Robbie Ray: A Diamondback Discusses His Arsenal

Robbie Ray has a 7-11 win-loss record and a 4.31 ERA. Neither is impressive. Some of his other numbers are. The Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander has a 3.53 FIP and his walks and strikeouts per nine innings are 3.2 and 11.2, respectively. His velocity is also notable. Ray’s heater is averaging 93.9 mph and topping out at 97. Six weeks short of his 25th birthday, he’s never thrown harder.

There have been a few situational issues. Third time through the order has been the biggest problem — resulting in a .331/.373/.598 slash line — and he’s had trouble closing out innings. With two outs, opposing batters are hitting .286/.347/.432 against him. As August Fagerstrom wrote earlier in the month, despite his plus stuff, Ray is “something of an enigma.”

In his last start he was masterful. On Sunday, in San Diego, Ray allowed one hit — a home run by Patrick Kivlehan — and fanned 13 over seven innings of work. A week earlier, he sat down to discuss his repertoire and the reasons behind his not-without-flaws breakout.


Ray on his mechanics and velocity gain: “The velo on my fastball is up this year. I think a lot of that is just me understanding my body better and fine-tuning my mechanics to get maximum efficiency out of my body. It hasn’t been anything big. I did make a minor change with my initial step. I step back now, kind of at a 45-degree angle, whereas before I stepped a little horizontally.

“I started doing that this past offseason. It just felt more comfortable to me. Basically, I let my body tell me what felt right. I’d gotten together with [pitching coach] Mike Butcher over the offseason and he suggested I step back instead of sideways. It gradually went from this to this, to more of a 45-degree angle.

“I don’t really know how much that has affected my velocity, but I do know my fastball command is the best it’s been. It definitely helped with that. Being able to repeat mechanics — something as simple as that — makes a real difference.

“I’m predominantly four-seam with my fastball. Occasionally, if I go arm side, I’ll throw a two-seam — I’’ll try to front-door a two-seam to a righty — but I mostly go four-seam arm side. Glove side, I’m strictly four-seam.

“My ball rides up a little. I’m able to get swings and misses up in the zone. It’s also effective down in the zone that way. Guys think it’s going to be a ball, but it stays true. Learning to work up is something that just came with time. I never really threw as hard as I do this year, so working up in the zone wasn’t something I’d felt I could do. Now I can.”

On his slider and his curveball: “I think my slider is better this year. Part of that is being able to play it off my fastball command, but I feel it has better break, more consistent break. It’s also harder, much like my fastball is harder. I haven’t done anything with the grip. I guess I’m just thinking ‘Throw it like a fastball,’ and that’s why it’s harder with better break. It’s been around 86-88 and my fastball around 93-96.

“I’ve been throwing a curveball, although I guess it registers as a slider sometimes, because it’s so hard. It’s around 84, but it is a curveball. I’ve learned to spin it better. In my last outing I was able to spin it and have it be a little slower, which I think was a plus.

“I’ve thrown a curveball my whole career. I had a really good one in high school, and I had it all the way through the minors. It definitely has more 12-to-6 movement than my slider. My slider angle is more… it’s more like back-footing guys, while my curveball has more depth to it.

“For every three sliders, I probably throw one curveball. It kind of depends on how comfortable my pitches feel on a given day, as far as burying it or getting it in the zone. If I’m burying my slider and getting my curveball in the zone, I’ll go 0-0 curveball, and on 0-2 or 1-2 it will probably be a slider.”

On his changeup: “I’ve always had a good changeup. It’s only recently that I’ve had some troubles with it. I think a lot of that has to do with the velo jump and me thinking that I need to have a slower changeup. Now I’m starting to realize it doesn’t have to be 85 in order for it to be effective.

“My changeup is 89-90, which isn’t terrible, because my fastball is 95. I’ve talked to [Zack Greinke] about it. His is hard, too — it’s not that far off his fastball — so it doesn’t have to be slow. It just needs to be the same arm speed as your fastball, with movement. You also want to have it down in the zone.

“For me, it’s a matter of throwing it more often and having more confidence in it. I’ll move my fingers around on the ball a little, trying to get a comfortable feel — for me, grips are all about comfort — but it’s basically your standard circle change.”

On sequencing and his third-time-through-the-order numbers: “I’m thinking about [sequencing] a little more than I have in the past, but at the same time, I mainly focus on my strengths. I’m not really thinking about setting up my pitches. The way my fastball is, and the way my slider is… I don’t really need to set up hitters for my fastball or my slider.

“I’ve kind of had trouble later in games, mostly with two outs. I haven’t been able to strand enough guys with two outs and I need to improve on that. But I have three quality pitches — my fastball, my slider and my curveball. I don’t think [the third-time-through-the-order numbers] have anything to do with the pitches I have. Maybe I just need to focus a little more. I don’t know. I just need to make good pitches more consistently than I have at times.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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6 years ago

Ray has a walk rate 2.75 BB/9 and a rate of 2.17 since June 12th. The fact his K rate has remained consistent and even increased shows he’s learning how to pitch instead of just throw. Also, I think some of his 3rd time through the order problems are due to the 2nd highest BABIP in baseball. A much better .306 BABIP perhaps suggests he’s starting to get better luck the third time through. While he still needs to develop his changeup, Ray is on his way to becoming a front line starter. Remember he’s only 24 and this is his first full big league season

6 years ago
Reply to  settenson23

*2.75 BB/9 since May