ESPN’s Passan on Mariners’ Robbie Ray: ‘There is better on the horizon’

The Mariners made one of the biggest splashes of the offseason prior to the MLB lockout when they inked 2021 American League Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray to a lucrative five-year contract in free agency.

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Ray posted a 2.84 ERA in 193 1/3 innings for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2021 and struck out an MLB-leading 248 batters, and coming off such a dominant season, expectations for the lefty naturally were very high as he joined his new club.

Ray has flashed dominance at times in 2022, but he’s been hurt by essentially one “big inning” in each of his starts that have really put a dent in his numbers.

Ray gets the ball Wednesday for the Mariners against the Orioles, with Seattle looking to secure a series win after taking the opener 10-0 Tuesday in Baltimore. He enters the start with a 4.75 ERA, an increase in hits allowed per nine innings (from 7.0 last season to 7.7) as well as a dip in strikeouts per nine from 11.5 to 10.1.

So what’s going on with Ray? ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan shared his thoughts on Seattle Sports 710 AM’s Mike Salk Show Wednesday morning.

“Robbie Ray has not been good this year,” Passan told Salk. “When you were projecting – and I say you as the stand in for me – the Mariners to be really good (in 2022), I thought that they were going to have 2021 Robbie Ray and not 2015-2020 Robbie Ray.”

Ray was a tantalizing talent early in his career when he was a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and at times was brilliant with an ability to miss bats and gaudy strikeout numbers. He also struggled mightily with command that prevented him from putting it all together.

That was until 2021, when he was arguably the best pitcher in all of baseball, posting a career-low 2.4 walks per nine clip.

Salk asked whether the Mariners went out and signed a “one-hit wonder” to anchor their starting rotation this offseason. Passan doesn’t think that’s the case.

“Last year was, remember, a really long time coming,” Passan said.

Despite some struggles with command over his career, Ray has the highest strikeouts per nine mark in MLB history among qualified pitchers at 11.1.

“The question with him has always been twofold: No. 1, can he throw the ball over the plate? No. 2, can he stop giving up home runs?” Passan said.

With Ray’s ERA and WHIP higher than they were a year ago, it would be easy to assume he’s walking far more batters and allowing far more home runs on average than he did in 2021.

“Actually, his walk rate is a slight bit higher (3.1 per nine in 2022) than it was during his Cy Young Award-winning season last year (2.4), and his home run rate is (the same at 1.5 per nine). The stuff is not quite where it was last year, but it’s close enough.”

Passan pointed to Ray’s expected numbers – which are calculated based on batted ball data as well as a pitcher’s “stuff” – to show why he thinks Ray’s actual numbers will improve going forward.

“His expected ERA and his expected fielding independent pitching numbers are both about a run lower than what his actual era is, which tends to – over the course of time – even itself out, and it’s a positive regression that Ray may have in place,” Passan said.

Ray’s expected ERA, per Statcast, is 3.91, down from his actual ERA of 4.75. Additionally, his expected FIP, per Fangraphs, is 3.62, down from his actual FIP of 4.18. It is better for a pitcher to have a lower ERA and FIP.

“Now all of this is being done in a fantasy world where numbers can tell you whatever they’re going to tell you,” Passan said. “But I think there is better on the horizon for Robbie Ray, and that’s something that Mariners fans have to look forward to.”

Listen to the full discussion with Passan at this link or in the player below.

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