Robbie Ray didn't pitch like the Cy Young Award winner he was in 2021, but he still was good enough to warrant a spot on your fantasy team last year. The Seattle Mariners pitcher was under fire for underperforming in key situations but the overall stats weren't disastrous.
Will he be able to bounce back and does he deserve a spot in your fantasy baseball rotation? Or, will he turn into the next Patrick Corbin?
What fantasy baseball managers should expect from Robbie Ray
When a pitcher wins the Cy Young Award and gets paid like one, obviously the bar is going to be set high. The first thing people often look at is the ERA, and there was a stark difference between 2021 and 2021: 2.84 ERA and a 3.71 ERA.
However, his other metrics didn't differ a whole lot (via FanGraphs):
You can draw up two different conclusions based on these numbers: 1) Ray was lucky in 2021, or 2) Ray was unlucky in 2022. The reason why I say this is because his xERA was significant in 2021 and was about the same in 2022. xERA calculates the expected ERA, making me think Robbie Ray was a bit lucky to finish with a 2.84 ERA.
With that in mind, other metrics were almost unchanged across the board. His strikeout rate was still high, his walk rate slightly increased, and barrel rate actually improved.
So, maybe the bar was set too high from the beginning for Robbie Ray?
However, keep in mind that Robbie Ray has been working on a new pitch this offseason and it appears to be a splitter. In my opinion, the splitter can be a tough pitch to master and requires a lot of finger flexibility. If Ray can master it before the season starts, we could be looking at a much more dangerous strikeout threat.
Draft strategy for Robbie Ray
Even if you're a fan of Robbie Ray, I recommend proceeding with caution. He is a volatile player in fantasy leagues because his ERA is unpredictable. The same could be said for any starting pitcher but this especially applies to Robbie Ray.
The one thing Robbie Ray does have going is strikeouts. You can always rely on him to deliver you an above-average number of strikeouts even if his ERA and WHIP might not be as reliable. Since 2016, he's averaged at least 10 K/9.
As far as where he ranks among other starting pitcher options, FantasyPros has him ranked 26th. ESPN has him ranked 19th in points leagues. I don't exactly agree with these rankings just because of his 2022 numbers. Can he produce a sub-3.00 ERA as he did in 2021? I can't confidently say yes, even though I think he's a good pitcher.
On the FantasyPros rankings, Tyler Glasnow is ranked 27th, Nestor Cortes Jr. is ranked 29th, and Clayton Kershaw is ranked 36th. On ESPN, the Mariners left-hander is ranked ahead of Yu Darvish, Spencer Strider, Max Fried, Joe Musgrove, and Zac Gallen. I'd take everyone named here before Robbie Ray in a heartbeat.
But I will reiterate, I am taking a cautious approach in how I rank Ray. I just think he's a roll of the dice this season. If he's able to put together a 3.25 ERA season, I'd be much more inclined to draft him where he's currently ranked in 2024.
If you feel the need to take a chance on Robbie Ray, by all means, go for it. He very well could put a 2021 season together but I just don't see it happening. For me, I'd rank him in the late 30s or early 40s. I would prefer drafting George Kirby and Logan Gilbert even before Robbie Ray because he is such an unknown.
Other things to note on Robbie Ray
At the end of the day, Robbie Ray won't be a bust of a pick. I just think there are better pitchers ranked in the area where he is ranked. If Ray is able to pitch like the Cy Young Award winner he was, that'd be a massive pickup.
I would keep an extremely close eye on Ray's splitter usage during Spring Training. If he uses it once or twice, that tells me that he isn't confident in it and won't be utilizing it. If he throws it quite frequently and effectively, it will heavily change my outlook on Ray going into the 2023 season. It might further increase his strikeouts and lead to softer contact.
But if Ray doens't meet expectations again with the Seattle Mariners, he'd still be a fine pitcher on your team. He will give you a healthy number of strikeouts, innings, and wins.