When Robbie Ray walked Freddie Freeman within the first inning of his begin on Tuesday night, it was the primary time he had walked a batter since April 18, ending a 20.2-inning stretch with out permitting a free cross. That’s fairly an accomplishment for somebody who has all the time been recognized for his elite strikeout skills and a severe lack of management. Ray’s profession stroll price sits at 10.9%, a contact above league common, however over the past 4 years, it’s ballooned to 12.3% and reached a profession worst 17.9% final 12 months. However throughout six begins this season, his stroll price has fallen to 7.2%, simply a profession finest.
As you’d count on with such a drastic change in his management, Ray has began pounding the zone this 12 months.
In 2020, he was tied with Shane Bieber for the bottom Zone% amongst all pitchers with no less than 50 innings pitches at 42.6%. This season, he’s among the many league leaders in Zone%, at 56.7%. In the course of the pitch monitoring period, that’s the most important enhance in Zone% from one season to the subsequent by a large margin.
Largest Yr-to-Yr Zone% Adjustments
Like Bieber, Ray has constantly positioned his breaking pitches outdoors of the zone to induce swings and misses all through his profession. It’s not a foul technique when your stuff is sweet sufficient to generate excessive whiff charges and when you may rely on a excessive chase price. But it surely additionally requires finding your fastball within the zone usually to earn strikes early within the rely or when the batter will get forward. Ray was ready to do this along with his heater earlier in his profession and skated by with common stroll charges. Sadly, batters found out his strategy and commenced sitting on his fastball. So Ray began to nibble increasingly along with his fastball, exacerbating the already poor management he exhibited. Right here’s a have a look at the zone price of every of his pitches in his arsenal throughout his profession in addition to final 12 months, and the way they’ve modified this 12 months.
Robbie Ray, per pitch sort Zone%
Amongst his particular person pitches, Ray’s slider has seen the most important enhance within the price of pitches positioned within the zone. However his fastball follows shut behind with a rise of greater than 13 factors over final 12 months. His heater now has the 14th-highest zone price for any sort of fastball thrown greater than 100 instances this 12 months. By pounding the zone with all of his pitches, it ought to be no shock that his first-pitch strike price has jumped as much as 66.9% this 12 months, a rise of over 14 factors and the Twelfth-highest price amongst certified starters.
What’s helped Ray be aggressive along with his fastball is that he’s throwing it with the toughest velocity of his profession — 95.2 mph on common, almost two ticks quicker than final 12 months. He’s additionally elevated the utilization of that pitch to just about 60%, the best price of his profession. However whereas his stroll price has actually benefited from his new zone-heavy strategy, batters are nonetheless doing loads of harm towards his fastball. His outcomes have been so horrible final 12 months, he couldn’t assist however enhance, however 2021’s numbers are nonetheless fairly dangerous: a .405 wOBA and a .420 xwOBA. The previous sits slightly below league common for a four-seamer, the latter only a hair above; each would signify profession highs when you ignore his disastrous season final 12 months (a .474 wOBA and .446 xwOBA). Opposing batters are swinging and lacking almost 1 / 4 of the time they provide on the pitch, although, and with so many extra fastballs thrown this 12 months, that’s a major enhance in complete whiffs.
And what of all these extra breaking balls which might be discovering the zone? Ray’s slider, specifically, has misplaced a little bit of its effectiveness. The whiff price on that pitch has fallen to a career-low 38.3%, and he’s permitting the best wOBA of his profession off of it. After throwing it round 30% of the time the previous few years, he’s dropped his utilization of it to only 18.4%. Batters are chasing and lacking his slider at related charges to his profession norms, however they’re not lacking it when he locates it within the zone.
That presents a little bit of a conundrum for Ray. His enormously improved stroll price is actually associated to his willingness to find all of his pitches within the zone way more usually this 12 months. However his biggest energy has all the time been convincing batters to chase his breaking balls out of the zone. He’s over-adjusted his strategy after seeing his stroll price balloon in 2020. Nonetheless, fewer base runners has helped him push his ERA to the bottom it’s been since 2017. He’s outpacing his FIP by greater than a run, however that’s principally because of an infinite residence run price. His xFIP and xERA are each fairly good and sit a lot nearer to his ERA.
The added velocity on Ray’s fastball gave him the arrogance to find it within the zone extra usually. However he’s taken that strategy and utilized to his total repertoire, abandoning the technique and strengths that led to his early profession success. It’s solely six begins, and he’s struck out 9 or extra batters in three of his final 4 begins. It’s actually doable he’s nonetheless making changes and can discover a blissful medium between avoiding walks and producing strikeouts. His means to supply high quality innings for the Blue Jays was significantly in query getting into this 12 months. However regardless of the few lingering points along with his new strategy, it seems like merely throwing strikes has labored out for him.