2021 Dodgers Trade Deadline Targets: RHP Jon Gray, Rockies

Jon Gray (Via)

The Dodgers are still in need of starting pitching reinforcements, although after three consecutive blown saves by Kenley Jansen, it looks like they’ll need relief help as well. With the starters, Tony Gonsolin is still shaking off the rust coming off his shoulder injury, currently trying to fix his command issues. David Price has looked solid, but is still being stretched out to be a full time starter. Josiah Gray looked great in his debut despite the line score, but still the Dodgers will and still should be looking to solidify their starting pitching before the trade deadline.

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Previous entries

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Gray left his start 2 1/3 innings into his outing on June 4 against the Athletics, with right elbow soreness, as well as tightness in his forearm. In that start, he allowed five runs on four hits and two walks in 2.1 innings before leaving with a trainer. Later on, Bud Black said that the injury contributed to Gray’s poor performance in that outing. Luckily, an MRI on Gray’s elbow revealed no structural damage, and overall it was deemed a strained right elbow. He missed three weeks with that injury, and has made five starts since returning.

If we look at how he’s performed since returning from his injury, he’s now had five starts, averaging six innings per start, with a 2.40 ERA, 2.67 FIP, and a 1.07 WHIP over 30 innings. The most recent two starts include solid outings against the Padres in San Diego, and the Dodgers in Colorado. That last outing lowered his ERA to 3.68, which would be right next to his career-best 3.67 ERA in his 2017 season. The 29-year-old now has a home ERA of 3.22 over nine starts, compared to a 4.54 ERA in seven starts on the road. If Gray’s performance dropped due to injury on his June 4 start, excluding that appearance he has a 3.28 ERA over 16 starts and 90.2 innings pitched. Overall, he has a 3.68 ERA, 3.98 FIP, and a 1.22 WHIP, with 87 strikeouts and 37 walks in 93 innings. That’s a 22.3% strikeout rate and a 9.5% walk-rate. The walk-rate is the worst aspect of his game currently, as that would be a career high rate, also ranking 79th of 92 pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched.

He has a few similarities to that of Kyle Gibson, who Dustin wrote about on Tuesday. He isn’t a high-strikeout guy, and he’s likely closer to a No. 4 starter on very talented teams like the Dodgers, than he is to a front of a rotation regular. Although, I personally think he has a higher potential ceiling than almost all other starting pitchers available. With the current rotation barely being held together, Gray would be a very strong addition for the final 65 or so games of the regular season. With adequate health, he wouldn’t be someone the team relied on heavily in the postseason, but first they have to make it there, and Gray helps.

Another thing he does similarly to Gibson, is generate ground balls at a high rate of 50.6%, ninth among qualifying starting pitchers. Dustin also raised a good point in that this would add pressure to an already struggling infield defense.

“The Dodgers’ best starter at getting ground balls is Dustin May (56%), but we know he’s out for the season. Clayton Kershaw is next (48.1%), but he’s currently on the injured list. It falls to Walker Buehler, with a pedestrian 42 GB%. Perhaps adding a guy like Gibson could be a welcome change. However, it would put more pressure on the infield defense, which hasn’t been great this season.”

The same applies to Gray.

The following percentile rankings are about what you’d expect to see out of someone who is a No. 4 in a good rotation. He does a great job missing barrels, and is above average in almost all other aspects, besides walk-rate and strikeout rate.

If you like Deserved Run Average (DRA), he’s 33rd amongst 92 starters with at least 80 innings pitched at 3.91, just trailing a few guys like Ian Anderson (3.88), and Anthony DeSclafani (3.90), while he’s ahead of a few such as Marcus Stroman (3.93), Lance Lynn (3.98), Lucas Giolito (4.06), and Jose Berrios (4.21).

His strikeout rate of 22.3% is 58th of those 92 qualified starters, yet his overall whiff rate is 31st of those same 92 at 27.9%. That mark is very similar to or ahead of guys such as Yu Darvish (27.8%), Zack Wheeler (26.8%), Walker Buehler (26.6%), and Brandon Woodruff (26.3%). There’s something there that takes further looking into, but he’s able to generate enough whiffs overall, that it should allow him to rack up significantly more strikeouts than he does. It could be pitch sequencing, location, or just a pitch trait issue, where he doesn’t have the ridiculously high fastball spin rate to end at bats via strikeout. His fastball is averaging 2150 RPM, ranking 59th of 76 starting pitchers that have logged at least 300 4-Seam fastballs. It’s not the cleanest cutoff, as pitch classification can be a little hit or miss, as not all pitches are created equally. All those guys mentioned with similar whiff rates, have high spin rate fastballs that they usually incorporate late into counts, with Darvish (2527), Buehler (2551), Wheeler (2391), and Woodruff (2361) all significantly higher than Gray, and spin rate is tightly correlated to the ability to generate swing and misses. On the topic of spin rate, Gray’s average rates have been consistent post substance crackdown. Over these last five starts, he’s averaging 2372 RPM on his slider, right next to his season average of 2388. His fastball and curve also line up with this. His average fastball velocity has actually been up post injury, averaging 95.6 MPH over his last five starts, after averaging 94.0 prior to his injury.

In regards to the ground ball rate mentioned earlier, Gray features the ninth highest ground ball rate (50.6%) among qualifying starting pitchers. The Rockies have shifted 19.6% of the time behind Gray, and 31.4% of the time against left-handed batters overall. For the Dodgers, amongst all their right-handed starters this season, Walker Buehler has the lowest frequency of shifts behind him, at 41.2% overall, and 64.5% of the time against left-handed batters. The Dodgers shift the second most frequently overall, in 53% of all plate appearances, trailing only the Mets (55.1%), where the Rockies shift the least frequently in just 15.7% of total plate appearances.

Who knows, he’s a free agent after this season, so it’s likely he’d just be a rental. However, it feels like there’s enough there with Gray, where he has more potential to be unlocked just by getting out of Coors, and with a team that gets the best out of their pitchers, such as the Dodgers. There’s a solid chance that if he were acquired, he’d perform even better than he has thus far.

Unrelated, he also shares a birthdate with a former pitcher named Ice Box Chamberlain, who was born November 5th, 1867 and would be 153 years old today. For reference, that’s when the U.S. bought Alaska, while Cy Young was also born that year. Chamberlain logged 29.7 fWAR and 30.7 bWAR in his career, so Gray (15.1 and 11.2) has a way to go to overtake Chamberlain. However, Gray is currently the leader in pitching WAR for players born on November 5th, post World War II. Only the most important information here.

Cost

Gray has a simple situation with his contract, as he’s an impending free agent, getting paid a flat $6 million this season. He’s the most likely Rockies’ player to be moved, as Trevor Story will require a significantly larger commitment from whatever team decides to pursue him. It’s possible that Gray makes his last start for Colorado against the Dodgers on Sunday.

Proposal 1

To COL: Kendall Williams, Michael Grove, Leonel Valera
To LA: Gray

It’s tough to say if Colorado would prefer to improve their overall depth, or look to add pitchers or position players that are closer to the Major Leagues, or target higher upside prospects, without receiving much in the way of depth. The Rockies could be interested in guys in the Dodgers’ system that can replace Gray eventually, such as Williams, the big 20 year-old right-hander received in the Ross Stripling deal, Grove, the 24 year-old starter, closer to the bigs than most in the Dodgers’ system, and a high upside, up-the-middle player in Valera, who has good power potential and a chance to stick at shortstop.

Proposal 2

To COL: Carlos Duran, Robinson Ortiz, DJ Peters, Yunior Garcia
To LA: Gray

Colorado desperately needs outfielders, and Peters’ power in Coors is the stuff dreams are made of. Garcia is a low-level outfielder who has talent, but is also risky. Duran would fit the mold of a ground ball machine, while Ortiz would give them a potential swingman-type if he reaches the majors.

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As others have mentioned before myself, the Dodgers might need to add more than one starting pitcher this trade deadline. If the team feels they can manage to hold the rotation together by getting just one guy such as Gray, then they’ll do that. Him or Gibson are relatively similar in terms of impact, but personally I feel stronger about Gray’s upside. His straightforward contract will also make him easier to acquire and help create a simpler deal between the two teams. The Rockies would have to deal with trading within their own division, but as Gray is an impending free agent, it’s likely he walks and Colorado gets nothing for him if they don’t move him now. Theoretically, it makes perfect sense for both sides, as the Rockies have a weak farm system, that could use both depth and top end talent, whereas Gray would be a solid addition to the Dodgers’ rotation, with possible upside, and likely wouldn’t require a ridiculous amount to obtain.

About Allan Yamashige

Just a guy living in Southern California, having a good time writing about baseball. Hated baseball practice as a kid, but writing about it rules. Thanks for reading!