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Josiah Gray: 2022 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper

josiah gray fantasy baseball rankings pitchers draft sleepers waiver wire pickups

In order to get, you have to give. That's how it works in the MLB trade market at least. In the pursuit of another championship, the Dodgers acquired ace Max Scherzer and Trea Turner from Washington before last year's deadline. In order to pull that off, the franchise had to part with top prospects Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray along with two other minor leaguers.

Gray had only started one game for L.A. but with the rebuilding Nats, he became a fixture in the rotation, and started 12 games from August on. The results were far from stellar, as Gray posted a 5.31 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in that span. His 10.7% walk rate was above the league average but that's to be expected for a rookie. His 12.2% Barrel rate in the bottom-third percentile is another story.

On the surface, it appears Gray may need more seasoning and is far from guaranteed to be the future ace the Dodgers once envisioned. A closer look reveals a pitcher that could be ready to take the next step sooner than many anticipate, starting in 2022. Needless to say, we could have a fantasy baseball sleeper on our hands.

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A Deeper Look

Although Gray's totals were far from stellar, he started out strong and was trending in the right direction by the season's end. In his first five starts for Washington, he lasted at least five innings and didn't allow more than three earned runs in each start. In his last four starts, he allowed a total of seven earned runs. His rough patch was sandwiched in between, during a bad four-game stretch where he allowed five or six runs each time out.

Most of Gray's fortune last year can be tied directly to the long ball. He gave up 19 taters in 14 games, including three in his first-ever Major League appearance and six in 17 1/3 innings during the aforementioned bad stretch.

Of all pitchers who threw at least 50 innings in 2021, only three gave up home runs at a higher rate than Gray's 2.42 HR/9. That's normally a red flag but it's also a problem that can be fixed.

The end of the season is when things turned around and surprise, surprise, he gave up fewer homers. He only allowed two home runs in his final four starts.

This was no fluke either. All young pitchers experience peaks and valleys but Gray's were pronounced. The good news is that we can identify a direct cause - his breaking ball usage. Once he began to incorporate the slider more and rely on the four-seamer less, things got better.

Gray's fastball isn't terrible but it was teed up too often and didn't induce enough whiffs (17.8%). His slide piece, on the other hand, had a 45% Whiff% and his underrated curveball had a 47.8% Whiff%.

If he's going to continue to live as a fly ball pitcher, he would be served well to keep the ball down in the zone with his breaking pitches and the occasional changeup. Too often he left his fastball up over the plate and that's when he got in trouble.

ATC projects improvement over last year's ratios with a 4.72 ERA and 1.30 WHIP but with a still-too-high 1.64 HR/9. I believe he can do far better with the adjustments mentioned.


When To Draft

In a typical redraft league, Gray will either be a late-round pick or not selected at all. His unsightly numbers as a rookie will keep many managers away in favor of a "safer" option. In early NFBC drafts, he is going around pick 280, later than other young pitchers who had better debuts such as Joe Ryan, Aaron Ashby, and Bailey Ober. The problem is that those pitchers do not have the same upside Gray does. Ashby and Ober may not even be locked into rotation spots all season long.

Gray has two plus breaking balls at his disposal and can continue to refine his fastball usage to limit damage via home runs. His pedigree is not in question and the Nats sought him in exchange for Scherzer because they know he can be a future anchor of their rotation. There are sure to be some inconsistencies in his sophomore season but he has already shown he can pitch at a high level in the majors and can do so over the course of a full season. He is a terrific pick in best-ball formats but even in redraft leagues, when shooting for upside late in the draft, he is worth a flier in the event he gets off to a strong start.

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