Sonny Gray is Sick of His Short Leash

AP Photo

Tuesday night vs the Kansas City Royals, Sonny Gray had, possibly, his best outing as a member of the Minnesota Twins. Through six innings, he allowed 0 runs on just 1 hit, struck out 10 batters and threw just 86 pitches. Gray’s outing was going so well that Rocco even sent him out to the mound for the 7th inning. a rarity for any starting pitcher in the Twins’ rotation.

Because the Twins do not trust a starting pitcher to go much deeper than five innings. Why? Because the ‘Third Time Around the Lineup’ Monster lives beyond the 5th inning. It took until the 7th inning for it to bite Sonny Gray tonight. But it got him eventually. After dominating the 6th inning, Gray gave up two hits to start the 7th and was immediately pulled for Caleb Thielbar.

Sonny Gray Speaks Out

When asked before his start on Tuesday, about the Twins’ propensity to call on the bullpen early and often, Gray tried his best to hold back his frustration. But his stuttering and carefully chosen words said enough. He’s sick of it.

The Minnesota Twins organization is built on its vast and ever expanding analytics department. And baseball analytics tell us that pitchers find less success vs hitters who have already seen them earlier in the same game.

Numbers Don’t Lie

Against Sonny Gray, for example, hitters this season have a .586 OPS in their first at bat. His OPS against jumps to .673 the second time through the order and all the way up to .803 the third time through. As a team, opposing OPS splits are even more drastic vs Twins starting pitchers:

  • 1st time thru lineup — .639 OPS
  • 2nd time thru lineup — .740 OPS
  • 3rd time thru lineup — .923 OPS

We’ve seen it play out over the last two nights, too. Joe Ryan was bulldozing through Royals hitters on Monday night, until he was bombarded with two hits to start the 6th inning, and was pulled for Thielbar. Then, Gray ran into issues in the 7th inning, on Tuesday night. Caleb Thielbar came out of the bullpen on both occasions and pitched cleanly out of two-runners on, nobody out, jams.

So, the logic is obviously there. And pulling Gray, before he went out for the 7th inning tonight, would have, in hindsight, been the correct decision. But given his pregame comments, would Sonny have been OK with that decision? Probably not.

Gray isn’t the first Minnesota Twins pitcher to voice displeasure with the early hooks, either. Devin Smeltzer did the same thing, earlier in the season, and hasn’t been back up with the big league squad since.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan