Deeper Dive: Jon Gray to the Rangers

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The Rockies confusingly hung on to impending free agent Jon Gray at the trade deadline, reportedly because they were confident they’d be able to lock him up to a long-term contract.

Like most of the Rockies’ plans, it didn’t work out as hoped. Just before the lockout, Gray agreed to a four-year, $56 million deal with the Rangers. Colorado didn’t extend Gray a qualifying offer, so they wound up letting him walk for nothing.

In 29 starts for the Rockies last season, Gray put up a 4.59 ERA which matches his career mark. He also posted a 1.33 WHIP with a 157/58 K/BB ratio over 149 innings.

The right-hander made two trips to the injured list in 2021, once for an elbow issue and later for a forearm ailment. On the surface, that would seem worrisome. However, on the whole you could say that Gray actually pitched better after the arm problems.

After returning from his first IL stint in late June, Gray posted a nice 107/31 K/BB ratio over 86 innings in his final 17 starts. His velocity was also up a tick from his first 12 outings of the year. His ERA from June 25 on was 4.81, thanks in part due to some home run issues, but he doesn’t look like an injury risk to me moving forward.

Gray’s slider has always been his best pitch, and he leaned on it even more heavily in 2021, throwing it a career-high 38.1 percent of the time. The pitch produced a 38.8 percent whiff rate, and batters hit only .156 with a .300 slugging percentage against the offering.

A 47.6 percent usage of his four-seam fastball meant that Gray was essentially a two-pitch pitcher last season. Combined, he used his changeup and curveball less than 15 percent of the time, although the usage rates of those pitches have been a bit higher in the past. It will be interesting to see how co-pitching coaches Doug Mathis and Brendan Sagara and the rest of the Rangers’ staff plan to utilize Gray’s repertoire.

Gray has actually produced better numbers in his career at Coors Field than he did on the road, with a 4.54 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 3.37 K/BB ratio at home and a 4.65 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 2.76 K/BB ratio on the road. In 2021 he had a 4.02 ERA and 1.15 WHIP at home and a 5.22 ERA and 1.53 WHIP on the road. Even his career home run rates (1.19 HR/9 at home, 1.09 HR/9 on the road) have been virtually identical.

No, the splits don’t make much sense. There has been plenty written about how Coors Field can negatively affect Rockies players when they're on the road because of the adjustment their bodies must make due to the elevation change. Perhaps that at least partly explains it.

Still, I feel confident in saying that Gray’s move from Coors Field to Globe Life Field will be a net positive, and perhaps a big one. Globe Life Field has ranked 22nd overall and 16th for home runs since its inception in 2020, per Baseball Savant’s Park Factors. Coors ranks 1st overall and 5th for homers since 2019. The ballparks in the American League West are generally pretty pitcher-friendly on the whole.

Gray should also benefit from a Rangers defense which was arguably the best in baseball last season. In terms of Defensive Runs Saved they ranked No. 1, and they were tops in the AL by a wide margin. The Rangers’ offense was on the other end of the spectrum with a .291 wOBA which was dead-last in baseball, although the additions of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien should certainly help.

Gray has mostly been a middling, streaming-type option in fantasy to this point in his career. I think the 30-year-old could certainly be more than that in 2022 as he escapes Denver’s altitude. His ADP in NFBC drafts since he signed with the Rangers on December 1 sits at 254 with a high pick of 166, so it would appear there are still plenty of doubters. He could wind up turning a nice little profit.

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