Will It Be Always Sonny in Cincinnati?

We all knew that Sonny Gray’s days as a New York Yankee had come to an end, and finally, the Reds acquired him and immediately signed him to a three-year extension. Moving to the National League is a good thing. Will the park switch improve his chances to rebound as well? Let’s check the 2017 park factors.

Park Factor Comparison
Yankees 99 95 83 112 101 100 98 102 98 102 104 101
Reds 98 100 91 108 104 102 98 100 98 102 103 102
-Park factors are from the FanGraphs 2017 page
-Park factors are already halved to account for only half the games played at home

Let’s begin comparing the various hit types, as that’s where the largest differences in factors exist. Both Yankee Stadium (YS) and Great American Ballpark (GABP) marginally suppressed singles, with GABP doing so slightly more. It’s a win for Gray here, but barely. The doubles gap is a bit wider, as YS actually suppressed them by 10%, while GABP was perfectly neutral. Maybe that equates to an extra couple of doubles allowed, no big deal. Both parks also suppress triples, but YS does so more than GABP does. Gray has only allowed seven triples over his career, so this isn’t going to have any impact.

Moving along, we end up on homers. We know that YS is one of the best home run parks in baseball, so we could have nearly guaranteed he would be in a better environment somewhere else. He indeed will be, but still ended up landing in a spot that massively inflates the long ball. Interestingly, in his first three seasons, his high HR/FB rate was just 9.4%. But since, his HR/FB rates have gone 17.5%, 15.1%, 13.3%. Were those first three seasons just a fluke and simple regression caught up? Did he own some skills in those first three seasons that disappeared in the last three? It wasn’t a park thing, because in his last three seasons, he still spent half his time as a member of the Athletics before moving onto the Yankees.

Yesterday, Jeff Sullivan highlighted Gray’s insane home-road splits, reminding us that he was torched at home. Sure enough, Gray posted an absurd 21.3% HR/FB rate at Yankee Stadium as a member of the Yankees, but just a 10% mark throughout his career in road parks. That’s a crazy split! It doesn’t automatically mean that he simply just had a Yankee Stadium problem, but it certainly provides us hope. He was elite Gray away and trash Gray at home. Cincinnati is not New York, so perhaps his elite self will show up at GABP as well as in away parks.

Jumping ahead to the plate discipline metrics, we find that GABP inflates strikeouts by 8%, while YS does so by 2%. It’s a meaningful difference, but not huge. The biggest boost Gray will get will be facing the pitcher. He has been amazingly consistent with his strikeout rate, posting marks between 18.2% and 22.6% since his first full season in 2014. There’s a good chance he sets a new full season career high this season.

Gray’s control deserted him this year, after consistent walk rates in previous seasons. The walk rate factors are close, so we’ll have to hope his lack of control was a one-year blip and fueled by the Yankee Stadium demons.

The two batted ball type factors that matter — LD and IFFB — are identical, so we finally end with FIP and Basic, which is the overall run factor. Both factors are as close as you can get without being the same, with GABP getting the edge in FIP, while YS gets the win in the Basic factor.

While the park factors are mixed and don’t necessitate a boost or reduction in value by themselves, the move to the NL and out of Yankee Stadium cannot be understated. Since he remained fantastic away from his home park, it’s clear the good skills were in him somewhere. I’m a buyer in all leagues in what will likely be a very cheap price.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Are you worried about the outfield defense behind Gray? Going from Hamilton and Duvall to Puig and Kemp has got to lead to a few more doubles and singles at GABP (and elsewhere).