Jon Gray is on the surface nothing more than a solid starter.
He posted a 4.59 ERA in 2021, which is right around a league average adjusted ERA for Rockies starters. Gray truly wasn’t very impressive, and yet he’s a starter constantly linked to the Yankees. He isn’t a bad starter, but is he a difference-maker? Matt Blake has turned the pitching development around a lot in the Bronx, and that opens up questions about if Gray could turn it around in the Big Apple. When you delve into his repertoire, he has a lot more value than meets the eye.
So, how could Gray help the Yankees?
What About Jon Gray is Already Very Good?
The very first thing that stands out aboutGray is his slider, a pitch that has boasted stellar results.
Jon Gray, Filthy Sliders (helicopter sword & bend the knee). 🚁⚔️🐺 pic.twitter.com/5NoZrW5paC
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 4, 2021
This pitch has been his bread and butter, a signature pitch of his that he’s used with a long track record of success. Its -13 RV ranks as the 9th best slider in all of baseball, and out of all pitches, it’s the 43rd best pitch in baseball out of 2388 different pitches.
Gray also boasts a 48.4% GB%, ranking him 23rd in groundball rate among 115 starters with 100 or more innings. His mere 6.9% barrel rate against and solid 15.4% K-BB% allowed him to boast a 4.04 xFIP, 3.98 xERA, and 4.17 SIERA, which are above average. With that being said, let’s now get into what’s held Gray back.
The Areas of Concern
To go alongside one of the best sliders in baseball, Gray boasts one of the worst four-seam fastballs in baseball.
That is what we like to call, not very good. His 16 RV makes it the 4th worst fastball in baseball, and the 6th worst pitch in all of baseball
How does a fastball that clocks in at nearly 95 MPH struggle so much? Gray’s fastball has a problem; it has the 16th lowest vertical movement out of all four-seam fastballs. Coupled with a mere 2,152 RPMs, his four-seamer seems like it’s not ever going to be a good pitch, right?
Well thankfully, there’s a template for pitchers with low spin and negative vertical movement four-seamers. Aaron Nola of the Phillies struggled ERA-wise, but he posted a 3.26 SIERA, and has a 3.54 ERA since 2017, and his four-seam fastball has similar spin and movement properties as Gray’s.
While not entirely comparable, it’s fair to say that if Gray can just boast an average fastball, he’d become a pretty good starter for the Yankees, but what changes are necessary to make that happen?
Jon Gray’s Changes Going Forward
This is how Gray located his fastball in 2021, going in the heart of the zone too much for comfort. Here’s how the Pitch Tester would recommend he throw his fastball instead.
The blue highlights where he should throw his fastball, taken from the catcher’s perspective. That means that the right side is the 1st base side, and the left is the 3rd base side.
As you can see, they want him throwing away to right-handed batters more and inside to left-handed batters more. Does this reflect exactly how these batters did against him? Not really, since here’s how RHHs and LHHs did versus his four-seamer.
The first image is vs LHH, the second vs RHH. Left-handed hitters seem to just Gray’s number, crushing his fastballs in all areas except for a few pockets.
Versus right-handed bats Gray seems to dominate on the upper half of the plate, holding them to a wOBA way below .300. While there isn’t a consensus “best way to fix his fastball”, there is a definite conclusion to be drawn that Gray needs to avoid the heart of the plate more.
His fastball doesn’t have the capabilities to be a high whiff pitch, and using it to get groundballs and called strikes should be vastly more effective for Gray.
What To Expect From Jon Gray
His pitch mix is all over the place, but the talent is there. A pitcher who can generate a good amount of groundballs while throwing a hard fastball with a good slider is always valuable. Steamer seems to also like Gray, giving him some favorable projections:
Steamer projections serve as baseline projections, meaning that his median outcome is being a solid 3-4 starter. His upside screams potentially being a #2 starter, and there’s a lot of reason to believe he could have that unlocked here.
After all, he’s coming from Coors Field and from a dysfunctional Rockies organization. If he can recapture his 2016-2019 form, Jon Gray could definitely elevate the Yankees rotation in 2022.