Draft Robbie Ray? In a Deep League, You Just May

Happy holidays and especially a New Year! I just wanted to swing by quickly and drop some thoughts on a back-end arm I’ve been keeping an eye on for fantasy drafts next season.

I did write this player up for numberFire recently, though circumstances around him have changed a little bit. That is, his rotation spot has become a bit murkier. That pitcher is Diamondbacks left-hander Robbie Ray. On the surface, Ray’s numbers aren’t overwhelmingly impressive for 2015: 5-12, 3.52 ERA, 8.4 K/9 and a 1.33 WHIP. There are a couple stats individually that provide a bit of hope, but still maybe nothing more than a possible pop-up guy with little evidence he’ll actually get that chance.

And that’s where it’s complicated. When I wrote him up previously, it was prior to the acquisitions of Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller. After the World Series, it looked like Patrick Corbin could be the Opening Day starter on an odd amalgam of talent in Phoenix, with Ray slotting in somewhere near the middle. As it stands now, MLB.com lists Ray as the No. 5 starter, with fellow sleeper candidate Chase Anderson on the outside looking in. And maybe both of those guys could usurp Rubby De La Rosa — whom surprisingly threw over 180 innings last year with mixed results — but an iffy situation isn’t good for fantasy purposes — obviously.

But anyway, what’s the rub with Ray? Why am I interested in him as a possible breakout guy? Or at least someone who could pop up and provided added value?

Ray didn’t spend the entire season in the Diamondbacks’ rotation; in fact, he made 23 starts in the big leagues with all but one coming after June 1. And while he was dominating early on — 1.98 ERA through six starts — it was a switch he seemed to flip in the second half that I think could change how he’s viewed.

Before the break — which I realize is just six weeks in this case but please bear with me — Ray induced grounders at a ho-hum 34 percent rate. In the second half, that jumped to a rate of 49.3 percent. That led to more soft contact, though not necessarily better results, as Ray had a 2.16 ERA (.264 wOBA against) before the break and 4.40 after (.340).

Ray also saw a spike in strikeouts from 6.8 K/9 in the first half to an elite 9.4 in the second. Unfortunately, his walk rate doubled and his FIP jumped by an entire run (2.91 -> 3.92). In terms of results, this doesn’t look like a breakout at all. In fact it looks like the opposite.

But if he can sustain the strikeouts/grounders combo, I think he might be onto something. My reason for optimism is that he increased his sinker usage — per Brooks Baseball — in a big way in September, up to roughly 30 percent after starting around just 10 percent in June.

So certainly there are a lot of moving parts here, and I feel less sure about Ray than I did when I mentioned Gibson in my most recent column, but if you’re digging through the bargain bin in deep leagues this spring, I think I might take a look at Ray.

In addition to Rotographs, Warne writes about the Minnesota Twins for The Athletic and is a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com

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