innings, and he pitched into October following his call up in 2013 as well. Starters always want to pitch, but should the A’s step in and give him some much needed rest?
When faced with the question of innings limits, there’s typically an argument made for the fact that historic pitchers of past eras threw far more innings in a much-less scrutinized way. Those starters are admirable, but the fact is that today’s pitchers are not conditioned for that. Gray is a very hard-throwing pitcher, who has had plenty of miles logged on his arm in high school, college, and now professional baseball. Two weeks of rest certainly doesn’t make up for that, but pitchers have a finite number of bullets. Why waste them on a season that doesn’t matter, either to the team or the player?
The Oakland Athletics have seen a pitcher suddenly struggle after a long season before. In 2013, Jarrod Parker was having an excellent year, up until the final three games of the season. In two of his last three starts, he lasted less than five innings and allowed a combined 15 runs, 14 of them earned. Even in the postseason, he pitched just five innings in his only start, allowing three runs and throwing just 73 pitches before being replaced by Dan Otero.
The implication is certainly not that Gray’s end-of-year struggles are a precursor to Tommy John surgery, or that he’ll wind up with a major injury if the A’s continue to push him. But why risk it? It can’t be stressed enough that this season means absolutely not a single thing to anyone. The only reason to keep allowing Gray to pitch is to entertain the fans, and while the fans do deserve to watch quality baseball, it makes more sense for them to hope the team preserves their ace for next year.
Of course, the exception to this is if there is an innings-pitched bonus in his contract that he is close to, in which case the union may not allow the team to rest Gray simply for the sake of resting. But otherwise, this is a situation where being cautious is in the best interest of both the team and the player.
There are many pitchers who have never had the opportunity to rest. Justin Verlander is a good example – with as many straight seasons as the Tigers played well and made the postseason, he was never afforded extra time to recuperate in the winter. Now, all of that stress on his arm is beginning to catch up with him, as injuries and rough outings are becoming more common. If the A’s insist on allowing Gray to pitch during the final two weeks, at least limit his innings so that he isn’t taking unnecessary risks.
The Oakland Athletics intend to be contenders for many seasons to come. Why waste their ace on one that doesn’t matter?