Jon Gray starts 2021 as one of the most promising and frustrating members of the Colorado Rockies during his tenure in professional baseball. He has received Rookie of the Year votes but also been in danger of being non-tendered just this past winter. However, despite his struggles, the 29-year-old righty has seemingly recaptured some magic through two starts. It’s worth exploring what the veteran pitcher is doing.
Jon Gray Starts 2021 Hot
First, the obvious. Gray has looked dominant to start the 2021 season. He has thrown 11 2/3 innings with a 1.54 ERA and 12 strikeouts against only five walks. Those raw numbers are good enough to make Gray one of the better pitchers in all of baseball through the season’s first week. The most promising underlying stats are 9.26 strikeouts per nine and a 26.1 percent strikeout rate. Both of those are close to or above his previous career bests.
Gray is succeeding on the strength of an adjusted mix of pitches that includes the return of his slider. His primary breaking pitch was used in 29.2 percent of his pitches in 2020, but that has spiked to a career-high 36.6 percent. His slider is averaging 85.6 mph, which allows it to play very well with a changeup that currently averages 86.7. The two secondary offerings living in the same velocity range have resulted in less hard contact and less contact overall. These results are obviously a very small sample size, but they are also extremely promising.
Statcast also reveals that Gray is succeeding despite very few significant changes in how the ball is traveling on its way to the plate. The spin rate on his fastball and slider are both within three revolutions per minute of what they were in 2020. Despite that lack of change, the slider is inducing an excellent 48.5 percent whiff rate. That is definitely something to monitor as Gray is required to throw it more often at Coors Field.
Is It Sustainable
There are certainly signs that Gray is getting somewhat lucky despite the success in his first outings. His FIP is 2.39, which does indicate that he’s outperforming his peripheral numbers to some degree. It’s also hard to imagine a player in Colorado posting a WHIP of .943 for an entire year. The lowest WHIP of any qualified Rockies starter for a full season since the franchise began was Ubaldo Jimenez’s 1.15 in 2010.
It is also worth noting that while Gray’s strikeout numbers are up, so are his walks. He has given out 3.86 walks per nine and allowed 10.9 percent of batters to walk to first without a hit. Both of those figures are also career-highs for the talented right-hander. Giving up that many walks will not work with his unsustainably low 0.0 home run per nine rate.
What This Means For Gray
These results are very good for Gray regardless of his future in Colorado. He is scheduled to reach free agency going into the 2022 season. A full year of strong numbers like we are seeing will net him a sizable contract either with the Rockies or another franchise. Even if he doesn’t remain with the team for all of 2021, every good start he posts adds that much more value to Gray in a potential trade deal. It may be bittersweet to see Gray excelling in what might be his last year wearing purple, but everyone should cheer him on for what he is doing right now.
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