You Must Trade For Robbie Ray Immediately
I am spending my offseason trying to buy Robbie Ray in as many leagues as I can. He is the most intriguing starting pitcher in baseball heading into the 2017 season in my opinion. I know he had an 8-15 record last year with a 4.90 ERA. He also has a 14-31 career record and 4.65 career ERA in 330 innings. Despite his poor track record I think he is a tremendous trade target in dynasty leagues right now. Let’s find out why…
Here’s why he sucked in 2016:
There were 73 starting pitchers who pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title this season. We can see that only four of them put up a worse ERA than Robbie Ray did. We can lay much of the blame for his poor run prevention performance on the other four columns in this graph.
Ray’s .352 BABIP was the worst in the majors and 54 points higher than the league average. Pretty much everyone nowadays has come to accept that a pitcher’s BABIP is outside of his control — maybe not completely but nearly so. His .311 BABIP last year was much better if still a bit high. Keep in mind that Ray’s Diamondback teammates were subpar defensively all around the diamond. Assuming Arizona’s new front office upgrades the quality of the team defense, combined with the likely BABIP regression Ray should have much better fortune next year when it comes to balls falling into the gaps.
Ray was also very unlucky in terms of his left-on-base percentage, which was one of the lowest in the majors as well. The reasons for this are pretty much exactly the same as his BABIP — bad luck and a poor team defense backing him up. Like BABIP we should expect this to improve next year as his luck evens out.
Ray’s home run per fly ball rate more than doubled from 7.3% last year to 15.5% this year. This is another stat that pitchers have very little if any direct control over. Over the course of their careers pitchers end up with a HR/FB rate that closely reflects the league averages for the era they played in. This is true no matter how good or bad their overall performance may be. HR/FB rate is affected by the ballpark they pitch in, and Ray plays half his games in a hitter-friendly ballpark that boosts home runs. Moving forward we should expect Ray’s HR/FB rate to be slightly higher than the league average but quite a bit lower than it was this year.
Ray’s Hard Hit % is concerning because this is a metric that pitchers do have some control over. We might look at his very poor Hard Hit% and believe that explains his high HR/FB rate. But not so fast. His Hard Hit % in 2015 was 35.0%, only 1.6% lower than it was this year but in 2015 his HR/FB rate was less than half what it was this year. As we will see below, Ray has an elite strikeout rate. It is unusual for a pitcher to have both a very high strikeout rate and a very high Hard Hit%. Something has to give here as the sample size grows over the next couple seasons. This is why Ray is such an intriguing pitcher.
Here’s why he didn’t suck in 2016:
Here we can see where he ranked in all the best performance metrics. The only one that matters on the field in real baseball (and fantasy baseball) is ERA. But there are a lot of things that go into a pitcher’s ERA. It is not entirely based purely on his performance and skill. ERA is heavily affected by factors such as team defense, ballpark, league, era, and good old fashioned luck. It turns out that a pitcher’s ERA one season does not accurately predict his ERA the next season. All of the other columns in the table above are better at predicting the future than ERA is. This means that Ray’s ERA next year in 2017 is likely to end up closer to his xFIP, SIERA and DRA than to his 2016 ERA. This is good news for Ray because all of those were light years better than his ERA was.
These metrics are based mostly on his strikeout rate and walk rate, with home run rate and batted ball profile factoring in at lesser levels. When you boil Ray’s 2016 performance down to the things he truly controls it turns out he was flippin’ fantastic. His advanced metrics place him right up there with the best pitchers in baseball straight across the board except for his walk rate, which is high but not critically so.
How’s this for company?
Ray’s strikeout rate was not just elite it was historically great. Like Hall of Fame caliber great. In fact it was the 21st highest K/9 over a full season that any pitcher has ever achieved. And he did it at the age of just 24 years old.
Talk about some household names there. When an unheralded pitcher has a season where he places alongside those guys in a key category like K/9 we have to pay very close attention. Only 10 other pitchers have ever done what Ray did this season. Almost all of them are in the Hall of Fame or else would be if their careers hadn’t been cut short by injury. I am not saying Ray is likely to become one of the all-time great pitchers this game has ever seen, but don’t you think it is worth picking up a 25 year old on the cheap just for the chance he could even sniff that rarefied air some day? This chart shows Ray has super-elite strikeout stuff and gives us an idea of his potential, even if that potential might be remote. If he can reduce his walk rate and home run rate over the next few years he could be an absolute steal at today’s price.
Look at the ERA column in this chart. All of the other pitchers had ERAs that blew Ray’s out of the water. Let’s assume Ray’s BABIP and LOB% revert to league average as is likely. Let’s assume Ray’s HR/FB rate goes back to his career average. All this happens while his strikeout rate stays near the 11.25 K/9 he delivered this year. That is not a far-fetched scenario. That could really happen over the next couple years. He is still young, not quite a rookie but younger than the age when guys like Jacob deGrom, Dallas Keuchel, Corey Kluber, Cliff Lee and many others had their breakout seasons.
How much will it cost to get him?
Robbie Ray finished this season ranked as the 107th most valuable starting pitcher and 370th overall among all players according to ESPN’s Player Rater. Assuming he is valued by fantasy owners along similar lines he represents a tremendous bargain on the trade market right now. He will also be a great sleeper pick in the mid-to-late rounds in fantasy drafts this coming Spring. I would much rather have Ray than many dozens of starting pitchers ranked higher than him on the player rater.
I will be spending all winter trying to gobble him up everywhere I can. The price to get him right now is not very high at all. Yeah maybe he won’t ever be a great fantasy pitcher but he is so cheap right now I will gladly take a chance on the kind of potential he showed us this year. I believe Ray is a better long-term investment than any of the elite pitching prospects right now and his price is likely to be much lower.
If you manage to acquire him be sure to let us know what price you paid! Comment below…
Nick Doran also writes for Rotoworld and Redleg Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @BlazingFastba11
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Great write up. Thanks for the fantasy tip!
I picked him up, i think after a previous article on here, for chad kuhl (a free agent pickup) and tyler Duffey back in August sometime.
I liked duffey but i wanted the upside.
Keep the happy Ray articles coming!
I love that deal for you Simon. Well done!
I traded for Ray in a dynasty league before reading this, and you made me feel better about the trade. I traded for him in part because of his Zips forecast, in addition to the insane K/9 he put up in 2016. I was kicking myself a little for what I gave up, but I think I traded an overvalued player for an undervalued one – and time will tell whether I made a good trade or not. I traded Trevor Story for Ray and Billy Hamilton. I like Story and kept him last season to see if his minor league numbers held up if/when he filled in for Jose Reyes during his likely suspension – and, obviously, they did. But as much as I liked Story going into last season, I was one of very few who liked him and I didn’t think he’d do nearly as well as his 2016 numbers… so I went from one of the few who was high on him to one of the few who is now low on him, relative to expectations.
also… the Zips forecast has his closest comp as Cliff Lee. Did you see that before writing this? I thought it was interesting that you mentioned Cliff Lee as a late bloomer and potential upside comp for Ray, since Zips had him as Ray’s #1 comp (although it becomes less “interesting” if you knew about the Zips comp!).