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The Season That Was: Robbie Ray

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

We picked up Robbie Ray in trade from the Diamondbacks for Travis Bergen (who ended up back with the Blue Jays before the start of this season) at the end of August 2020.

It could go down as one of the best trades in Blue Jays history, other than we had to sign him as a free agent after the season (but then would he have signed with the Jays if he hadn’t spent that month or so with the team).

Ray made 4 starts (and a relief appearance) with the Jays, in 2020, and had a 4.70 ERA, with 14 walks and 25 strikeouts in 20.2 innings. There wasn’t much to indicate that he could become a Cy Young candidate this year. walking 6+ per 9 innings isn’t something you expect an Ace to do.

The comment thread below the post about his signing wasn’t filled with people jumping for joy. Some said ‘no such thing as a bad one-year contract’, but others were unhappy that Ray would be back. And others were just waiting for us to sign Trevor Bauer.

Before the season I asked:

  • Will Ray have an ERA over or under 4.15. 67% of us were wrong.
  • Will Ray have a walk rate over or under 10%. 64% of us were wrong.
  • Will Ray be over or under 145 inning. 61% of us were right.

I think it is far to say few/none of us thought he would have the season he did.

Standard Pitching
2021 29 13 7 2.84 32 32 193.1 150 61 33 52 248 4 5 154 3.69
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 10/4/2021.

Maybe the most amazing number in there is his league-leading 193.1 innings. But he led the league in ERA, starts, and strikeouts as well.

Baseball Reference has Robbie at a 6.7 WAR and FanGraphs 3.9. FanGraphs uses FIP in their WAR calculation, BR uses ERA. FanGraphs has him worth $31.5 million to the Jays. A pretty good return on his $8 million contract.

Batters had a .268 BABIP against him, down from .323 last year. 90.1% of the base runners he allowed were stranded, up from 73.0% last year.

He had a 3.69 FIP and 3.36 xFIP.

Against Ray, batters had an 18.6% line drive rate (down from 24.3 last year), ground ball rate 37.2 (up from 24.3), and fly ball rate 44.2% (down from 51.5). 15.9% of his fly balls left the park (down from 18.6%).

Ray’s strikeout rate was 32.1% (up from 27.1) and his walk rate was 6.9% (down a lot from 17.9).

Both soft contact (14.1%, from 16.1) and hard contact (35.0% from 40.9) were down, so medium contact was up.

Not surprisingly, he was better vs. LHB (.187/.227/.366) than RHB (.216/.276/.409).

And Ray had a better ERA at home (2.58) than on the road (3.16). Batters hit .194/.246/.376 off him at home and .229/.291/.430 on the road.

Ray by month:

  • April: 1-1, 2.78 ERA in 4 starts. Batters hit .217/.293/.410 in 22.2 innings.
  • May: 1-1, 4.60 ERA in 5 starts. Batters hit .241/.270/.560 in 29.1 innings.
  • June: 4-1, 2.86 ERA in 6 starts. Batters hit .226/.275/.353 in 34.2 innings.
  • July: 3-2, 1.99 ERA in 5 starts. Batters hit .175/.236/.377 in 31.2 innings.
  • August: 1-0, 1.76 ERA in 6 starts. Batters hit .188/.235/.243 in 41 innings.
  • September: 3-2, 3.44 in 6 starts. Batters hit .218/.300/.500 in 34 innings.

The Jays were 17-15 in his starts. The Jays averaged 4.89 runs in his starts. But they scored 3 or less in 17 of his starts, but he had starts where the team scored 10, 10, 13, and 18 runs, bringing up the average.

Days of rest:

  • 4 days, 19 times: 3.42 ERA, batters hit .228/.290/.454.
  • 5 days, 8 times: 2.50 ERA, batters hit .196/.245/.375.
  • 6 days, 4 times: 1.39 ERA, batters hit .167/.215/.246.

Times through the order:

  • First time: Batters hit .185/.258/.338.
  • Second time: Batters hit .172/.229/.321.
  • Third time: Batters hit .298/.333/.597.

His best game, by GameScore, was an 85. July 11, against the Ray in St. Petersburgh. He went 7 innings, allowed 1 hit, 1 walk with 11 strikeouts.

His worst game by GameScore was a 39. May 27, against the Yankees, in New York. He went 4.2 innings, allowing 5 hits, 5 runs, 4 earned, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts with 2 home runs.

The most pitches he threw in a game were 112. Fewest was 79. He averaged 98.2 pitches per game.

He averaged 6.05 innings per start.

By bWAR, Ray’s season tied for the 13th best in Jays' history. His 11.545 strikeouts per nine innings is the best single-season number in team history. And if you were wondering, he’s 45th on our all-time list in strikeouts.

If we were doing a Most Valuable Blue Jays player, the race, to me is Vlad, Semien, and Ray. You could make a case for any of the three. Ray really stabilized the rotation. He was terrific nearly every time out. There were only 4 games that he didn’t make it through 5 innings. And in those four he went 4.1, 4.1, 4.2, and 4.2.

And he walked more than 3 in a game only twice. In eight starts he had 0 walks. For a guy who walked 7.8 per nine innings last year, that’s pretty amazing.

The other kind of weird stat is that Robbie had only one unearned run against him this season. I should go through his starts to see how many errors were made behind him, but that seems like a lot of work at the moment. Maybe later in the offseason. I’d imagine with the number of strikeouts he had there were fewer chances for errors behind him. And he didn’t give up a lot of hard contact. A lot of errors come on hard-hit balls. And perhaps he’s good at ‘picking up for his teammates.

Or it could be just random chance.

The big question is where he signs this winter. Having just had a Cy Young type season, I’m sure he’ll be looking for a big payday. He’s just turned thirty (last Friday) so it is his one big chance to make big dollars (not that the $8 million last year is, you know, cheese doodles). But if he wants to be set for life (and have his children and grandchildren set for life).

I’m sure he would be happy to stay with the Jays if they could pony up the cash. He seems to enjoy his teammates and, I would think, he’d feel some gratitude to Pete Walker. But gratitude isn’t worth millions. But the t-shirt raising money for Jays Care does seem to suggest that he enjoyed being a Blue Jay.

It will be interesting how the winter plays out. How much do you pay a guy who is coming off a career year, one that seems to be a big-time outlier? If you ran another team, how sure are you that he can keep up this level of performance?

Whatever happens, getting to watch him this season was a ton of fun.


I would grade Robbie Ray’s 2021 season an

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