According to Jon Morosi, the Milwaukee Brewers are interested in pitcher Robbie Ray of the Diamondbacks. Other teams reported to be interested as well are Philadelphia, Houston, and the New York Yankees all of which have more to offer from a prospect standpoint than the Brewers. The question, however, is more about what the market will pay for him and can the Brewers match or surpass that?
Robbie Ray is a left-handed strikeout artist that also has a penchant for walking hitters. He has one more year of control after this season, which is a selling point to opposing teams that may want him. The most innings he has pitched in a major league season is 174 1⁄3 in 2016. He pitched in only 123 2⁄3 last season because of an oblique strain. Those inning totals fail to get to 200 innings pitched, because he fails to go deep into games. He fails to go deep into games because he throws a lot of pitches striking out and walking batters at a high clip.
As mentioned he strikes out a lot of hitters. While his K/9 is slightly down from previous seasons (11.76 this season as opposed to 12.01 and 12.11 in 2018 and 2017 respectively) he is still in the 88th percentile in all of baseball in K% and ranked 5th in MLB in K/9. He is one of the best starters in baseball in terms of striking guys out.
Unfortunately, he is also one of the worst in baseball at walking opposing batters. Ray is ranked second to last among qualifying starters in BB/9 (4.54), and that is actually better than it was last season (5.09). He was better in 2016 and 2017, but he has always had problems in this department. When he gets that BB/9 below 4, he tends to be quite good however.
Major league hitters have difficulty hitting Mr. Ray. Expected batting average against Ray is in the 77th percentile in MLB. Actual batting average against is even better. He ranks #12 in MLB with a BAA of .215. This guy has elite swing and miss in his game thus the low batting average against, however when opposing hitters do hit him, they hit him pretty hard (40.8 hard hit% with an exit velocity against in the 87th percentile). His HR/9 is 1.30, which is not great, but not awful either.
A point of concern about Ray is that his fastball velocity has decreased year over year. In 2016, he sat 95.3 mph with his four seamer. In 2017 (his best season), 94.4 mph. The next year he sat at 94.1 mph, and this season he dropped more than 1 mph to 92.8 mph. How much of a concern might it be, especially since the extra year of control is one of the selling points for Ray?
Arizona’s record isn’t that much worse than Milwaukee’s. They are 47-47 and only 1 game out of the wild card. With that one year left of control, why is Mike Hazen (General Manager of the Diamondbacks) making him available? Obviously, he will get more return with the extra year of control attached. Hazen is a smart guy, and he sees the dip in velocity that I do. Any more of a dip in fastball velocity could and likely will mean a decrease in K/9. With the number of batters Ray walks, he needs his ability to strike hitters out to remove himself from self inflicted jams. Going from elite in the strike out department to just very good could have consequences, and Hazen maybe trying to sell as high as possible with that in mind. Buyer beware in this situation.
Ray throws a four pitch mix. He throws his four seamer the most (44.3%), but utilizes his slider quite a bit too (33.9%). His curveball (14.9%) and two seam, sinking fastball (7.5%) show up as well.
What is interesting about Robbie Ray is that he barely threw a two seamer in 2017 or 2018. He probably utilized his curveball as his change of pace pitch in those seasons, throwing it about 20% of the time in the previous two seasons. In 2019, he brought back the fourth pitch at the expense of his curveball usage (down about 5% over previous seasons). Is he attempting to pitch up and down in the zone a little more with increased velocity of the two seamer to help him as he pitches down in the zone? Otherwise his breaking stuff was the only thing being pitch down in the zone in 2017 and 2018.
With decreased velocity, there might be some concern about acquiring Robbie Ray at this stage of his career. The number of hitters he is striking out is still quite high. Unfortunately he is also not the type of pitcher that will go deep into games. Obviously Milwaukee won’t even blink at that. With that in mind, he is not a top-of-the-rotation guy. While the general public may fail to realize that, MLB front offices will most definitely understand that.
If Mike Hazen makes Ray available at the price tag of #2 at best or #3 rotation piece, he should get something pretty good back in return. Brice Turang may have to front a package deal for Ray. In fact Orlando Arcia might have to be the big piece in a three or four player package to get Ray. Nonetheless the Brewers are interested. With that interest, it should tell Brewer Nation that David Stearns and Company are not selling, at least not yet.
Baseball statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant