The Rockies have put a lot of faith in Jon Gray. The RHP prospect was selected 3rd overall back in the 2013 MLB draft and for the most part has lived up to the expectations. He’s a 24-year-old 6’4” 235lb righty that has the build and repertoire to anchor a staff. Through just over 52 innings in 2016, Jon is sporting a healthy 10.49 K/9 with a sparkling 20.2 K-BB% which is good for 8th best in the majors among pitchers with at least 50 IP. This of course comes with the caveat of calling Coors Field as his home ballpark. So while he may look enticing by the numbers, he’ll constantly have to be selectively used in fantasy based on matchups and venues. Gray was given the rock on the road in San Diego this past Sunday where he made the absolute most of his matchup and venue. Here’s the GIF breakdown of Jon Gray’s June 5th outing against the Padres in 10 HD GIFs.
Before getting into the GIFs of his stellar start, let’s take a look at Gray’s strikezone plot from the outing:
Wow. Look at the general location of those pitches – everything is down with hardly any mistakes up in the zone. The heavy spray towards the right side shows just how much Gray liked living with his Slider on the inside corner to lefties as well as getting righties to flail aimlessly at the hook off the plate. As you can probably guess with all the red, Jon loves using his Slider as his “out pitch”. Of the 93 total pitches he threw, 48 of them were Fastballs and 34 of them were Sliders, making him mostly a two-pitch pony. It’s how he got to the majors and he’s been sticking with what he’s most comfortable throwing in the early goings of his major league career. He sprinkled in 7 of his slow 12-6 Curveballs and only 4 Changeups, but he found out early on he only really needed the Fastball/Slider combo to succeed against the Padres.
Alright, now let’s get to the fun part and take a closer look at Gray’s arsenal in GIF form.
Jon Gray has a lively Fastball that averaged 96mph throughout the 48 times he offered the pitch with a maximum of 98.4mph. It can flatten out at times with not much horizontal movement, but the way he delivers the Fastball makes it seem like a “heavy” pitch. Sometimes referred to as a “bowling ball” Fastball, it’s often very difficult for hitters to lift into the air. He mixed speeds with the pitch throughout the start, dropping down to 92mph, and would also occasionally get some nice run in on righties even with increased velocity. Let’s take a look at the varying Fastballs Gray threw on Sunday.
Gray held nothing back early on as he was touching 97mph as soon as the 1st inning. Here’s a good example of how it can stay somewhat straight when he throws it glove-side. He fooled Matt Kemp with this 97mph Fastball down the middle for the 3rd out of the first frame:
Another example of a similar Fastball is this 0-2 96mph offering that Gray blew right by Derek Norris for the swinging strikeout. Down the middle with not a lot of movement, but you can see in the slo-mo just how far behind the pitch Norris was with his swing:
When he does decide to take something off of the Fastball and drop it down to 92mph, he runs it on the arm side, adding two-seam action like he did here to Alexei Ramirez in an 0-0 count:
Gray’s best Fastball came on his 93rd and final pitch of the evening. This was a disgusting 97mph heater that blew past Padres outfielder Travis Jankowski and it came with some wicked running action to boot. It resulted in Gray’s 12th strikeout and was pure filth:
Jon threw 48 Fastballs with 31 (64.6%) of them being strikes and generated 6 (12.5%) whiffs with the pitch. One of his few mistakes in the outing was an inside Fastball that Wil Myers got the barrel of the bat to and sent it over the left-center wall for a solo homerun. Other than that poor pitch, the Fastball paired incredibly well with the Slider this past Sunday. It’s also nice to know that he can keep his velocity up through the later innings as he had no trouble ending the night at 97mph.
Gray’s best pitch was definitely his wipeout Slider that runs anywhere from 85-91mph. When sequenced properly with his overpowering Fastball, the follow-up Slider is devastating on both righties and lefties. He showed confidence in the pitch by throwing it both for strikes early in counts as well as down in the zone or off the plate glove-side when ahead. He buried the pitch inside to lefties quite a bit, which is generally an unusual approach, but it was working in Gray’s favor all night.
Gray proved his confidence in the Slider early on with this nasty burial of a full count 87mph Slide-piece inside to Brett Wallace for the commitment and the strikeout:
He made righties look just as unprepared and off-balanced with the Slider, as showcased in this beautiful 87mph 2-1 offering to Matt Kemp where he nails his location in a count where Kemp is expecting the hard Fastball:
Much like Gray did with Wallace, he used the Slider down and in on lefty Alexi Amarista in an 0-2 count with this 88mph Slider resulting in a futile wave at the pitch and yet another strikeout:
Poor Travis Jankowski, the victim of Gray’s best Fastball, was also the victim of a nasty backdoor Slider that Gray placed perfectly on the outside corner for a called strike three. This 88mph 2-2 count offering shows how multi-faceted Jon’s Slider truly is and how he can place it practically anywhere:
Gray threw 34 Sliders with an astonishing 28 (82.4%) of them resulting in strikes while earning an impressive 15 (44.1%) whiffs with the pitch. It was hands down his favorite and most effective pitch type and it was obvious as to why that was. He can locate it down when ahead, outside to righties and inside to lefties in any count and induce ugly swings, and he has the ability to paint it backdoor to lefties for called strikes. The duo of the firm Fastball and wipeout Slider gave the Padres fits all night and Gray abused this to the best of his abilities.
Jon’s secondary breaking pitch is a slow 12-6 hooking Curveball that ranges from 74-78mph. He mixed in 7 of these Curveballs but ultimately chose to stick with what was working – the Slider. He threw the Curve as a “get-me-over” for strikes early in counts as well as an “out pitch” attempt down in the zone resulting in minimal success with either. It’s a nice difference in velocity to mix in later in games but it wasn’t very effective on Sunday (somewhat similar to Yu Darvish and his slow bender last week).
Gray actually threw his best Curveball with just his second pitch of the night, getting this 0-1 75mph bender over and on the inside corner at the knees for a called strike against Jon Jay:
Unfortunately for Gray, he wasn’t able to locate the pitch past this first showing. He either left them up in the zone where they were hit (Alexei Ramirez was all over a hanging Curveball later in the game and roped a single) or he buried them down and hitters were able to recognize the pitch and not chase. 4 of the 7 Curveballs ended up as strikes but none of the 7 resulted in a whiff. Gray had good reason to stick with the much more effective breaking pitch in his Slider.
Gray only threw his Changeup 4 times – the fewest of any of his 4 pitches. His Changeup ranges from 85-88mph and has a common tailing action that runs away from lefties. He threw 3 of the 4 for strikes while failing to generate a single whiff with the pitch. The low Changeup count seems to be a trend he’s committed to trying in 2016 as he’s only totaling 3.3% usage with the pitch in all his 52.1 IP of this year.
The one time Gray didn’t throw his Changeup for a strike might have been his best one of the night. This 85mph Changeup to Wil Myers in an 0-0 count that just missed low showcases the excellent amount of depth he’s able to get with it at times:
It certainly appears to have the potential to be an effective mix-up pitch. I’m purely speculating here, but I wonder if it’s less effective in Coors and that’s the reason he’s choosing to throw the Changeup less and less. Whatever the reason, Gray has gone from throwing the Changeup 17.2% of the time in 2015 to just 3.3% this year. He’s throwing more Sliders (19.0% to 28.9% from 2015 to 2016) as well as more Curveballs (0% to 8.1%) in place of the Changeup.
Final line: 7.0 IP, 5 Hs, 2 ER, 1 BBs, 12 Ks, 93 pitches (66 strikes), 18/27 first pitch strikes
After analyzing the start, it’s quite clear to me what the Rockies see in Gray and why they were willing to spend their 3rd overall pick on the kid back in 2013. He has the makeup of a true ace and possible anchor to a staff. There are still things that need to be refined, such as Fastball/Curveball/Changeup command, but the overwhelming positives are tough to ignore. He set a personal best by striking out 12 and it was the first time a Rockies pitcher reached that K total since 2010. Sure, you could choose to be ignorant and just chalk it up to being a soft matchup against the Padres, but as a Mariners fan who just witnessed them score 34 runs in a 4-game series, I beg you to reconsider. Gray struck out the first 5 batters he faced and cruised through 7 innings with 12 Ks while only throwing 93 pitches – an amazing total considering the amount of strikeouts. He also owns the 3rd highest average Fastball velocity among starting pitchers behind Thor and Eovaldi.
Another interesting takeaway from Gray’s outing was his perpetual attack of going for strikeouts. He had the luxury of pitching the whole game with a lead, but it didn’t affect his approach to hitters. Rather than pitching to contact, he was dealing on the edges and throwing tough Sliders in counts where it would have made sense to just challenge guys with the Fastball. A possible result of “the Coors effect” where the more bats you can miss and not allow balls in play the better.
Gray reminds me a lot of both Vincent Velasquez and Michael Fulmer. Young power righties with plus-plus Fastball/breaking ball combos that are in the process of finding their 3rd pitch. He has an electric arm and should mow through lineups outside of Coors. If there were ever a Rockies pitching prospect with the potential to succeed enough to be ownable in fantasy, Jon Gray is the man. He certainly demands looks when pitching on the road outside of the thin air of Colorado.
Let’s end this breakdown with another look at that absolutely disgusting 97mph Fastball that ran across the plate and right by the bat of Travis Jankowski:
Ian Post contributes for Pitcher List and grew up on the game of baseball by playing year-round through adolescence and pitching in college before finding his love for writing about the sport. When he isn’t providing pitching analysis, he can be found faithfully rooting for the Mariners, watching Game of Thrones, and searching for a new favorite IPA in the Pacific Northwest.