Closing Time: Jon Gray, Mr. Unlucky

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Tuesday was another heaven-and-hell outing for Colorado’s <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/9567/" data-ylk="slk:Jon Gray">Jon Gray</a> (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Tuesday was another heaven-and-hell outing for Colorado’s Jon Gray (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The best thing about Jon Gray is that he pitches again in five days. And the worst thing about Jon Gray is that he pitches again in five days.

Gray is still owned in 64 percent of Yahoo leagues, despite his 5.68 ERA and 1.49 WHIP. He’s a conundrum. He’s occasionally brilliant. And he’s so often maddening.

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The Shark Sandwich life is not limited to San Francisco.

Gray had another roller-coaster start in Tuesday’s 5-4 loss at Philadelphia. Scott Kingery, of all people, clocked a three-run homer in the first inning. The Phils scratched another run in the third. Gray quickly ran up a troublesome pitch count, a short night looming.

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And then just as quickly, Gray found his groove and started to dominate. He finished with 10 strikeouts over six innings, whiffing 40 percent of the men he faced. Gray’s final seven batters were a stroll in the park — six strikeouts (five of them swinging), one weak ground out.

Like our old friend Jeff Samardzija, Gray often has an ERA that doesn’t seem fair. In fact, Gray’s 2018 stat profile is a borderline crime scene. Gray’s FIP — the ERA estimation based on what he can control — is 3.18. That’s a 2.50-run gap, an obscene number. The second-unluckiest arm in this metric is Vince Velasquez, all the way down at 1.27. Only four pitchers have unlucky differentials of more than a run.

Then again, FIP isn’t a park-adjusted stat — and pitching in Colorado is never going to be fair. Coors Field isn’t just a problem for the altitude, it’s the acreage as well. The ball sometimes flies over the fence, but it also drops into the gaps. And your breaking pitches don’t move as well, either.

At the end of the day, I have to take an Occam’s Razor approach to Gray. The simplest explanation is often the best. He toils at Coors Field, hell for a pitcher. His career ERA is 4.88 there. And heck, he hasn’t been that much better on the road. He carries a 4.43 ERA out of a suitcase (and his WHIP, oddly, is almost identical, home and away).

Gray is going to tease us again soon. He’ll have some double-digit strikeout games here and there, like Tuesday night. On the right day, he could throw a shutout or even a no-hitter. He struck out 16 San Diego Padres, once upon a time.

Maybe there’s something sneaky about Gray’s profile that explains his issues; perhaps it’s a pitch-sequencing thing, or a problem when runners are on base. Maybe the baseball gods have simply decided he’s going to be the guy who can’t buy a break.

In the meantime, that ownership tag seems optimistic and misguided to me. Is ERA a perfect stat? Of course not. But it’s the one we use. And it’s good enough.

If you feel good about Gray’s next turn — a trip to Arlington, no fun in the summer — say so in the comments. I’ll start assembling my Rangers stack, thanks.

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/7163/" data-ylk="slk:Miguel Cabrera">Miguel Cabrera</a> (torn biceps tendon) is done for 2018 (AP)
Miguel Cabrera (torn biceps tendon) is done for 2018 (AP)

• It’s common for a name athlete to get injured and the social-media flow turns into a sympathetic chorus of “injuries suck.” I’ve generally found that social tendency to be sanctimonious, pedantic, silly virtue signaling. I mean, what rational and empathetic person would like or enjoy injuries? Do we all need to be counted on these things? Of course injuries suck.

All that said, the Miguel Cabrera injury news (torn biceps tendon, out for the year) struck me in a specific, melancholy way. This doesn’t mean I’m any better than anyone else, I just happen to really like the guy. I’ve attended but one game this year, and I spent much of the night watching Miggy goof around with everyone at first base. He’s always been a wonderful player and hitter, but there’s also a joie de vivre to him that I find endearing.

And even on a physically-compromised body, Miggy is still able to hit. And along with Nicholas Castellanos, he’s one of the few things the Tigers had going for them in 2018.

The Cabrera news should push John Hicks into bigger fantasy relevance. He’s already been a useful catcher, with a .285-21-5-22-0 line over 151 at-bats. Sometimes he’s behind the plate, sometimes — like when Miggy couldn’t play — he was at first base. Now, Hicks figures to be in the lineup just about every day.

Hicks is far from a perfect player, striking out 27 percent of the time. He has some pop, but this isn’t Mike Piazza — or even Mike Zunino. But catching is such a fantasy wasteland, we’ll take what we can get. I’ll now push him into the double-digit price at the position, and authorize him even in one-catcher leagues.

• It’s probably last call on Seth Lugo, who’s going to stick in the Mets rotation for now. I can understand why someone might look at Lugo’s stats (1.77 ERA, 0.85 WHIP) suspiciously, since most of it came in relief. Starting is a much harder assignment. But he passed the eye test and the number test in his first rotation turn, shutting out the Yankees, of all teams, for six weekend innings (2 H, 0 BB, 8 K). Maybe this can turn into a fun story.

Lugo is long-gone in the deep and medium leagues, but some of the shallower pools can jump in. He currently trades at 37 percent in Yahoo leagues.

Follow the Yahoo fantasy baseball crew on Twitter: Andy BehrensDalton Del Don, and Scott Pianowski

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