The Rockies didn’t know what they were doing with Jon Gray. That isn’t just in reference to Colorado’s refusal to trade him at the deadline or extend him a qualifying offer. Those are both bad enough on their own, but the Rockies squandered Gray for most of the first seven years of his career. Gray’s a talented pitcher with incredible tools, but the Rockies never figured out how to weaponize him.
In the Rockies’ defense, they face an uphill battle when it comes to maximizing their pitchers’ potential. One does not just solve Coors Field. But just looking at his essentially unchanged pitch mix leaves one scratching their head. Throughout his career, Gray has primarily thrown a four-seamer and a slider while mixing in a curveball and a changeup. He threw the slider and changeup a bit more this year, but he’s been true neutral for most of his career.
Looking at that, one would conclude that his fastball must be pretty decent. In fact, it’s one of the worst in the majors by run value. Per Baseball Savant, it ranked fourth-worst at 16. Of the 47 pitchers who threw at least 1,000 four-seamers in 2021, four had a worse whiff rate on their heaters than Gray’s 17.1 percent. Two of those were his teammates Germán Marquez and Antonio Senzatela. A 17.1 percent whiff rate tied a career high for Gray, too. Gray isn’t a high-spin pitcher, and his velocity isn’t what it used to be, so it’s no wonder his four-seamer gets hit hard.
Meanwhile, Gray’s slider has consistently gotten good results, and his curveball has been good in every year but the shortened 2020 season. Is it too simplistic to suggest that he just throw his slider and curveball more often and perhaps swap a four-seamer for a two-seamer, a pitch that generally does better with lower spin? Maybe. But there’s a reason IT support first asks if the device is plugged in.
Gray’s a prime candidate to be fixed, and plenty of teams are capable of doing it. The Giants seemed like an obvious landing spot, but San Francisco re-signed Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood on Monday. They also appear to be more interested in Alex Cobb, and re-signing Kevin Gausman remains a priority. None of that precludes Gray from going to the Giants, but he appears farther down their wish list.
The Angels still need starting pitching after signing Noah Syndergaard. 23-year-old José Suarez has upside and room to grow from a 20.6 strikeout rate last year. Reid Detmers went from a first-round pick in 2020 to the majors in 2021, but he might need more time at Triple-A before joining the rotation full time.
The Mets are trying to re-sign Steven Matz, but if they miss out on him, Gray could be a target. Even if the Mets do get Matz back, they’d have room for more starters since Syndergaard is already gone, and Marcus Stroman doesn't appear likely to return.
There appears to be mutual interest between Gray and the Rockies, but Gray declined a three-year deal earlier in the year. Coupled with the Rockies’ refusal to extend a qualifying offer, and a reunion doesn’t seem likely. Some team will pay Gray what he’s worth, and that team will probably know what to do with him.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.