St. Louis Cardinals: Examining a pursuit of Jon Gray
By Matt Graves
In baseball, you can never have enough pitching and the St. Louis Cardinals are no exception. Why is Jon Gray a name the team should pursue?
The St. Louis Cardinals may have just filled their rotation by resigning Adam Wainwright and committing to bring Carlos Martinez back to the rotation, but they should still be going after pitching. If last Spring Training didn’t explain why enough, just know that starting pitching situations can change in the blink of an eye.
A rotation of Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Carlos Martinez, Dakota Hudson, and Adam Wainwright isn’t bad, but having another name in there for depth and to give some competition is not a problem.
Recently, there has been a report that a Rockies starter, Jon Gray, is available. He would be a great fit.
The yearly GM meetings are normally where the groundwork for many deals completed later in the offseason is laid. Hopefully, John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch aren’t just sitting on their hands. So why Jon Gray?
Gray is currently 28 years old and is going to be entering his sixth year in the league. The former 3rd overall pick in 2013 was a quick riser and had ace-level stuff coming out of Oklahoma.
Gray had a bit of a wobbly entrance into the league as injuries set him back. Before 2014, he was a consensus top-15 prospect in baseball. He then fell to the 20s then the 30s in 2016 before sticking in the league.
He hasn’t exactly put up those “ace” numbers in his years though.
|5 Yr||5 Yr||43||33||4.46||114||641.1||110||3.77||1.335||9.1||1.1||3.0||9.4|
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
He hasn’t been awful, but an average ERA of 4.46 is inflated due to playing at Coors field in half of his games. There is a reason why his FIP is consistently lower than his ERA.
The thing to focus on for Gray is the step forward he took in 2019. This would look like an anomaly, but with 2017 also on the books as a great season, 2018 looks like an outlier. The fact of the matter is, in two of his last three seasons, Gray has been 35+ percent above league average pitching half of his games in the best hitting park in the league.
Gray walks too many players and gives up too many hits, but the thing to notice is the lack of homers he gives up. Again, in the best park in the league to hit homers, in the year that the most homers in the history of the league were hit, Gray only had a HR/9 of 1.1. Limiting homers in this day and age is a talent that should be coveted.
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For reference, Gray gave up just 19 homers the entire 2019 season. Jack Flaherty gave up 25, Miles Mikolas gave up 27, Gerrit Cole gave up 29, Jacob Degrom gave up 19. To be fair, most of those pitchers did it in more innings, but the rate stats still suggest he is great in that regard. None of those pitchers were pitching in Coors either. That’s elite-level work.
How did he do it? By inciting an average exit angle of just 7.5. Via Baseballsavant.com, the first two similar pitchers to Gray based on velocity and movement of his five-pitch arsenal are 2018 and 2019 Max Scherzer.
Clearly Gray isn’t elite in every area but at 28 years old and under contract until after the 2022 season, he is a great option who will not make a ton of money in 2020. The problem is that he will probably not be easy to acquire.
It won’t take Dylan Carlson or Nolan Gorman, but it could take one or two of the Cardinals’ top 10 prospects to pry Gray away from the Rockies. If the Cardinals did get Gray, he could compete with Wainwright and Martinez for a starting pitching job. Having six good starting pitchers is not a problem. Maximize and leverage the team’s strength: pitching.
Whether or not the Cardinals make any impact trades this winter is a big question but in regards to the plan to “expect a similar payroll,” Gray’s arbitration salary won’t be enough to change the books that much. He’s cheap, he’s in his prime, and getting him out of Coors could increase his production.