Jon Gray, Gray Expectations

“In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice.”
– Probably Jon Gray about his time in Colorado

What the Dickens?! Jon Gray is no longer playing for the Rockies? Sign me up. Thank you for joining me for this Ted Talk. Kidding, kidding, kind of. Anywho, let’s get down with the breakdown. Is there an organization more poorly run than the Colorado Rockies? I think not. Mid-season last year would have been an ideal time to trade Gray and get some value in return if they were planning not to retain him, but as the season concluded he departed a free agent and without a qualifying offer; so the Rockies got nothing in return. Instead, prior to the lockout Gray signed a 4-year $56M deal with the Rangers leaving the contemptible confines of Coors Field behind. And needless to say, the expectations are high.

Season IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 GB% HR/FB ERA xFIP
2017 110.1 9.14 2.45 0.82 48.9% 11.1% 3.67 3.45
2018 172.1 9.56 2.72 1.41 47.5% 18.1% 5.12 3.47
2019 150.0 9.00 3.36 1.14 50.4% 17.1% 3.84 3.89
2020 39.0 5.08 2.54 1.38 36.7% 11.3% 6.69 5.68
2021 149.0 9.48 3.50 1.27 48.4% 15.1% 4.59 4.04

Many forget that Jon Gray was once highly sought after and drafted 3rd overall in 2013 out of the University of Oklahoma. He always had great velocity with the fastball touching 97 in the past but command was never his strong suit. After a breakout season in 2017 that ended in injury, he regressed in 2018 due in part to a noticeable dip in his velocity that led to a near doubling of his HR/9 rate. He regained form in 2019 along with a bounceback in velocity, but that season too ended with a foot injury. Clearly, he wasn’t right (or ready) for the season in 2020 (who was?) but last year he showed us again what a healthy Jon Gray could do. And maybe, a little more.

Let’s talk flyballs. For being a flyball pitcher in Colorado, Gray was able to keep his HR/FB rate below 20% every season in Coors and this last season kept it to 15% (German Marquez has averaged around 15% for his career). The longball, however, did become a problem for him in the second half of last season and the season as a whole, allowing a total of 21 round-trippers on the year, yes twenty-one, but 7 of which came in September though, which is, how you say, “interesting.” But before we get to that, we need to address the elephant in the room… his weird home/away splits that everyone was talking about.

Splits HR/FB K% BB% K-BB% AVG BABIP
Home 17.9% 24.5% 9.5% 15.0% 0.205 0.236
Away 12.5% 24.3% 8.5% 15.8% 0.285 0.358

As expected, the home run per flyball rate was higher at home. For the most part, his Ks and BBs were consistent across both. The mystery lies in the 80 point spread in AVG that is buoyed by a 122 point spread in BABIP. Gray surrendered a significantly higher BABIP in the road that lead to a 1.15/1.53 WHIP split. So why were teams finding more holes outside of Coors (the best park for BABIP)? A 6% difference in line drives vs groundballs, that’s it, which leads me to conclude that there is some regression coming due.

Splits HR/FB K% BB% K-BB% AVG BABIP
vs LHB 12.8% 21.4% 10.3% 11.1% 0.235 0.274
vs RHB 18.9% 28.4% 7.3% 21.1% 0.258 0.331

Jon Gray had a bit more trouble striking out lefties and handed out free passes a tick more as he was more willing to test them with an offspeed pitch twice as often. His approach to RHB was more 2-dimensional in that he used either his 4-seamer or slider over 90% of the time, and thus produced feast or famine results; more Ks and more home runs. The numbers against RHB is the key here that will play a bigger roll in his move to Arlington.

The left-field wall at Globe Life Field is deeper than it was before making it a dead zone for flyballs by righty pull-hitters. In fact, as you see above of the 7 HRs pulled to left field vs Gray, if they were all at his new home ballpark 5 of them either would not have cleared the wall or been very close without any environmental change. Globe Life Field is not Globe Life Park, the Rangers old stadium that was very offense friendly. The new one is indeed a pitcher’s park.

Park Season ESPN Statcast
Globe Life Park 2017 1.127 111
Globe Life Park 2018 1.273 127
Globe Life Park 2019 1.062 103
Globe Life Field 2021 0.946 97
Coors Field 2021 1.134 107

Looking at park factors, you can see that home runs are much less common in the new stadium than either Global Life Park or Coors Field. The Rangers home park went from one of the top third stadiums for offense to one of the bottom third, meaning rather than Coors’ 7-13% above average the new Globe Life is 3-5% below. That deep-cut porch in left field is a large part of it along with the closing roof for sapping home run power by cutting off the hot summer air in Texas. Moving from the NL West to the AL West will have Gray pitching in more ideal parks as Oakland, Seatle, and Arlington are all in the bottom third. So one of the main weaknesses he had in 2021 (to RHB pull hitters) should be somewhat neutralized by his new ballpark.

The last thing to understand is how his season ended, and the difference between the results and what was expected.

Splits HR/FB K% BB% K-BB% AVG BABIP ERA xFIP
1st Half 11.8% 22.0% 9.6% 12.4% 0.219 0.258 3.77 4.19
2nd Half 19.0% 27.4% 8.2% 19.2% 0.277 0.354 5.71 3.82

The good. Jon Gray’s K-rate rose above 27% (11 K/9) in the second half and his walk rate dropped to 8%, leading to a K-BB% north of 19. The bad. His BABIP ballooned above .350 and his home run per flyball rate rose to 19%. This was ridiculously high and a bit odd. When you look at the X-stats you see the expected results should have been a lot tamer. An xFIP of 3.82, SIERA of 3.79, and a full season xERA of 3.95 all point to him getting hosed.

Splits HR/FB K% BB% K-BB% AVG BABIP ERA xFIP
July 13.8% 24.4% 9.8% 14.6% 0.216 0.260 2.97 4.07
August 4.3% 28.8% 9.6% 19.2% 0.315 0.459 6.55 3.92
September 30.4% 31.4% 4.9% 26.5% 0.277 0.345 7.15 3.20

August and September were especially unkind to him. In August he was the victim of an exceedingly high BABIP of nearly .460 despite a batted ball profile fairly similar to July. And then in September, he was crushed by a home run per flyball rate over 30%, far more than any other month that season. Just regressing to mean would mean a bounceback to some degree, but then when you add the change of scenery all things point to a solid season for Jon Gray.

Right now Gray’s current ADP is 261 in NFBC and I’ve already taken him around there on a couple of teams. I expect Jon to deliver a solid 150 innings of close to 3.70 ERA pitching with solid 9+ K/9. And if his new commitment to the slider holds, we could see him deliver a 10+ K/9 hovering around that 28-30% K mark. That’s beyond value at that price with the possibility of staying healthy and giving you an extra 20 innings. He discounted some due to the injury risk, but at pick 250+ there’s plenty of profit to be gained, regardless of your expectations.

If you want more Coolwhip to top off your baseball experience, fantasy or otherwise, you can follow me on Twitter: @CoolwhipRB.

18 Comments
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James
James
3 months ago

What do you think the whip would be like for Jon Gray?

Jim Wiser
Jim Wiser
4 months ago

It’s time for me to quit fantasy baseball now that Grey has gone subscription!

Jolt In Flow
Jolt In Flow
4 months ago

Love the articles, CW! I already had Jon Gray on my radar, so this was beautiful to see. You did my homework.

A type of question I don’t usually ask, but will this time. Auction league, American league only, the usual $260 bucks, 14 hitters, 9 pitchers.

All things considered equal, what would your max-ish winning bid be for him?

Thanks as always CW,

Jolt

Laura Holt
Reply to  Jolt In Flow
4 months ago

Hey Jolt, thought I’d jump in as I will have a similar situation in my AL-only league. Mine is a keeper league (with basically unlimited keepers) so there is absolutely insane inflation as only a few legit starters will even be available at our auction. I’m going in with zero pitching (Glasnow/Maeda were my cornerstones last year; sigh) and going to have to comically overpay for someone, may end up being Gray. Anyway, if you are talking AL-only redraft, my first gut instinct is that Gray goes for somewhere around $11-$12. Right now I’d be happier paying $8-$9 based on how low the rest of the world seems to be valuing him but would be willing to go a little higher. I do suspect that his price will rise as we get closer to spring simply because more folks will be paying attention and realize that he might be worth re-visiting now that he’s out of COL (and in a pitcher-friendly ballpark to boot). Also people may realize just how valuable having a locked-down rotation spot is (especially in AL only).

Not Alf
Not Alf
4 months ago

Grey should have written this article. Obvi. #obvi

galica1234
galica1234
Reply to  Coolwhip
4 months ago

Coolwhip!!!

Not sure if the author of the original #original comment was being sarcastic (thereby showering praise on you, like it was so good only Grey could’ve written it) or being serious (thereby requesting that you retract your post and let Grey post it, like when Hendrix says ‘Ah, move over, Rover and let Jimi take over.’) or in-between so he’ll accept it. Have to ask the author. Ask Grey to weigh in. Is he slighted by the true or sarcastic version?

Cheers,
Ante

Laura Holt
4 months ago

Hey Coolwhip, nice write up! I haven’t drafted Gray yet but have been thinking I might want a share or two and this is making it seem like an even better idea. Really seems worth a shot at his current ADP (and he’s younger than I realized, FWIW, only 30? Feels like he’s been around forever)

Ante GALIC
Ante GALIC
4 months ago

Coolwhip!!

Awesome analytics, man!

a. So, Cortes, Montas, Gray…keep ’em coming!

b. Was unable to land the 4Ms of the Apocalypse aka Montas, Manoah, Manaea and McClanahan in a recent draft. But hey 1/2 is better than 0/2 right? 4Ms, get it. Like Borges refers to the #4 as opposed to the #3 as THE most important number in Christianity, then the three musketeers were actually 4 and lastly the Brothers Karamazov were 3 until they discovered the 4th brother (Smerdjakov, the bastard son). So 4s all around.

Cheers,
Ante