Sonny Gray and Jaime Garcia Were Both Perfect Targets for the New York Yankees

The Yankees were aggressive buyers prior to the non-waiver trade deadline, and it was clear to see why they went after hurlers like Sonny Gray (pictured) and Jaime Garcia.

Around this time a year ago, we were talking about the New York Yankees in a way we hadn't been in a really long time -- as a rebuilding club. Here we are a year later, though, with them in the midst of a postseason race while making numerous trades to not only help them in 2017, but also beyond.

General manager Brian Cashman did plenty to help bolster his club for the stretch run, like fortifying the bullpen with David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, while also bringing in Todd Frazier to supply some pop at third base. However, the most important moves they made happened in the last couple days to upgrade the starting rotation.

First, they ended the very memorable Jaime Garcia era with the Minnesota Twins by acquiring him on Sunday before they were finally able to reel in Sonny Gray from the Oakland Athletics.

Outside of on-field performance, it's not hard to see how these two fit into New York's plans. Garcia is slated for free agency this winter, but he's proven to be a dependable starter when healthy, and with regard to his salary, the Yankees are only on the hook for a pro-rated portion of the league minimum. As for Gray, he's not only affordable right now, but he's also under team control through the 2019 season.

From a logistical standpoint, this made a lot of sense. When digging into what both of these hurlers do well on the mound, it was a slam dunk.

Ground-Ball Machines

When it comes to producing runs, Yankee Stadium is one of the best in the business -- fourth-best this year, according to ESPN Park Factors. When it comes to producing home runs, no place is better to be than the Bronx, as they top the charts in this category entering action on Monday.

With that in mind, the Yankees went out and acquired two of this year's best available ground-ball pitchers in Garcia and Gray. If both of them qualified (only Garcia does), they'd be right next to one another on this particular leaderboard, and among the top 10.

To show the type of upgrade New York's starting staff is getting in the batted-ball department, here is how the line-drive rate (LD%), ground-ball rate (GB%), fly-ball rate (FB%), and hard-hit rate (Hard%) from Garcia and Gray compare to what the Yankees have done so far this year as a group.

2017 LD% GB% FB% Hard%
New York Yankees 18.0% 48.2% 33.8% 29.7%
Jaime Gacia 18.1% 55.0% 26.9% 28.4%
Sonny Gray 20.7% 56.7% 22.6% 28.4%

Entering action on Monday, the league-average ground-ball rate from starters is 44.3%, meaning the Yankees just took something they were reasonably good at and just got that much better at it.

Being Effective Against Everyone

Another potential overlooked detail from this pair of moves is the fact that New York has acquired both a left-handed and right-handed pitcher. Why is that important? Well, let's revisit that whole "Yankee Stadium is a launching pad" narrative and continue driving it home.

If we use Baseball Prospectus' park factors (which can be sorted by a hitter's handedness), we get another glimpse as to how prone the ballpark in the Bronx is to homers. Not only does it currently own the highest home-run factor among right-handed hitters this season, but they're also second-highest among left-handed hitters.

Obviously, bringing in a couple ground-ball pitchers already helps in attempting to limit that issue, but it also helps that Garcia and Gray are just tough overall against opposing same-sided hitters.

Gray has been tough on everyone this year, but he's limited right-handed hitters to a .292 wOBA in 2017, while Garcia has allowed just a .277 wOBA to lefties so far this season.

In a park that doesn't discriminate in letting hitters go buck-wild at the dish, it's important to have some balance throughout a pitching staff, and the Yankees accomplished just that by bringing these two aboard.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Cashman eventually made it very clear that they were sellers at last year's trade deadline, looking to maximize their return on top arms like Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, which is exactly what he did. In 2017, the long-time general manager once again clearly declared that the Yankees were on one side of this discussion -- they were just buyers this time around.

It seems like he enjoys fully committing to an idea -- one way or the other -- depending on the circumstances. With a half-game lead in the AL East over the Boston Red Sox heading into action Monday night, he obviously feels as though his club is for real. He was able to use the deep farm system he's spent the last year or so building up to improve for both the next couple months, along with the next couple years.

That's how most front offices like to draw it up. It just doesn't always seem to work out as seamlessly as it has for Cashman each of the last two summers.