He’s Different: Jon Gray and Conquering Coors
Back in 2013, prior to the Rule IV MLB Draft, Jon Gray was a well-built right-handed power arm coming out of the University of Oklahoma. In that year’s amateur draft, Gray went from one of the best couple of amateurs in the land to a pitcher in the Colorado Rockies’ system, after being selected third overall. I don’t have to explain to anyone reading this site that Colorado is and always has been a death sentence for pitchers in fantasy. Even if a guy has good stuff, between the thin air and huge ballpark in Colorado, homers fly out and gappers keep on gapping; Jon Gray heading to Colorado was just another chance for a young arm to shine in the minors, only to arrive in The Show and run an ERA that just didn’t match up with the stuff he had.
Jon Gray is different.
Only because I can’t stop thinking about it right now, I’ll mention the first reason Jon Gray is different: his hair. I mean, the dude has serious blonde flow. Check it out!
Enough about hair; here’s the important way Jon Gray is different. His stuff can overcome Coors! Let’s start with velocity: Gray’s fastball averaged an even 95 miles per hour in 2016, according to PITCHf/x. With the way that the ball flies in Denver, the first step to success is being able to blow the ball by hitters on occasion; Gray has the stuff to do that.
The more intriguing element to Gray’s arsenal comes in the breaking ball department. I really should say elements, because he has two breaking balls: a slider, which he threw 25.9% of the time last year, and a curveball, which he threw at a 10.4% rate. The thin air at Coors Field can affect the way breaking balls move. To sum it up in the least physics-y way possible, breaking balls have a tendency to be flatter at Coors. They won’t have as much drop, which especially affects pitchers with good curveballs. Jon Gray has a good curveball, but he has an even better slider. He even throws a half-decent changeup into the mix when he has to.
The mysterious ‘they’ say that pitchers taking the mound at Coors Field are unsure of how their stuff will play on a given day. Gray, moreso than maybe any pitcher the Rockies have had, has options. If his curveball is flat like it generally would be in Denver, he can just throw his slider a lot more. If something about his slider is off at altitude, he has the potential to work his curve or changeup into the mix more. And hey, if nothing else, he can just try to throw the ball as hard as he can, and it might just work.
Now if you’re still with me, digested all this information, and went to find out more about Jon Gray, you’d find something intriguing in his 2016 splits. After all I’ve just told you about Coors, Gray actually had a higher ERA on the road last year, in an almost equal amount of innings as at home (on the road he was at 4.91, compared to 4.30 at home). It’s tough to pinpoint exactly why, but the best part is, Gray has already partially conquered Coors. A 4.30 ERA there from a pitcher still improving gives hope of even lower numbers.
If he can undo the doubling of his walk-rate on the road last year, an inexplicable phenomenon that can be explained mostly away by a few blow-up outings away from home, Gray can at least equal his home ERA on the road. Odds are, he’d end up with a lower ERA on the road than at home, and sneak his season ERA under 4.00. From a starting pitcher who will strike out more than a batter an inning, that’s a huge deal. He’s still only 25.
Jon Gray is different. He’s got the hair, he’s got the stuff, and now all he has to do is go out and conquer Coors. We’ve been fooled by Rockies pitchers before, but if you’re the guy in your league who can look past that stigma, you might just find yourself a huge steal in this one. It’s been a long time in the making, and the Rockies may finally have their ace.