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STATS’ TVL Data Shows Sonny Gray in a Brewers Jersey Could Spell Trouble for Cubs

By: Andy Cooper

Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane doesn’t need any “Moneyball” tactics to attract trade offers for Sonny Gray. The mere mention of a promising 27-year-old starting pitcher under team control for two more seasons being available near the trade deadline will make Beane’s phone buzz almost continuously.

According to STATS’ TVL data, the Milwaukee Brewers should be offering an unbeatable package to swing a deal with Oakland as they seek to dethrone the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs in the NL Central.

TVL tracks pitch type (T), velocity (V) and location (L) for each MLB pitcher and records the data into categories such as usage percentage of a specific pitch, the average velocity of each pitch type and the percentage a batter hits the ball on the ground against that pitch. The data is broken down further to show opponents’ batting average, slugging percentage, swing percentage and swing-and-miss percentage each time a specific pitch is thrown.

A pitcher’s TVL then can be pitted against a hitter’s success when facing specific pitches to project how the hitter would fare versus a particular pitcher. The below graphic breaks down Gray’s TVL this season prior to his start against Tampa Bay on Wednesday, when he allowed two runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 7-2 victory.

A few things stand out. Gray uses his four-seam fastball more than any other pitch, but fellow right-handers are hitting .313 against it. Overall, Gray’s curveball hasn’t been very effective. Hitters are laying off it more than 60 percent of the time, and when they put the ball in play, they’re hitting .357 – the best average against any of the six pitches Gray has used at some point this season.

Gray’s slider and changeup have been his most effective pitches. Lefties especially are struggling to hit both, batting .087 while swinging and missing 44.44 percent of the time against the slider and batting just .152 versus the change.

Gray’s success against lefties when using those pitches is part of the reason STATS’ TVL data projects Cubs’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo to struggle mightily against Gray should the Oakland ace be dealt to Milwaukee. And reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant, despite being right-handed, doesn’t project to fare too well either.

Rizzo projects to hit a measly .026 against Gray’s changeup and .139 against his slider. Rizzo’s projected whiff rate of 38.4 percent on Gray’s slider is the highest projection against any of Gray’s pitches. Bryant also likely would see plenty of breaking pitches from Gray given his projected low averages against Gray’s change, curve and slider. There’s little reason for Gray to throw any fastballs to Rizzo or Bryant if he’s able to locate his other pitches during the at-bat.

Rizzo’s and Bryant’s projected numbers against Gray help lower the predicted average of the entire Cubs’ lineup against Gray to the worst projected average of any potential NL Central opponent should Gray land in Milwaukee. In fact, no other team in the majors is projected to have a worse average than .205 against Gray.

Also significant: Gray’s 10.23 strikeouts per nine innings against the Cubs is the second-highest projected total against any team in baseball.

The Brewers led the Cubs by only 1 ½ games heading into Thursday’s action and have 10 matchups left with the North Siders, their most remaining against any division foe. STATS’ TVL data favors Gray succeeding against the Cubs, meaning Milwaukee should move quickly and to acquire Gray and get him on the mound when the Cubs visit Miller Park from July 28-30. The Brewers also can work the rotation so Gray gets a start in Chicago during a series from Sept. 8-10 and during a potentially crucial four-game set from Sept. 21-24 in Milwaukee.

It’s not to say other rumored suitors for Gray – such as the Houston Astros, New York Yankees or Cleveland Indians – wouldn’t benefit from having Gray in their rotation. But considering STATS’ TVL data projections and Milwaukee’s tight division race with the Cubs, the Brewers likely would gain the most from a deal with Oakland.