Robbie Ray: A Fall from Grace?
A look at Robbie Ray’s decline from budding ace to uncertainty. What lies ahead for him, and is it with Arizona?
In October of 2017, many Diamondbacks fans felt defeated after being swept in the National League Division Series by the rival Los Angeles Dodgers. After all, it felt like an anticlimactic end to one of the best seasons in franchise history. One that included the first four homerun game in team history (a la J.D. Martinez), an exciting Wild Card Game, and arguably the best starting rotation to ever wear Sedona Red. That season, Diamondbacks’ pitching had a 3.66 ERA — which was good for second in the National League. Spearheading that rotation was some guy named Zack Greinke, followed by the hard-throwing southpaw Robbie Ray.
The Diamondbacks have something special in Ray, and they know that. The league saw his peak performance during that 2017 campaign, in which he went 15–5 with a 2.89 ERA. Oh, and he had 218 K’s — matching his 2016 total. What are the odds? After his first and only to-date complete game shutout against Pittsburgh on May 30th of that year, I got to wondering if the Snakes had a budding ace for the forseeable future. Braden Shipley and Anthony Banda still had promise, but Ray was already doing it at the top level. There were flashes of dominance in 2016, and it had seemed like Ray got it all figured out by 2017. Ray and Greinke’s dominance made them one of the best one-two combinations in all of baseball, and joining Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling as one of the Diamondbacks’ notable one-two punches throughout team history (alongside Brandon Webb/Dan Haren). 2018 was looking promising.
Of course, time has a sense of humor. 2018 saw Ray decline a little, with a 6–2 record and a respectable 3.93 ERA. The amount of walks issued by him remained identical with 70 in 2018, while he posted 71 in both ’16 and ’17. Again, what are the odds? Although he was out of action for a bit due to an oblique strain, Ray was still a front of the rotation starter (alongside Patrick Corbin due to his stellar year, and that Zack Greinke guy yet again). His control, however, was becoming questionable.
2019 seemed like a candidate for it to be a bounceback year for Ray, but was also surrounded in uncertainty in regards to the direction of the team. The Diamondbacks had traded franchise icon Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis for another high-upside starter in Luke Weaver, and a potential franchise catcher in Carson Kelly. Questions began to arise as to whether the team was rebuilding or just taking a different approach. GM Mike Hazen had done an extraordinary job rebuilding the farm system without tearing down the team, in which he has actually continued to put a competitive ballclub on the field. Would Peralta be traded too? What about Greinke? Bradley? Ray was no exception, as his name was tossed around near the trade deadline, as well as after the season. He became the new “ace” after Greinke was dealt to Houston for four high-potential prospects. However, that title would go to the newly-acquired Zac Gallen after putting up a 2.81 ERA between Arizona and Miami. Even Weaver shined, with a 2.94 ERA through 12 appearances after his season was cut short due to a UCL injury (and thankfully no Tommy John Surgery was needed). Ray was on the other end of the spectrum, with a 4.34 ERA and a higher walk total of 84. His strikouts were still high, but everything was trending in the wrong direction. What was happening? His control was still erratic.
Then comes 2020, the year to forget. The year where a global pandemic put the sports world on pause while shaking up the real world. Major League Baseball shortened the season to 60 games, and Robbie Ray was still in a Diamondbacks uniform (but now made by Nike). All the off-season trade rumors were just that, rumors. Rival front offices were expecting him to be dealt, and fans were expecting to see him in Yankee pinstripes by the time Opening Day came around. Ray entered 2020 with a slimmed down figure, a tuned-up delivery, and grown out curly hair (which seems to be a team-wide trend, just ask Merrill Kelly or Andrew Chafin). With this being Ray’s final year before departing in free agency, it would be a good time to find his old form. As of yet, it has not happened. Ray is currently 1–2 with a 10.56 ERA through 4 starts. His habit of not going deep into games continues to plague him, only reaching 5 innings once (on August 5th against Houston). The strikouts are still there however, in which he has racked up 23 in 17 innings of work. It begs the larger question at hand — what happened?
Many envisioned Ray being a critical part of the Diamondbacks’ future after his dominant showing in 2017. A contract extension could have even been a possibility at some point. Now, I would be surprised there is even a qualifying offer made after the season concludes. The Diamondbacks have plenty of upside within their ranks, from the recently drafted Bryce Jarvis to the second-year standout Zac Gallen. Is Robbie Ray still a part of the team’s future, or will they let him walk? With the signing of Madison Bumgarner, and the young hurlers working to becoming regulars on the roster, I think that the answer is certain. Did something go wrong at some point that led to Ray’s decline? Will we ever know? Regardless, I do not believe his 2017 season was a fluke. There is still something there, and he is still young enough to bring it out even at 28 years old. Will it be with the Diamondbacks? I do not believe so. Ray will likely sign elsewhere in free agency, but there is room to argue as to whether or not he could still be a starter or be converted into a flamethrowing reliever. However, as many know, time does have a sense of humor — and only time itself will tell what lies ahead for Ray. Whatever happens, this Diamondbacks fan wishes him the best.