It was only two years ago that the Rockies had one of the more impressive starting pitchers in all of baseball. Jon Gray, coming off a serviceable first full-season in the majors in 2017, stood near the top of the National League in many key metrics. Among qualified starting pitchers, he ranked fifth in FIP, 10th in xFIP, 13th in SIERA, and 15th in K-BB-rate, all while throwing a harder fastball than all but two starting pitchers (Gerrit Cole, Carlos Martinez).
The much anticipated encore of Gray’s 2018 season resulted in disappointment on the surface, as Gray struggled to stay consistent for most of the year, was briefly demoted to Triple-A, and ended the season with a 5.12 ERA. His walk rate moved up a touch and he allowed home runs at a much higher rate. In the end, his season resembled that of a league-average starting pitcher, and ditto for 2019 too.
Yet the underlying traits have always been there for Gray at the major league level. For starters, the most comparable pitcher to him velocity/movement-wise is Max Scherzer, per Baseball Savant.
Only six starting pitchers in baseball averaged a higher velocity on their four-seamer than Gray this season: Noah Syndergaard, Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Walker Buehler, and Luis Castillo. His four-seamer wasn’t very productive, though, as hitters crushed it for an average exit velocity of 91.9 miles per hour this season and put up a .405 xwOBA against it.
What has always been performing for Gray is the breaking stuff. Starting with his slider, a pitch that hitters whiffed on 41.2 percent of the time the season. In his career, he’s allowed a .192/.230/.308 slash line on his slider, striking out 38.6 percent of hitters, all good for 47 wRC+ against.
Jon Gray, Nasty 90mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/2ST9bvOrkY— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 5, 2018
The third option in his arsenal, the curveball, has almost been equally productive. For his career, the slashline against the offering is .181/.218/.306 with a 43 wRC+ against.
Jon Gray, 95mph Fastball and 81mph Curveball, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/6RwvYsHfxw— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 5, 2018
Still at only 28 years of age and indications that there could be upside in his arm, it wouldn’t be a complete shock if we have yet to see the best of the Gray. If we have, then we’re still talking about a very serviceable starting pitcher. The profile of Gray’s future outlook is intriguing by itself, but it might not even be his biggest attraction.
Gray still has two controllable years left on his contract. His base salary for next season stands at $5.6 million and he isn’t eligible for arbitration until next year. This puts him in the price range of basically any team. If you’re a contender, he could be an arm that helps stabilize an already good rotation while providing upside. If you’re rebuilding and not looking to spend, he doesn’t add a bunch to payroll and he could be an enticing trade option during the next two trade deadlines or next offseason.
If the Rockies are indeed looking to trade Jon Gray, as reports seem to indicate that it’s possible, then there should be a wide range of teams interested. The idea of a trade would also appear to be a positive for Gray’s future development, as he’d be looking at a decent shot of playing under a better major league player development system (the same positive change of scenery that Gerrit Cole and Sonny Gray had).
Jon Gray may not appear to the most tantalizing option on the trade market to the casual baseball fan, but if he were to become available, it would not be shocking if he were to become one of the more popular pitchers available.
Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.