The Mariners were able to lock up one of the biggest fish on the market this offseason with their addition of Robbie Ray. The 2021 Cy Young Award winner has had a long path in the Major Leagues but seemed to piece everything together last season. Can he repeat his dominance for a Mariners team in desperate need of an ace?
The 2021 Mariners came so very close to snapping their playoff drought. One thing that was so clearly missing was a definitive number one starter. While guys like George Kirby and Emerson Hancock have number one ceilings, they are still a little ways away from reaching that potential. Chris Flexen was the Mariners number one starter last season, so with the team in need of a splash, Jerry Dipoto handed out a 5 year 115 million dollar contract to Ray.
Robbie Ray is positioned to be the Mariners Ace in 2022
Ray had a few decent years with the Diamondbacks to start his career, before bursting onto the scene in 2017 with a 2.89 ERA in 162 innings for Arizona. He followed that season up with two good, not great years with an ERA hovering around the 4 mark. One concerning thing was that his walk rate was consistently increasing every year, and it finally exploded in 2020.
Robbie Ray posted a walk rate of 7.84 in the shortened 2020 campaign, and was traded at the deadline to Toronto where his struggles continued. Before the 2021 season, Ray was brought back on a 1 year 8 million dollar ‘Prove it’ deal with Toronto. He exploded once again, refining his delivery and posting a 2.84 ERA in 193 innings, posting 248 strikeouts along the way.
However, Zips projects Ray to fall back to earth a little bit in 2021. They project him to throw 191 innings in 2021, post 3.6 fWar, and an ERA of 3.67. Ray posted a FIP of 3.69 in 2021, so it seems they expect him to regress back towards this number. Zips doesn’t seem to see his overall value decreasing much, however, with his war only dropping from 3.9 to 3.6 for the 2022 campaign.
Ray did struggle with the long ball and giving up hard contact in 2021. He gave up 33 home runs and ranked in the 15th percentile of Average Exit Velo, 17th percentile in Hard-Hit %, and the 16th percentile in Barrel%. When they made contact, it was usually loud and produced plenty of damage.
All of these could be reasons for concern, but there is plenty of reason to be optimistic for improvement. Although Ray has never really avoided hard contact all that well, he has never had T Mobile park as his home. T Mobile remains one of the tougher parks to hit the ball out of, not to mention he will be getting out of a brutal AL East for pitchers. Keeping his walk rate down will be a huge key, to keep traffic off the base paths for the hard contact he typically gives up.
There are many other reasons to believe that Robbie Ray can put up huge numbers in Seattle in 2021. One look at his Baseball Savant page gives a lot of reason to believe a repeat is in the cards. He ranks in the 70th percentile or above in xERA, xWOBA, K%, BB%, Whiff%, Chase Rate, and Fastball Velocity.
In other words, he did not walk anybody in 2021, and he struck out roughly everybody. This is a great recipe for success, and his track record of missing bats speaks for itself. If the walks stay down, he will be a well above average major league pitcher. After all, he does own the highest strikeout rate for any pitcher in his first 1,000 innings, posting 1,241 strikeouts over that period (11.2 K/9).
The Ray addition was fantastic, and exactly what the Mariners needed. The lack of experienced frontline starting pitching was an obvious hole, and the Mariners addressed it with Robbie Ray. I would expect if he can continue to pound the zone, Ray can be in contention for AL Cy Young once again in 2022. Tight pants and all, do not be surprised if this lefty is handed the ball for the first Mariners playoff game in 20 years in 2022.