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When your fantasy baseball draft begins to shift into the picks in the 200s, you might be looking to grab your SP 4/5 at this stage. A good return on investment at this point in the draft can substantially boost your odds of taking home the championship in your league. It’s that point in the draft where taking riskier options is worth the gamble and the search for high-ceiling players intensifies.

Two names that pop up around this ADP are Jon Gray and Kevin Gausman. Both of these pitchers have had their fair share of cult followers and have been very hot and cold throughout their careers. With both of these players yet to put it all together for a full season, which one should we take? Gray and Gausman each offer a little bit different skills in terms of their fantasy value for 2019.

We’re about to leap into each player’s skill set and the factors that will make them either worth drafting, or worth leaving on the board.

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50 Shades Of Gray

It was a season to forget for Jon Gray in 2018. Demoted to Triple-A after his first 17 starts, Gray had a grisly 5.77 ERA at this point near the end of June. A free-fall from being named the Opening Day starter in 2017, he somewhat turned it around when he returned in mid-July. The right-hander finished the season with 172.1 IP, 12 wins, a 5.12 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 183 strikeouts. Pretty underwhelming across the board, but there is a lot to like in his strikeout arm.

Gray's 24.6% K% improved slightly on his mark from 2017, but his Whiff% shot through the roof. After a 22.6% Whiff% in 2017, he set a new career-high with a 29.2% Whiff% in 2018 with over 60 more innings to his credit. Gray uses his 95 MPH fastball to set up his breaking pitches to wipe out a batter. Generating a swing-and-miss on 41.8% of his curveball and 38.2% on his slider, not only was it hard for hitters to make contact but when they did get their bat on it, it wasn’t effective. Allowing just a .217 AVG on these pitches, he generated more ground balls and gave up far less hard contact on these pitches (32.6%) than on his fastball (42.9%).

Gray’s fastball has always been extremely hittable. Batters hit .335 off of his heater in 2017 and .327 in 2018, so he’s yet to prove he can be elusive with this pitch. Playing in the high altitude of Coors Field also doesn’t help his cause as he gave an ugly 1.41 HR/9 last season. Serving up these dingers provided him with the third-worst strand-rate in the majors at 67.9%. This number is only 1% lower than his career rate, so this appears to be the norm for the 27-year-old going forward.

The silver lining in the former third-overall pick’s numbers is in his expected stats. His ERA-FIP was the highest in the league at 1.03 with his FIP sitting at 4.08. Gray’s 3.47 xFip and 3.68 SIERA also backed him up, but assuming his ERA will regress to these marks in 2019 is optimistic. It’s been a yearly trend that these metrics have been around a full run lower than his actual ERA. It’s the player that he is and he’s established himself as this type of arm through his nearly 500 innings of major league work. He likely won’t keep his ERA in the fives again, but he also won’t maintain it below the high threes.

 

Stairway To Kevin

After a mid-season deal to the Atlanta Braves, Kevin Gausman’s fantasy value catapulted from being on the lowly Orioles team. His season between the two clubs was mediocre in 2018 with 10 wins, a 3.92 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 148 strikeouts in 183.2 IP. Gausman didn’t show much consistency on the mound as he failed to go more than three consecutive starts with at least six innings of work throughout the entire year. With the shift to the NL the former fourth-overall pick figures to see a bit more success on a division favorite and with an improvement in park factor.

Suntrust Park in Atlanta ranked 27th in park factor in 2018 in regards to home runs, whereas Camden Yards ranked ninth. Gausman saw a drastic improvement in this category immediately with his HR/9 cutting in half from 0.75 in Atlanta compared to his 1.52 HR/9 in Baltimore. Altogether, it was a better run over his final two months with the Braves as he held a 2.87 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over his 10 starts with his new club.

Where Gausman lacks in ability compared to Gray is in strikeout peripherals. The 28-year-old seen his lowest K% since 2014 with a 19.1% mark last year. His 24.8% Whiff% gave him a new career-low as his four-seamer dropped a full MPH in velocity from 2017 to 93.6 MPH last year. This dip was also over two ticks lower than his 2015 average fastball velocity (95.9 MPH). His diminishing fastball speed is concerning for his strikeout potential in 2019 as hitters will undoubtedly look to attack this delivery more often. The right-hander served up a .313 AVG on this pitch last year, and it’s seen a gradual increase since 2015.

Contrary to Gray’s supporting metrics, Gausman’s do not favor him. While no pitcher will routinely match their FIP and SIERA numbers yearly, his career 4.12 ERA is almost identical to his lifetime 4.14 FIP. It did not support him in 2018, however, as his 4.32 FIP and 4.28 SIERA suggest his ERA should have been nearly a half-run higher. Gausman is sure to improve on his career ERA with the move to the NL. Seeing a pitcher every nine at-bats is beneficial, but remember that 2.87 ERA since his move in leagues? You shouldn't anticipate a total in this neighborhood in 2019 as his 3.78 FIP in this sample size is daunting.

 

Conclusion

Currently selected at an ADP of 199, Gausman is going five picks before Gray at pick 204. At relatively the same cost, which arm should we grab? Gausman has a clear advantage in park factor so his ERA will presumably be lower. It’s a wash in terms of WHIP with both men coming in at 1.33 career rates and similar lifetime BB%.

Gray has the upper hand in strikeout ability with his figures improving yearly instead of going into a slow decline. As unpredictable as wins are, it remains difficult to estimate what kind of total they each will see in 2019. The Braves are projected to win two more games than the Rockies this season, so there’s nothing sizeable to go off of there. It’s a coin flip at this point with no real data to suggest it one way or another, but if they’re both healthy, they should see a number in the mid-teens.

With these hurlers so comparable in value, trying to decide on who to select might come down to the rest of your pitching staff. If you drafted a couple 200 K arms early, it might be wiser to choose Gausman and lower yourself in the ERA column. On the other hand, Gray might be the better choice for you if you passed on the high upside strikeout arms early and went for the Miles Mikolas/Kyle Hendricks type pitchers. Deciding who the better pitcher is arbitrary in a roto league. If you’re in a points league, lean towards Gray for there are more points to be had in his strikeout total.

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