Robbie Ray has been better than even his most optimistic supporters could have envisioned. The Diamondbacks left-hander punctuated his breakout season with one of his best performances of the season Wednesday night. He threw a four-hit shutout with no walks and 10 strikeouts against the Pirates.
Walks have been an issue for Ray and he has pitched 16 innings in his last two starts without a walk. Over his last three starts, Ray has pitched 23.2 innings and allowed eight hits, three walks and struck out 25. Those numbers are outstanding, regardless of opponent.
With that in mind, all three starts came on the road in extremely favorable matchups against the Pirates, Brewers and Padres. They are by far his best starts of the seasons and the only times he has pitched seven innings or more.
Many will think Ray has figured things out, but there are still some questions marks. Ray has stark splits when it comes to home and road games. At home in 26.2 innings, Ray has a 6.75 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 10.46 K/9, 5.4 BB/9 and a 2.03 HR/9.
On the road, Ray dominates. In 42.1 innings, he has a 0.64 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 11.27 K/9, 2.76 BB/9 and a 0.21 HR/9. He was better on the road last season, but the disparity isn't what it is this season. He had a 5.36 ERA at home with a 1.20 HR/9 and a 4.50 ERA on the road with a 1.27 HR/9.
The key for Ray is to see what is different this season. We all expected a lot of strikeouts from Ray. That skill was clear. Ray had an 11.25 K/9 last season with an 11.6 percent swinging strike rate. The problems were walks and a lot of hard contact leading to a 1.47 WHIP.
Ray's peripherals are almost similar to last season. He has a 10.96 K/9 and the swinging strike rate has increased to 13.2 percent. Even with the improvement in walks over his last few starts, Ray still has a 3.78 BB/9 compared to 3.67 last season. He had a .352 BABIP last season and it is .256 this season. His career average is .327, so there is some luck this year. The strand rate is high at 79.2 percent compared to 68.7 percent in 2016.
The ground ball rate has decreased 6.7 percent to 39 percent and the HR/9 has decreased from 1.24 HR/9 to 0.91.The biggest change is a 1.10 WHIP, which is helped by a .190 batting average against. He is getting hit harder than last season with a 42.9 percent hard hit rate.
One thing that could help explain the positive changes is the use of a curveball. He only used it 5.3 percent of the time last season. The pitch has been used 20.7 percent of the time in 2017. While there are some encouraging signs here, he needs to show he can pitch well at home. Six of his 11 starts have been on the road.
If I owned Ray, I would shop him to see what I can get. It's possible this breakout continues, but coming off three excellent outings, his value might be at its peak and many teams are in need of starting pitching. He went in the middle rounds of most leagues and was cheap in auctions. He's not someone you have to sell, but always explore the market when someone comes off a stretch that Ray has.