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Jon Gray to Rangers - Fantasy Baseball Impact Analysis

The Texas Rangers are spending some money this month, making multiple big-time splashes in free agency already. One of their smaller splashes was the signing of Jon Gray, whom they signed to a four-year contract in late November.

It is looking more and more like the Rangers will have an above-average offense in 2022, so the bigger concern now for Rangers' fans is trying to improve on the team's poor 4.79 team ERA they racked up in 2021 (eighth-worst in the league).

For the purposes of fantasy baseball, Gray is an interesting name to talk about. He has rarely been better than a waiver-wire streamer in most leagues for the majority of his career, but a player moving away from Coors Field always requires our attention. Let's talk about Jon Gray and what this move to Texas could mean for his fantasy stock in 2022.

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A Career of Mediocrity

We will spend a lot of time talking about how Gray has been pretty far away from a great pitcher in the Majors in his seven years, but it's only fair that we give this guy some credit. It is not easy to pitch half your games in Coors Field, and Gray has managed to keep his job and stay in the rotation for 151 starts. That is not an easy thing to do, and we should not go disrespecting this man just because his career ERA sits at 4.59 right now. Here are his yearly stats in his time with the Rockies.

His best seasons were 2017 and 2019, posting ERAs below 4.00 while making 20 and 25 starts. You can see the strikeouts have never been above average, but he's managed walks pretty well. He has yet to post a competitive WHIP, but that is to be expected in Coors Field.

Speaking of Coors Field, let's talk about the most interesting part of Jon Gray's profile.

 

Defying the Coors Field Odds

In 2021, the league ERA outside of Coors Field finished at 4.24, and the league WHIP settled at 1.29. In Coors Field, those numbers were 5.08 and 1.39. Those are major disparities and that has been true every year since Coors Field was built in Denver.

What Jon Gray has managed to do over his career is actually be a little bit better in Coors Field than away from it. Here are his career splits.

You can see the ERA and WHIP are significantly better for Gray at home as compared to on the road. What explains this? I am not going to pretend to know the answer to that. There are scientific explanations about how Coors Field negatively affects Rockies' players even when they're on the road as their bodies adjust to the massive elevation differences. That probably has something to do with. I think possibly a better explanation is the ground-ball rate.

Over his career, Jon Gray has posted a 51.5% ground-ball rate in Coors Field, but just a 42.1% mark away from home. That is a crazy big difference that you will just not find the vast majority of the time. Since 2019, those numbers are 52.3% at home and 44.3% on the road. I expected to see Gray's pitch usage looking different at home than on the road to keep the ball on the ground more, but that doesn't turn out to be the case.


You would then think that he must be getting ground-balls at a higher rate at home with location. However, this doesn't really seem to be true either. If we look at the percentages of pitches thrown that Gray has thrown in the lowest third of the strike zone, the number is 19% at home and 20% on the road.

So the truth is that Gray has found a way to keep the ball on the ground at a higher rate when in Coors Field, which has helped his performance at home. How he's done this, I don't know. The good news is that we don't need to know if he can continue to do it because he won't be pitching in Coors any longer.

 

Can He Improve?

You might be tempted to look at those splits and just say leaving Coors doesn't mean very much for Gray. While it's true that he has been pretty much the same pitcher in and out of Colorado over his career, that doesn't mean there's nothing else to think about here. The elevation works in mysterious ways, and it certainly does affect performance for players on the road as well. Gray no longer having to deal with the constantly changing elevations may make a huge difference for the better.

You can see from the pie graphs above that he is mainly a fastball and slider pitcher. In 2021, his fastball was not very effective with a low 27% CSW% and a 6.7% SwStr%. He kept the barrel rate on the pitch better than league average at 7.1% and got a ground-ball on 51% of the time with the pitch. His slider was his best offering with a great 34.4% CSW, a 17.9% SwStr%, and a strong 6.4% barrel rate. He did not use the curveball or changeup often, but neither pitch was very effective when they were used.

I think there's a good chance his slider stays at that level or improves as he stays out of Coors Field. Since 2019, Gray has posted an 18.3% SwStr% with the slider on the road and a mark of 16.4% at home, with slightly more spin on the pitch away from the thin air of Coors. He got more whiffs with the four-seamer on the road as well (7.7% on the road, 4.4% at home). Those are good signs, and I think it's a good bet that Gray can notch a career-high strikeout rate in 2022 - although keep in mind that an average mark of 26% would accomplish that for him.

 

What To Expect

This is a very tough spot to have confidence in. I don't think any outcome for Gray in 2022 would really surprise me. Coors Field is such an outlier that it's tough to predict things for players in this position. We have not seen many pitchers pitch with the Rockies for a long time and then go somewhere else for a significant data sample, so there isn't much out there in terms of comparables. Tyler Anderson is the most recent guy, and he was only slightly better with the Giants and Pirates as compared to his Rockies days.

If I had to pick a side, I can say that I would fall on to the side of being optimistic about Gray. I think just escaping the constant brutal changes in elevation will help the guy. The Rangers don't have the league's most pitcher-friendly ballpark, but it's a huge step up from Coors Field regardless of what the splits on Gray have shown us over the years.

I will go ahead and predict that Gray posts a career-best strikeout rate and gives you an ERA and WHIP worthy of consideration late in the draft. There is definitely upside with the guy, and I don't think he'll be very expensive - so he's someone I'll be buying if he falls deep enough in drafts.

Let me know what I missed and what your thoughts are @JonPGH



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