Robbie Ray

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Robert Glenn Ray

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Biographical Information[edit]

Pitcher Robbie Ray made his major league debut in 2014.

He was selected in the 12th round of the 2010 amateur draft by the Washington Nationals. The scout was Paul Faulk, Jr. Ray turned down a scholarship to the University of Arkansas to sign. He only made one appearance in his first pro season, pitching a perfect inning for the Vermont Lake Monsters of the New York-Penn League. In 2011, he was assigned to the Hagerstown Suns of the South Atlantic League and went 2-3, 3.13 in 20 starts, striking out 95 in 89 innings. Opponents hit just .221. He was promoted to the Potomac Nationals of the Carolina League in 2012 but was roughed up, giving up 122 hits and 85 runs in 105 2/3 innings, to end up with a record of 4-12, 6.56. He tied for second in the league in losses and was third in runs allowed. He tied for second in the Nationals chain in defeats, 5 behind Tanner Roark. Baseball America rated him as the Nationals' #18 prospect.

He was back in Potomac to start 2013, but this time did much better. His record stood at 6-3, 3.11 after 16 starts when he was promoted to the AA Harrisburg Senators on July 5th. After having collected a mere 86 strikeouts over a full season with Potomac in 2012, he already had racked up 100 in 84 innings when he was sent to the Eastern League. He continued to amass them there, adding 60 more to finish with 160 in 142 innings. Overall his record was 11-5, 3.36, and he was once again a top prospect. He tied Caleb Clay for second in the Washington chain in wins (behind Blake Schwartz) and led in strikeouts, 5 ahead of runner-up Nate Karns. His 62 walks, though, were third behind Ryan Tatsuko and Daniel Rosenbaum. The Detroit Tigers had noticed his impressive turn-around as well, as they acquired him from the Nats in a trade on December 2nd. Ray and major leaguers Ian Krol and Steve Lombardozzi went to Detroit that day in return for P Doug Fister.

After starting the 2014 season in the minors, Ray was called up to Detroit when Anibal Sanchez went on the disabled list and made his debut as the starter against the Houston Astros on May 6th. He was an 11-4 winner, giving up only one run over 5 1/3 innings. He made 9 appearances, including 6 starts for a 1-4 record and an 8.16 ERA. On December 5th, he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks along with IF Domingo Leyba in return for P Shane Greene, completing a three-team trade that also saw SS Didi Gregorius go from Arizona to the New York Yankees.

Ray had the best start of his major league career thus far for the Diamondbacks on July 7, 2015, when he pitched scoreless ball into the 8th inning to defeat the Texas Rangers, 4-2. He allowed 4 hits and a walk in 7 2/3 innings, giving up a pair of runs in the 8th. He went only 5-12 in 23 starts in spite of a decent 3.52 ERA that year. He showed good stuff with 119 strikeouts in 127 2/3 innings. He then took a step forward in 2016, although it was not given much attention given the D-Backs had a wretched season. In 32 starts, he put up a record of 8-15, but with an ERA of 4.90. The big improvement was in his strikeout rate, as he finished 4th in the National League with 218, in only 174 1/3 innings. He made 32 starts, so the relatively low number of innings was a result of his inability to pitch deep into games, a result of allowing 185 hits and 71 walks, leading to a lot of traffic on the bases when he was on the mound.

Building on the excellent strikeout rate, he continued to improve in 2017. He pitched his first career shutout on May 30th, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates, 3-0, on a four-hitter. He was named to the All-Star team for the first time, although he did not play in the game. On July 28th, he was hit in the head by a batted ball hit by Luke Voit of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2nd inning and had to be carted off the field. The ball caromed high into the air and was caught by 3B Daniel Descalso in foul territory. However, he did not suffer a fracture but was still placed on the concussion list. He was allowed to return to Phoenix, AZ a few days later for further exams, and while there was a decrease in symptoms, he was expected to miss a couple of starts. He returned on August 24th, pitching 5 innings in a 3-2 win over the New York Mets. That was the first of five consecutive winning starts for Robbie, helping to solidify Arizona's hold on the first wild card spot in the National League. He finished the year at 15-5, 2.89 with 218 Ks in 162 innings, which gave him the highest K/9 rate in the NL. He then pitched 2 1/3 innings in relief of Zack Greinke in the Wild Card Game, which Arizona won over the Colorado Rockies. He then started Game 2 of the Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers but was charged with an 8-5 loss as he allowed 4 runs in 4 1/3 innings.

In 2018, he made 24 starts but had only 8 decisions, going 6-2, 3.92. In 123 2/3 innings, he allowed just 97 hits but walked 70, equivalent to more than 5 walks per 9 innings, negating in part his 165 strikeouts. In 2019, his ERA rose to 4.30, but he picked up a lot of wins again, finishing at 12-8 in 33 starts. He set a personal best with 235 strikeouts, in 174 1/3 innings, for a K rate equivalent to his league -leading number in 2017, at 12.1 per 9 innings. He returned to the D-Backs at the start of 2020, but while he kept striking out a ton of batters, he seemed to lose his control as he walked a league-leading 31 batters in his first 31 innings, in addition to 6 wild pitches. His 43 strikeouts were the most he was picking up on a per game basis, but all the walks led to a lot of runs - 27, also the most in the NL. So he was 1-4, 7.84 on August 31st when he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in return for P Travis Bergen. He continued his puzzling season with the Jays, going 1-1, 4.79 in 5 games, with 14 walks and 25 strikeouts in just 20 2/3 innings. He ended up as the major league leader for walks allowed with 45 - and his 31 with the D-Backs even led the National League by themselves - even though his total of 51 2/3 innings pitched was not enough to qualify him for the ERA title! He was the most absolute Three True Outcomes pitcher anyone had ever seen, as of the 251 batters he faced that season, 126 or just over half, managed one of these outcomes (a homer, a walk or a strikeout), the highest percentage ever for any pitcher. Yet, due to his occasional flashes of brilliance, Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo decided to team him up with righty Matt Shoemaker, whose pitching style was about as different from Ray's as could be found, to face the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series on September 29th. In a way, the strategy worked brilliantly as the two pitchers combined to limit the Rays to just 3 hits in 6 innings. Unfortunately, the one hit that Ray allowed in his three innings of work was a triple by the first batter he faced, Randy Arozarena, who was starting the postseason heroics that would make him a household name by the end of the World Series, and he came in to score on a wild pitch. That proved to be the winning run in a 3-1 Rays win, and Ray was charged with the loss.

In 2021, no one was quite sure what to expect from Ray, given his recent inconsistency. After losing ten days to a minor leg injury coming out of spring training, he started off the year giving up 9 walks in 10 innings over his first two starts, which made red lights flash all over, but he also only gave up only two runs. And then he suddenly not only found his control, but became one of the best pitchers in the majors at not walking batters: he gave up a grand total of one walk over his next six starts, while striking 49. He was still giving up a few too many runs and a few too many homers (he allowed 2 or more homers in 4 of his 5 May starts), but almost all of these were solo shots as he was no longer walking anyone and his overall hit rate remained quite low. At the end of May, his record stood at 2-2, 3.81, and the jury was still out about whether he would be a useful member of the starting rotation. His performance in June gave a clear answer: he went 4-1, 2.86 with 53 strikeouts and just 9 walks in 34 2/3 innings. He was now limiting his gopher balls to one per start and was pitching six or more innings almost every start. Suddenly the Jays had an ace on their hands, and it only got better in July. He lost his first start of the month in spite of allowing just 2 runs in 7 innings, but then kept the Rays hitless through 6 innings in the final game before the All-Star break on July 11th, ending up with 1 hit and 1 walk allowed in 7 innings while striking out 11. He repeated this in the first game after the break, on July 16th, when he held the Texas Rangers to 4 hits and no runs in 6 2/3 innings to pick up another win. His record now stood at 8-4, and he had lowered his ERA to 2.93, while his 138 strikeouts were the second most in the American League. If anything, he got oven better in August: on August 20th, he became the first Jays pitcher in two years to pitch 8 full innings, striking out 11 and walking none in a start against the Tigers, and he followed that up on August 25th with a 14-strikeout performance in 7 innings against the Chicago White Sox. Yet for all that brilliance - 6 runs allowed in 5 starts and an ERA of 1.59 -, he did not have a single decision in the month, as the suddenly inept Blue Jays batters had decided to simply watch him wreak his path of destruction on opponents without contributing any run support of their own. He finally recorded his first win of the month after another brilliant performance against the Baltimore Orioles on August 30th; in that game, he passed the 1,000 inning mark for his career and his 1,241 strikeouts at that point were the most in baseball history, ahead of Yu Darvish; he also immediately took over the lead for most K/9 IP, with 11.2, as 1,000 innings is considered the minimum number to be considered on the leaderboard. In spite of that lone win in August, he was named the American League Pitcher of the Month thanks to his 1.76 ERA in 41 innings along with 52 strikeouts. With his next start on September 5th, he became the first pitcher in Jays history with four consecutive starts of 10 or more strikeouts. He finished the season at 13-7, 2.84 in 32 starts, leading the league in innings pitched (193 1/3), ERA and strikeouts (248). After the season, he was voted the winner of the 2021 American League Cy Young Award.

Ray could not have chosen a better time to have a breakout season, as he became a free agent again shortly after his Cy Young Award win. The team that won the bidding for his services was the Seattle Mariners, who offered him $115 million over five years in the hope that the turnaround seen with the Blue Jays was real and not a one-year blip. He started the season a bit slowly, as after a loss on June 1st, his record stood at 4-6, 4.93. However, he did a lot better in his next three outings, with two wins and a no-decision after pitching 7 scoreless innings in the other. In the third of these, on June 17th against the Los Angeles Angels, he did not allow a hit until he failed to field a comebacker by Max Stassi with two outs in the 7th and the play was ruled a hit. He left after allowing 2 hits to start the 8th, finishing with 1 run allowed on 3 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 10, receiving credit for an 8-1 win. On September 25th, he was involved in a bizarre incident before a game against the Kansas City Royals as he got into an epic staredown context with former D-backs teammate Luke Weaver, now with the Royals. The two refused to leave their position outside their respective dugouts when the performance of the National Anthem ended, and continued staring at one another while Royals starting pitcher Max Castillo started his warm-up tosses. When home plate umpire Adrian Johnson tried to wave them off, they still would not budge, and wanting to get the game going, Johnson just ejected both of them. Weaver actually blinked first, and his ejection was more costly as Ray, being a starting pitcher, was never going to pitch in the game anyway, which was not Weaver's case. In any case, the game turned out to be an epic one, with Kansas City erasing a nine-run deficit to win, 13-12. For Ray, it was just a blip, as he was one win away from his win total from the previous season and the M's were on the brink of clinching a postseason slot for the first time in over two decades. He finished the year at 12-12, 3.71 with 189 innings and 212 strikeouts. Things went south in the postseason, however. He started Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against his former team, the Blue Jays, at the Rogers Centre but he was rocked for 4 runs in 3 innings, incuding a pair of homers by Teoscar Hernandez. The Mariners bailed him out by staging an epic comeback, however. He then made a fateful appearance in Game 1 of the Division Series against the Houston Astros on October 11th - but as a relief pitcher. Manager Scott Servais sent him in with two outs in the 9th, two on and two out to face lefty Yordan Alvarez with Seattle hanging on to a 7-5 lead; on his second pitch, Alvarez absolutely crushed a pitch deep into the right field stands to give Houston a walk-off 8-7 victory that set the tone for the series. He was only used again after that when the Mariners had used all of their available pitchers in Game 3, the game having gone scoreless in to the 18th inning. Ray recorded the final two outs after Penn Murfee, who was obviously out of gas, had given up the go-ahead run in the top of the 18th.

Ray made only one start in 2023, losing 9-4 to the Cleveland Guardians on March 31st before going on the injured list. It turned out that he needed Tommy John surgery, which he underwent in May, and he did not pitch again that season. On January 5, 2024, he was involved in a trade of three free agent disappointments: he was sent to the San Francisco Giants in return for P Anthony DeSclafani, who had also been injured and failed to contribute much after signing a multi-year following a big season in 2021, and OF Mitch Haniger, who had been injured and unable to perform at his usual level in the first season of a three-year deal. Obviously, both teams were hoping that a change of scenery would help these former stars regain their old form.

Sources include 2013 Nationals Media Guide

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • NL All-Star (2017)
  • AL Cy Young Award (2021)
  • AL ERA Leader (2021)
  • AL Innings Pitched Leader (2021)
  • AL Strikeouts Leader (2021)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 1 (2017)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 5 (2016, 2017, 2019, 2021 & 2022)

AL Cy Young Award
2020 2021 2022
Shane Bieber Robbie Ray Justin Verlander

Further Reading[edit]

  • Anthony Castrovince: "Reinvention key as Ray, Burnes win Cy Young",, November 17, 2021. [1]
  • Jason Catania: "What if AL Cy Young is (gasp!) Robbie Ray? The Blue Jays lefty picked the perfect time for a career campaign",, September 15, 2021. [2]
  • Maria Guardado: "Giants acquire Robbie Ray; Haniger, DeSclafani to Seattle",, January 5, 2024. [3]
  • Matt Kelly: "The lowdown on FA lefty Robbie Ray",, November 21, 2021. [4]
  • Daniel Kramer: "Mariners, Ray agree on 5-year deal (sources)",, November 29, 2021. [5]
  • Anne Rogers: "Anthem standoff goes awry as Weaver, Ray get tossed",, September 25, 2022. [6]

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