The Oakland Athletics have everything any team could want in baseball. They own the league’s best record, they’ve scored more runs than any other team and their pitching staff ranks top five in ERA, WHIP, batting average against and quality starts. Despite all of that, the A’s seem to think they still need a bona fide ace in their pitching staff.
Their acquisition of former Chicago Cub Jeff Samardzija indicated that, as does their rumored interest in Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester. Two aces are definitely better than one, but the A’s wouldn’t need to make a trade to get another ace. In fact, they don’t have to do anything other than realize they have had their number one pitcher since August of last year.
At just 24 years old, Sonny Gray has quietly established himself as the main man in Oakland. Currently Gray ranks in the top ten in the American League in wins, ERA and innings pitched, and he’s only getting better. Gray has caught the attention of the entire league with a remarkable July, going 5-0 with a 1.03 ERA and batters hitting only .200 over that five game stretch.
Gray certainly is not perfect yet, his walk rate is still a bit too high at 3.2 per nine innings, but he is maturing rapidly thanks to an ever expanding repertoire of pitches. As John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out after the A’s game versus the Texas Rangers on July 26th, Gray has started to utilize his changeup with greater regularity. Add that to his solid fastball and fantastic curveball, and you have reason to believe Gray is well on his way to becoming one of the AL’s elite pitchers.
There’s an excellent chance that Gray will join the ranks of Max Scherzer or Felix Hernandez over the next decade to become one of the AL’s best pitchers, but he still has plenty to prove in the short term.
For one, Gray must prove himself durable enough to take on a full season’s worth of pitching. The A’s may not anticipate that happening or may be wary to have Gray pitch come September, which is part of the reason they traded for Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
The A’s may sit Gray in the final month of the regular season just to have his arm fresh for what they hope is a deep postseason run.
Oakland called on the then rookie twice in the ALDS versus the Detroit Tigers in 2013, and he was particularly fantastic in his first postseason start. In game two of the ALDS, Gray went eight innings, striking out nine batters and allowing only four hits.
But in game five of the series, Gray gave up three runs in five innings and was outdueled by Tigers ace Justin Verlander. For Sonny Gray to make the jump from promising young starter to elite ace, he must prove he can win pivotal postseason games like an ALDS game five.
From everything we have seen from Gray this past July and all season long, there is every reason to believe he is close to joining baseball’s elite. A’s fans can rejoice in knowing Gray will almost certainly come into his own as a pitcher in Oakland, as he is under team control until 2020. If Gray can prove himself durable and clutch for the rest of 2014, there will be plenty of Sonny days ahead in Oaktown.