2018 Player Profile: Robbie Ray
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Robbie Ray was on my breakout list last season (he was on others as well). That said, I look at the current ADP of Ray and I’m wondering if too many people are buying, fully that is, what happened last season. Why am I pessimistic about the power lefty who looked like he took the next step last season? It’s because – maybe he didn’t.
26 years old
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 200 lbs
Position: Starting Pitching
Something that should strike you right off the top is a good deal of similarity between his overall minor league numbers and his overall big-league numbers. Check it.
‘But Ray, come on. Robbie was so much better than that last season, he’s clearly broken out. Anyway, those are some cherry-picked categories.’
In 2016 Ray had an 11.25 K/9 rate, a mark that is 25th best in baseball history for a single season with at least 162 innings pitched. Fantastico.
In 2017 Ray posted a 12.11 K/9 rate, a mark that is the 10th best in baseball history or a single season of 162 innings pitched. Bonkers good.
Clearly, he has a dynamic strikeout arm.
In 2016 his swinging strike rate was strong at 11.6 percent. Last season the mark exploded to 14.2 percent, the 5th best mark in the game. It’s a rate his pure stuff indicates might be repeatable. Same time, it’s a rate we’ve never seen from him previously as his best had been 11.6 percent.
1 – Logic would suggest that repeating one of the 12 best seasons of all-time in the K/9 category isn’t likely to happen.
2 – Though his strikeout rate went way up, he threw fewer strikes than ever before. In fact, after 3-straight seasons with a strike rate between 49.2 and 50.4 percent, the mark tanked all the way down to 45.8 percent.
3 – After back-to-back seasons with a rate of 46.8 and 46.4 percent of swings on pitches, the mark fell down to 44.3 percent in 2017.
So, he threw fewer strikes and had fewer overall swings, yet he still posted the 12th best K/9 rate ever. That sound right to you? Doesn’t to me either.
4 – His first pitch strike percentage last season was 59.9 percent. That rate was barely better than his 58.2 percent career rate. That doesn’t explain the strikeout growth either.
5 – When ahead 0-2 in 2016 batters had a .372 OPS with a strikeout every 1.80 at-bats, an absurd level of production. The 2017 numbers were even better: .249 and 1.58. Those just don’t seem like repeatable numbers, at least not to me.
The fact is, his season last year doesn’t support the massive K/9 number he posted. It just doesn’t.
How many of you realize that Ray had the worst BB/9 rate of his career last season? Ray’s rate of 3.94 per nine was a career worst, and a simply terrible number. In fact, it was the worst in baseball. How do you lead the league in walk rate and still have a 1.15 WHIP? It just doesn’t happen like that folks. Remember, I noted above he threw fewer strikes as well in 2017. Caution is warranted with Ray and his spotty control.
Ray must get ahead in the count. His slider is a wipeout pitch. Ray also added an impressive curveball last season as well in terms of the results. After throwing his fastball 71 percent of the time in 2015-16, Ray dropped that number down to 59 percent in 2017 as he jacked up his curveball rate from five to 22 percent. He also scrapped the changeup, a good idea given the results on the pitch in 2016. Look at the results on the curve and slider from 2017 (from Brooks Baseball).
However, he has a hard time throwing strikes with it, so if a batter is ahead in the count he simply won’t swing at the slider. That causes all kinds of issues for Ray. Even in 2017, when his overall numbers look so impressive, the difference ahead and behind in the count was as stark as you will find.
Look at that chart. When ahead in the count, and able to deploy his slider, he posted stupid ass video game numbers. When behind in the count, and unable to rely on his breaking stuff, he made every batter into Joey Votto. If he’s not ahead in the count, and able to trick batters into swinging at his off speed stuff, he has to rely on the fastball, and when he does, he is blasted. Speaking of that...
THE BATTED BALL
The dude had all that success last season, and he was hit extremely hard. In fact, Ray allowed a hard-hit baseball on 40.4 percent of the batted balls he allowed. No pitcher in baseball was hit harder. None. How scary is that to think? For his career the mark is 37.1 percent, and that is way higher than it should be given his stuff profile.
Despite that fact, Ray posted a BABIP of .267 in 2017. You cannot be hit that hard and have a BABIP that low. You cannot. Just look at Ray’s career performance as well. In three seasons from 2014-16 Ray had a mark of at least .311 each season and an overall mark of .339. Again, the number dropped all the way to .267 in 2017. He’s extremely unlikely to maintain that ’17 level. Extremely unlikely.
Ray posted a 15.5 percent HR/FB ratio in 2016 and followed it up with a 15.6 percent mark in 2017. Clearly, he’s going to allow a good deal of homers per season if he’s allowing a lot of fly balls.
In 2017, Ray allowed a 40.3 percent fly ball rate after two seasons with a mark under 35 percent. So yes, the rate went way up in 2017. Further, his GB/FB rate plummeted. The mark was fine in 2015 at 1.25. There was some excitement heading into last season thanks to his 1.40 rate in 2016. Alas, the number tumbled all the way down to 1.00 in 2017 which is worse than the league average. That’s not good at all. Ray has also allowed a HR/9 rate over 1.25 the past two seasons, and that is a worse than league average mark.
So, despite his success last season he posted a 3-year low in GB/FB, a career worst HR/FB ratio, and a 3-year worst in the HR/9 category.
THE LEFT ON BASE RATE
1 – The league average is about 70 percent in LOB.
2 – Ray had a mark of 69.7 from 2014-16.
3 – Ray posted a left on base rate of 84.5 percent, the second best in baseball.
Which of those numbers doesn’t look right to you?
Ray’s mark last season was the 7th best of the 21st century. No pitcher in the 21st century has posted a mark of 84 percent twice. Clayton Kershaw has one season of 82 percent. Corey Kluber has one season with a mark of 79 percent. Guys rarely hit 80 percent more than once. Guys that do are flat out elite. As you’ve seen above, Ray isn’t elite. The number will take a significant tumble for Ray in 2018, and that will potentially greatly affect his ERA.
Ray will start every five days for the D’backs, at least that is the plan. It’s obvious to see that he’s never been a big innings pitched guy, so even if the plan is for him to go every five days, that doesn’t mean he will be healthy enough to take the ball every five games. Here are his innings pitched marks (majors and minors combined).
2011: 89.0 innings
2012: 105.2 innings
2013: 142.0 innings
2014: 129.0 innings
2015: 169.1 innings
2016: 174.1 innings
2017: 166.2 innings
Yes, he’s never thrown 175-innings in a professional season, and that has to be a concern, doesn’t it? His three-year average is just about 170-innings. That’s not enough to draft a guy as an SP1. It may not be enough to be comfortable drafting him as an SP2.
Another note. As of this writing, the Diamondbacks are still considering using a humidor in 2018. It would seem to be that the lean is away from using the device that will equalize the park in favor of the hitter. If they do indeed go with the humidor, the outlook for Ray would certainly improve.
AVERAGE DRAFT POSITION DATA
As of this writing, here is the ADP data for Ray.
No starting pitcher in baseball walked more batters per nine innings than Ray in ‘17. No starting pitcher in baseball allowed a higher harder hit rate that Ray ‘17. Only one pitcher posted a left on base percentage that was higher in ‘17, and Ray has no chance at all, none, to repeat the rate he posted last season. Ray had a 3-year low in his GB/FB ratio while at the same time posting a career worst HR/FB ratio. Ray’s overall games doesn’t support his massive strikeout rate from last season. He has never thrown 175 innings in a season. Do you still think he’s an SP1? As hinted at, he’s barely worthy of drafting as an SP2. Barely, and it wouldn’t be remotely crazy to suggest that dropping him just outside the top-25 starting pitchers is the right thing to do.
10-Team Mixed: Risky because of the cost. I would not be drafting him in this format unless he falls well off his current ADP.
12-Team Mixed: He will be drafted as an SP2. If going that route, make sure you combine him with someone who has the skills to be productive in the ratio categories. His strikeout arm allows you to take shots on less than ideal strikeout arms like Kyle Hendricks.
15-Team Mixed: Worth dipping your toes in as an SP2 here, though I would prefer that you roster some ratio and innings stability in support of the power lefty.
NL-Only League: The strikeouts are hard to ignore in this format, though bake in an uptick in ERA and WHIP which will almost certainly occur. Also, for what it is worth, note that his career track record shows him to be an under .500 pitcher.