Sonny Gray, New York Yankees
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Sonny Gray is off to a dreadful start with the New York Yankees in 2018. But it’s not entirely his fault. Aaron Boone hasn’t helped.

Downright dreadful is an apt description of New York Yankees starter Sonny Gray‘s first four starts in 2018. While he shoulders most of the blame—he’s the one throwing the pitches, after all—fingers should be pointed at manager Aaron Boone as well.

Now don’t misconstrue this as a defense of the 28-year-old. The numbers don’t lie, and the numbers—an 8.27 ERA, 2.08 WHIP and nearly as many walks (11) as strikeouts (15)—say that Gray has sucked with a capital “S.”

But this is a pitcher in the prime of his career, someone who carried a career 3.67 ERA and 1.21 WHIP into the season. This is the same guy who, over 11 starts with the Yankees last season, pitched to a 3.72 ERA and 1.26 WHIP.

As far as we know, Gray isn’t injured. So what gives? What changed between 2017 and 2018 that took Gray from a solid mid-rotation arm to one of the worst in baseball?

It could be Boone’s insistence that Gray throw to Gary Sanchez rather than Austin Romine.

“I don’t want to get tied into the personal catcher thing, because as we get down the stretch and hopefully get into the playoffs, we want to run our best club out there,’’ Boone said after Gray’s most recent start, per’s Pete Caldera. “We don’t want to run things out there that are foreign to people. This is something we’ve got to try and push through the best we can.’’

This stance is nothing new for Boone—he made his dislike for personal catchers well known back in Spring Training.

But here’s the thing: Right now, Gray’s confidence has to be about as low as it can possibly get. He lasted just 3.1 innings against Toronto this past Friday, allowing five earned runs, five hits and walking four. He didn’t record a single strikeout.

Sanchez, not Romine, was his catcher.

So why not let Gray make a couple of starts with the catcher he’s had the most success with? Success, after all, will always be the best confidence-booster there is.

CatcherERAWHIPIPBBKBA AgainstOPS Against

Sure, it’s a small sample size but, for whatever the reason, Gray and Romine click. Gray and Sanchez don’t.

Still not a believer? Take a look at Gray’s four starts in 2018.

4/1 (@ Toronto)4.07138
4/7 (vs. Baltimore)6.04324
4/12 (@ Boston)3.07623
4/20 (vs. Toronto)3.15540

Who was his catcher in his first two starts, his two best of the season thus far?

If you answered Austin Romine, you win. Look for your prize in the mail (not really).

It’s not as if Romine is an automatic out when he’s in the lineup. He’s nowhere close to Sanchez when it comes to hitting, but the backup has proven, time after time, that he’s capable of producing when he gets a chance to play.

Besides, Boone is having Sanchez serve as the team’s designated hitter at least once a week. While that’s typically when the team has a day game following a night game, there’s no harm in making that move on days that Gray is toeing the rubber as well.

So sorry, David Samson. Sonny Gray isn’t a pitcher who can’t handle the pressure of New York. He’s a pitcher who needs his manager to put him in the best possible position to succeed.

Maybe Boone will do that Wednesday night when Gray is scheduled to face the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium. But so long as he insists on doing things his way, don’t count on it.

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I've been dunked on by Shaq and yelled at by Mickey Mantle. ESNY Editor In Chief. UMass alum. Former National Columnist w/Bleacher Report & former member of NY Knicks Basketball Ops department. Nephew of Rock & Roll Royalty.