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Jon Gray: Rockies emerging fantasy ace?

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Ray profiles Rockies pitching prospect Jon Gray and wonders if he is the exception to the rule of not rostering Rockies starters.

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One of the more common beliefs among fantasy baseball writers and experts is that you should never draft Rockies starting pitchers. That is due to the Coors Field effect, as it is one of the best run-scoring ball parks in major league baseball. Draft Rockies hitters. Don't draft Rockies starting pitchers. Do you take a chance on a  few of them when pitching on the road? Sure. But for those of us in leagues where transactions are limited, rostering a Rockies starter is a questionable decision, at best.

That theory may be changing now. Enter, Rockies pitching prospect Jon Gray.

Gray showed some promise last season, where he made nine starts, pitching to a 5.53 ERA, 3.63 FIP, while striking out almost a batter per inning, a walk rate around 3.0 BB/9 and a solid 42% ground ball rate. He gave up plenty of base hits, as he allowed more than 15 batters to reach base every nine innings. So there was still work to be done for the Rockies #1 prospect.

This offseason, Gray worked on adding a new pitch to his repertoire, a curveball, but to date, he hasn't thrown it much. According to this article over at Purple Row, SB Nation's Rockies fan site, Gray has been throwing a sinker this year as well. Overall, he has been relying on his 95 mph fastball and his wipeout slider.

Last night, Gray earned his first major league win in a dominating performance vs the Mets at Coors Field. He limited the Mets to 2 runs on 5 hits, a walk and 8 strikeouts in his 7 innings of work in the Rockies 5-2 win. He induced 13 swinging strikes and 10 ground ball outs in beating the Mets.

This season, he has made five starts, and after his win last night, he is 1-1 with a 4.71 ERA, 2.30 FIP, with a 1.15 WHIP, and he is striking out more than 11 batters every nine innings. He has reduced his walk rate to an excellent 2.20 BB/9 and has improved his ground ball rate to the 50% level. Over the last few offseasons, I have written about what you should look for when doing research on starting pitchers for upcoming drafts. What I found was that when you can draft a starting pitcher who can strike out nearly a batter per inning, one who limits the free pass to 3.0 BB/9 or fewer and induces ground balls at a 45% clip, you have yourself a fantasy ace.

Through his first five starts this season, Gray is meeting all three of those requirements and then some. After giving up 11 runs on 16 hits in his first two starts of the season, Gray has been dominant. Prior to last night's gem, Gray made two consecutive starts on the road, vs the Padres and Giants, giving up just two earned runs on five hits and a 16-3 strikeout to walk rate in 13 innings. In his last three starts, he has given up just four earned runs on ten hits and a 24-4 strikeout to walk rate in 20 innings of work.

When he throws first pitch strikes, about 58% of the batters he faces, Gray has limited hitter to a .217-.242-.417 slash line. When he gets ahead of a hitter with a 1-2 count, hitters are hitting just .056-.081-.083. Interestingly, when he runs the count to 3-2, hitters are slashing just .188-.235-.250 against him.

Gray is available in about 90% of leagues right now, which is silly with the way he is pitching right now. He has the ceiling of a #1 starter and a fantasy ace. With the way he has pitched thus far, he is a fantasy ace. Among starting pitchers with 20 or more innings pitched this season, Gray ranks only behind Clayton Kershaw, Drew Smyly, Noah Syndergaard and David Price in K%-BB%. That is a pretty impressive group. Who ranks behind him? Max Scherzer, Jose Fernandez, Stephen Strasburg and many other.

It's time to roster this Rockies emerging fantasy ace.