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2017 Arizona Diamondbacks Review #3, Robbie Ray

Is Robbie Ray Arizona’s future ace-in-waiting?

MLB: NL Wildcard-Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
  • Date of Birth: October 1, 1991
  • 2017 Line: 15-5, 3.72 ERA, 162.0 IP, 218 K, 1.154 WHIP
  • 2017 Value: 5.0 bWAR, 3.2 fWAR
  • 2017 Salary: Minimum, will go through first year of arbitration this winter
  • 2017 Snakepit Rating: 9.28

2017 Analysis

It’s fairly safe to say that Robbie Ray took a significant step forward in his career development in 2017. Ray picked up right where he left off in 2016, using his explosive fastball up in the zone to pile up strikeouts left and right. Ray tied his career high in strikeouts with 218, establishing a strikeout rate of 12.111, good for best in the National League, and second only to Boston’s ace, Chris Sale, for the highest rate in all of baseball. Ray’s 5.0 bWAR was the fifth highest in the NL, right behind teammate Zack Greinke and ahead of the DodgersClayton Kershaw.

On May 30th, early in the season, when the Diamondbacks were still establishing themselves as a contender, Ray pitched a complete game shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the only such performance of the season by Diamondbacks pitching in 2017. In that game he struck out 10 Pirates and didn’t walk anyone. As boxscore impressive as that game was, it wasn’t Ray’s only statement game of the season.

September 4th, 2017 is always going to be remembered as the night that J.D. Martinez took the Los Angeles Dodgers deep, four times, at night, in Chavez Ravine. If not for Martinez’s historic night, there would still have been plenty to celebrate for Arizona fans, as Ray was equally dominant on the mound. For his part, Ray threw 7.2 innings, striking out 14 Dodgers while walking none and giving up only three hits. His mastery of Dodgers’ hitters, both in that game and over the course of the season was just as impressive, if not more so, than Martinez’s mastery of their pitchers.

It’s no secret that Ray’s fastball is electric. It comes in at batters from the left side at 97 mph, something that just isn’t normal, not even in MLB. But it is the further development of his slider and refinement of his control that really elevated Ray in 2017.

2018 Prospects

As they did in 2016, Ray’s outings sometimes suffered from high pitch counts early in the game. This is a natural extension of him being a strikeout pitcher. He did manage to shave off a bit on the number of pitches he threw per batter faced, but he still had periods where he struggled putting away hitters before they spoiled a number of decent pitches. Notably, Ray’s dominant outings are the ones where he spotted his secondary pitches where he wanted them, and was able to feed off of batter impatience. The good news for the Diamondbacks is that those outings became more numerous in 2017. Another step in that direction in 2018 would set Ray up to be one of Major League’s elite pitchers, fulfilling the dreamt-on potential that first Washington, then Detroit, and Arizona saw locked away in that tall, left-handed frame.

Entering the arbitration process for the first time this winter, Ray is a lock to be an integral part of Arizona’s rotation again in 2018. In fact, another season in 2018 like he had in 2017 could have the Diamondbacks exploring the potential of a long-term contract to lock up their left-handed star.

Ray made a case in 2017 that he is a true top-of-the-rotation pitcher, an ace in the making. By following that up with a solid 2018 campaign Robbie Ray could be one of the major architects of the Diamondbacks’ future plans.