Cincinnati Reds: Sonny Gray’s turnaround gives hope for 2020

CINCINNATI, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 05: Sonny Gray #54 of the Cincinnati Reds throws the ball against the Philadelphia Phillies at Great American Ball Park on September 05, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 05: Sonny Gray #54 of the Cincinnati Reds throws the ball against the Philadelphia Phillies at Great American Ball Park on September 05, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /
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Sonny Gray pitched his final game of the 2019 season for the Cincinnati Reds last night. Gray’s bounce back year gives hope for a playoff run in 2020.

While the Cincinnati Reds offense has played well below what was expected this season, the starting pitching has been stellar. There may be no better example of outperforming expectations than what Sonny Gray has done this season. Gray’s resurgence should give Reds fans hope entering 2020 as the team has two, possibly three legitimate aces on the squad.

Sonny Gray was scratched from his final scheduled start on Sunday, so last night’s performance against the Milwaukee Brewers will be his final one of the season. What a season it was for the 29-year-old who finished 2019 with a record of 11-8 and a 2.87 ERA. Gray racked up 205 strikeouts in 175.1 innings pitched this season.

Gray’s name has to be in the discussion for Comeback Player of the Year. After a disastrous 2018 campaign with the New York Yankees saw Gray go 11-9 with a 4.90 ERA, the right-hander was traded to the Reds in the offseason and the Reds are reaping the benefits.

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Along with Luis Castillo, Gray will be in the discussion to be next year’s Opening Day starter. While there’s no wrong choice between the two starters, Gray’s second half of the season has definitely vaulted him into the NL Cy Young race.

Since the calendar flipped to July, Sonny Gray has been dominating opposing batters. The Nashville native found his groove after a shaky start to his Reds career and went 7-3 with a 1.95 ERA over his final 15 starts of the 2019 season. Gray recorded 114 strikeouts to just 36 walks. His .946 WHIP during that span is outstanding.

While many fans throughout Reds Country were hoping to see this version of Sonny Gray, I don’t think anyone saw this coming. Before the season, all the talk was about Alex Wood being the Reds Opening Day starter, but an injured back during spring training derailed any thought of that.

Castillo was chosen to take the hill on Day 1 of the 2019 season and did not disappoint. La Piedra commanded the strike zone and will finish tops on the team in strikeouts. However, Gray has turned in a phenomenal 2019 season and his 205 strikeouts harken back to his 2015 season with the Oakland Athletics.

In 2015, Sonny Gray was in the AL Cy Young conversation. At 25-years old, Gray was dismantling the opposition to the tune of a 14-7 record with a 2.73 ERA and 1.087 WHIP. Gray had 169 strikeouts that season and fell just behind Dallas Keuchel and David Price in the Cy Young voting that season.

The 4-year/$38M contract extension that the Cincinnati Reds and Sonny Gray agreed to this offseason may end up being a bargain. Gray definitely outperformed his 2019 salary ($7.5M) and if he stays the course, will likely do it again in 2020. Per FanGraphs, in 2017, 1 WAR was worth over $10M. Sonny Gray’s WAR this season was 5.7.

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The Reds seem to be in good hands with a starting rotation featuring Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo. Given the performance that Anthony DeSclafani put together this season, he’s a virtual lock to be in the rotation next season. If Trevor Bauer has a similar renaissance to what we’ve seen from Gray this year, the Reds will have a ferocious starting rotation in 2020.