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Rox or Roll: Colorado's most established starting pitcher faces questions about his future

Patrick Lyons Avatar
October 29, 2020

Welcome to our offseason series, Rox or Roll, where we take an overview of each Colorado Rockies player to determine their value and outlook moving forward.

Does this player continue to represent the Rox? Or is his time with Colorado on the downswing and he should roll on up out of here?

When examining pitching personnel questions, one must start with the most senior member of the starting rotation, Jon Gray.

1. Summary of 2020

After rebounding in 2019 from an up-and-down 2018, both literally and figuratively, Gray struggled for consistency during this eight starts this season.

His fastball velocity was inexplicably down by nearly two miles-per-hour. We’ve seen him bounce back from similar dips in velo before but there wasn’t time in 2020.

The first three starts of the season were quite fine (16.1 IP, 6 ER) until an awful outing at home against Arizona derailed his earned run average.

He managed to throw a quality start in two of his remaining four appearances before being sidelined with a shoulder inflammation, missing the remainder of the year following his September 2 start.

2. The season in stats

2-4 (8 starts), 6.69 ERA, 1.34 WHIP

ERA+: 79

FIP: 5.06

xFIP: 5.68

BABIP: .293

fWAR: 0.5

bWAR: -0.2

3. A stat you should know

Batters had a career-high exit velocity of 90.3 MPH against Gray. They also had a launch angle of a full six degrees steeper (15.9) than the previous three seasons. Barrel percentage (7.9) was also at an all-time high.

Somehow, Gray was able to suppress home runs per fly ball (11.3%) better than his last two seasons. Is this possible for any other reason than a baseball that lost it’s juice?

Bonus Stat: His 79 ERA+ was the worst of his career, a few points below the 84 he put up over 40.2 innings his rookie season. In 2017 and 2019 (138, 134) Gray led all Rockies starters in ERA+.

4. Role in 2021

If the four horsemen of the Rockies’ rotation are going to ride into another Rocktober, Gray will be needed to mount up. German Márquez, Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland can all make a case to prevent Gray from making his franchise-record third Opening Day start.

But, if he is on the roster, he’s in the rotation given his resume and age.

5. Long-term projections

While Gray is already in upper echelon of all-time Rockies starting pitchers, there is still potential for him to put together his greatest season yet. Entering his age-29 season, a lot of baseball is left in that right arm.

Gray has a better strikeout rate (9.14 K/9) than any pitcher in Colorado history.

He’ll hit free agency right as he’s turning 30-years-old and will look to secure a four-year deal even if he’s more like to get something shorter.

6. Contract status

Entering his final year of club control before entering free agency for the first time following the 2021 season, Gray is projected to make anywhere from $5.6 million to 6.9 million depending how the “full-season” of 2020 is viewed by arbiters.

Unless he is extended by the Rockies before then, he will become an unrestricted free agent following the 2021 campaign.

7. Trade Value

With only one year remaining before Gray heads into free agency, his value is less than it was at the start of 2020 and even less than at the 2019 trade deadline when teams could dream on two-plus seasons of the Gray Wolf of (insert name of adjacent road to ballpark) Street.

While a trade of one player cannot revitalize an entire roster or farm system – this would even include Mike Trout – dealing the third overall selection in the 2013 MLB Draft could help reset the talent pool and give the Rockies a chance at propping open the window for contention.

8. Intangibles

Gray is a calming spirit in the Colorado clubhouse. He’s much more mild than wild and though he can get down on himself at times, he usually finds a way to battle back.

In a lot of ways, he’s helped taken the pressure off the younger starters in the rotation. As the highest selection in Rockies draft history and greatest pedigree of any purple pitcher, Gray has done well to handle the scrutiny since making his big league debut in August 2015.

While you can evidence the claim if you look hard enough at the numbers, Gray’s biggest “intangible” is probably his mental approach to Coors Field, having tamed the beast better than anyone not named Jorge De La Rosa.

9. Rox or Roll?

DC: Rox.

Not only do I think Gray will be back for another year in Colorado, I think the Rockies will lock him up for a while. Both parties enjoy a bit of stability and consistency and I think there is a deal out there that both parties would be happy with.

Gray hasn’t done enough yet in his career to demand the big bucks and while many teams out there may covet the chance to get the most out of him, I doubt they are willing to pay, either in terms of money or trades, what he is really worth.

He may be one of the few people in the entire world who actually wants to pitch for the Colorado Rockies and if they show him a fair deal, he’ll sign it.

His resume shows both the risk and reward of keeping him around long term, For a contract that shouldn’t break the bank, the reward far outweighs the risk.

PL: Roll.

If Colorado doesn’t lock up Gray to an extension, then he almost surely won’t be a part of the organization from 2022 and beyond.

Gray is an asset that has value and several other clubs have already shown interest in the 6’4″ right-hander. Even with an outstanding season, one that would garner him with votes for the NL Cy Young Award, he likely wouldn’t be a candidate for a Qualifying Offer and a subsequent second round draft pick.

To allow him to leave in free agency and get nothing in return would be an immense failure.

Extend him or trade him. There should be no in-between.

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