Robbie Ray Is on the Verge of Becoming an Ace

Ray has been dealing straight flames lately, and his strikeout numbers put him among the game's premier hurlers.

Blind comparisons are always fun.

So let's do one.

Player Innings SIERA K% BB% Swinging-Strike Rate
Player A 127 2/3 4.05 21.8% 9.0% 9.0%
Player B 128 3.49 27.5% 8.3% 11.0%

Player A is Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Robbie Ray, a guy who is putting up pretty solid numbers despite a walk rate that's a tad inflated.

Player B is also Robbie Ray, just the 2016 version.

As we can see, in 2015 (Player A) Ray had a pretty solid debut season in his first "full" year in the bigs. What he's doing in 2016, though, puts him up there with the big boys.

How good has the Diamondbacks' lefty been, and what's spearheading his success? Let's take a peek under the hood.

Keeping Good Company

Any way you slice it, Ray has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season.

Justin Verlander, Chris Archer, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Chris Sale and Jake Arrieta -- all filthy, all masters of the whiff and all with a lower strikeout rate than Ray, whose dazzling 27.5% strikeout rate ranks ninth among all starters. The only guys ahead of him, for the most part, are a who's who of pitching greats.

Pitcher Strikeout Rate
Jose Fernandez 35.7 %
Clayton Kershaw 32.9 %
Max Scherzer 32.8 %
Stephen Strasburg 30.9 %
Noah Syndergaard 30.0 %
Danny Duffy 28.8 %
Madison Bumgarner 27.7 %
Michael Pineda 27.5 %
Robbie Ray 27.5 %
Chris Archer 27.3 %

Ray just went bananas in July, racking up an insane 33.9% strikeout rate last month. In terms of SIERA, Ray's 3.49 mark ranks 11th.

His dominance is flying under the radar because traditional stats stink.

Ray's 4.57 ERA comically undervalues how well he is pitching. In fact, it's more than a full run over his 3.52 ERA from 2015, and we already know how much better Player B is than Player A.

As you probably guessed, lady luck has been no friend of his this season. Ray's .354 BABIP and 15.2% home-run-to-fly-ball ratio are both career-high clips. He's getting stung with that bad luck despite upping his ground-ball rate to a career-best 45.8% while inducing hitters into a career-high 15.2% soft-hit rate.

How's He Doing It

This isn't completely unexpected. Well, let me reverse course. Being this good, yeah, that's unexpected, but Ray was supposed to be a solid Major Leaguer.

At one time, he was a well-regarded prospect. With that said, he's also the same dude who posted a pretty weak 17.2% strikeout rate in 100 1/3 innings in Triple-A in 2014 and has been dealt twice -- once apiece by the Detroit Tigers and Washington Nationals -- in deals where Doug Fister and Shane Greene were the headline players.

What Ray's done is start throwing his fastball harder and getting more movement on his slider. His average fastball velocity of 95.1 miles per hour is the third-hardest heater among all left-handed starters, per Baseball Prospectus.

Thanks to the graphs and data at Brooks Baseball, we can see how Ray started the year with a fastball similar to what he was throwing in 2015. As the season has progressed, he's taken things to a new level and gained a few ticks on the radar gun.

He's coupled that gas with a disgusting slider, one that's got a good bit more vertical movement than what he used to generate.

It's the slider that's really helped him morph into a top-notch pitcher. Back in 2014, batters made contact on 85.7% of the time they swung as his slider, and the pitch produced just a 9.3% swinging-strike rate. This year, batters are making contact with it just 59.9% of the time while it's generating a monster 19.2% swinging-strike rate.

The slide piece ranks in 8th in swings and misses (44.17%) and 10th in ground-ball rate (56%). Not letting hitters put the ball in play and then keeping it on the ground when it is hit -- that's what we call good.

All these numbers are graphs are sweet, but here's some easier-to-digest Ray dopeness to chew on.

He straight up punked the New York Mets last night. Some of those guys just look silly, while Bartolo Colon fell asleep or something during his first at-bat. In all, Ray allowed three hits over seven scoreless innings, punching out three with no walks. He threw 67 of his 98 pitches for strikes.

Can It Last

While his fastball and slider are among the best pitches in the game, that's really all Ray has right now. His changeup grades out, per FanGraphs, as the worst change in the game.

Still, Ray's numbers are pretty darn great with just two plus pitches. If he could ever find a way to just have a changeup that wasn't terrible -- like, you know, not the worst one in baseball -- it could really cement his status as an elite hurler. Considering this is his age-25 season, he may be able to develop a third weapon down the road.

Ideally, Ray's walk rate (8.3%) would be a touch lower, but he compensates with the strikeout rate and ground-ball rate. His 11.0% swinging-strike rate checks in 19th and may signify that there's a little regression coming with his strikeout rate but nothing too significant.

What we have here is a guy who has become one of the best pitchers in baseball, and he's a serviceable changeup away from flirting with ranks of the truly elite.