Jon Gray – Mile High Starting Pitcher
Jon Gray is a 6’4”, 250-pound man with long hair and a scruffy face. He looks like someone who should be throwing the riff-raff out of your local dive bar, not a guy who throws sizzling fastballs by major league hitters. But that’s what he does. And that’s what he can do for your fantasy squad this season. Well, if you draft him in the right place.
When we last saw Gray, he was getting lit up by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Wild Card game in October. He couldn’t make it through the second inning, yielding four runs as his Colorado Rockies fell, 11-8. However, we shouldn’t let this ugly ending tarnish Gray’s prospects for the 2018 MLB season. Despite barely reaching the new calendar year, some sites have been bold enough to rank players for 2018. General consensus has Gray slotted in the area of 150th overall, or around the 40th starting pitcher to be taken off the board. Let’s examine why he might be an under-appreciated asset (AKA “sleeper”) for fantasy baseball drafters this spring.
Bring yourself back to the start of the 2017 baseball season. At the time, Gray was coming off a sixth place finish for NL Rookie of the Year. He won 10 games and had a K/9 of 9.9 over 168 innings. Those solid stats in 2016 figured to improve in his second full season in the bigs. But only three starts into his sophomore campaign, Gray was derailed by what was first believed to be a hurt toe. Not much later it was revealed to be a stress fracture in his foot. Fantasy owners and Rockies fans everywhere let out a grumble. When he returned over two months later, Gray was hit hard, amassing a 6.66 ERA across five starts in July.
Now the good news. After that rough month, Gray rebounded spectacularly. His performance in August & September culminated with a 7-2 record in 11 starts, a 9.0 K/9, and an ERA in the low twos. He was filthy. Gray was the sleeper we thought we were drafting that spring. For the season, the young hurler finished 10-4 with a 3.67 ERA in 110 innings. He struck out 9.1 per 9 innings pitched. Perhaps most notable, Gray had a HR/9 rate of only 0.8, despite calling Coors Field his home park. If he had enough innings to qualify, both his K/9 and BB/9 rates would have been top 20 in baseball. His 1.3 WHIP is solid for a starting pitcher, and his 3.18 FIP denotes further upside can be had this season. Gray is a pitcher who had a quietly encouraging season, despite a sentiment that he was disappointing.
Currently, Gray is ranked with other starting pitchers such as Drew Pomeranz, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray, and Danny Salazar. While these starters have all shown flashes, I would take Gray over all of them. He does have to deal with Coors Field, but Gray also gets to pitch in the NL with no DH. And specifically, he pitches in the NL West, where he gets to face the light-hitting Padres and Giants a few times per season. Statistically, he was as strong as or stronger than other SPs ranked near him. So it might be that his injured-marred season is holding down his value. However, this is far from an alarming shoulder or elbow problem that an injury-prone pitcher will get and cause us to gamble on his health. This was a fluke.
Still just getting his major-league career into second gear at 26 years old, you shouldn’t let Jon Gray pass you by in the mid-rounds of your dynasty league drafts.