Sonny Gray made his 2021 spring training debut last night for the Cincinnati Reds against the Kansas City Royals. He allowed a run in 2.0 innings and picked up a strikeout before handing the game over to the bullpen – which featured several standout performances by some prospects.
Spring training isn’t a time to really pay attention to statistical performance. There are simply too many factors that go into that – small sample sizes, the competition you are facing can vary greatly, what someone is specifically working on the day in which you face off against them, the defense behind you may feature three players who are simply be “tried” at new positions, etc. On Thursday night, Sonny Gray was working on some things of his own. Already one of the better pitchers in the league, he’s still looking to find ways to improve what he can do to get hitters out.
“I’ve got a few different thoughts going on when it comes to type of pitches currently that we’re messing with,” said Gray. “A few things I’m trying to work on here early and just decide from there whether we’re going to take it and input it into the game plan or whether we’re not. There’s just a few working parts that we’re going to focus on here early and just kind of see how it plays out.”
It was the next quote that got more attention, though – but it wasn’t as much for what he said as for what he did while saying it. Gray demonstrated what his pitches do with his hands while speaking to the media, and well, it made for a great GIF.
— Doug Gray (@dougdirt24) March 5, 2021
But the words he did say while doing his best demonstrative explanation matter, too.
“I’ve got pitches that do this (motions in multiple directions – see the GIF), if I can get one that does this and does this and then does that – so I’m just trying to work on that, the combination of pitches right now,” Gray said. “I’m very happy with what I can do with the baseball, I’m very happy with the way I can make the baseball move and what I’m doing to the baseball. But I think as a part of developing the next step, and me developing, you’re always trying to get better and always trying to develop. Me developing into a more complete and better pitcher, there are a few things I’d like to work on and continue to spend some time on – especially now – because if it can help down the road, I’d like to be able to do that. Like I said, if not, I feel very, very comfortable and confident with what I can do with the baseball now. So it’s just a few things we’ll continue to try and work on, try and play around with, and go from there.”
It’s fantastic that on March 4th that Sonny Gray is already feeling great about what he can do with the baseball. But for opposing hitters in the league, what he’s saying should be concerning. Since joining Cincinnati he’s had an above-average fastball, an above-average slider, and an above-average curveball. According to Fangraphs his fastball has been 0.38 runs above-average per 100 thrown (42nd out of 127 pitchers with at least 130 innings pitched over the past two seasons, his fastball has been 1.33 runs better than average per 100 thrown (21st), and his curveball has been 1.98 runs above-average (7th).
The attempt to get better doesn’t really stop for any athlete while they are still playing. So the fact that Sonny Gray is looking for and working on ways to improve isn’t surprising. Maybe the things he is working on don’t come to fruition and he’s simply got to go back to being among the best pitchers in the league. But it’s spring training and if you’re not going to dream about the possibilities of a better future now, when will you?