Offseason Trade Target: Fixing Jon Gray's Slider
Image courtesy of © Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY SportsThe 2020 season did not go well for plenty of players as the Twins saw with Jake Odorizzi. With many unique circumstances surrounding a shortened season, it’s going to be tough for teams to evaluate starters on 8-12 appearances. Gray certainly fits that mold as he was limited to eight starts and had a 6.69 ERA and a 5.1 SO/9, both totals were the worst of his career.
Gray’s season was cut short after suffering right shoulder inflammation and then he didn’t have time to build back up before season’s end. His 2020 struggles might be tied to him pitching through this injury. Over the last four seasons, he has posted a 4.50 ERA with 1.34 WHIP and 8.9 SO/9, so there have been ups and downs in recent years.
Looking into his contract situation, Gray is arbitration eligible for the final time this winter. He made $5.6 million through arbitration last year and MLB Trade Rumors projects him to be in roughly that same range for the coming season ($5.6-6.5 million). To put that in perspective, the Twins paid two members of their rotation more than that last season (Jake Odorizzi, $17.8 million; Michael Pineda, $10 million).
Pitching in Coors Field for 50% of a player’s starts can be tough on the overall numbers by the end of multiple seasons. Against Gray, opponents have hit .268/.320/.435 (.755), but within those numbers is a .327 BAbip which means a certain amount of luck might be involved for hitters. His second most starts have come at Petco Park, a pitcher friendly ballpark, and batter’s OPS is over 120 points lower. Putting Gray at Target Field for half his starts likely puts him somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.
Another area to consider with Gray is his pitch selection and the possibility of unlocking even more potential. The Twins did this with Kenta Maeda this past season as he saw increased use in his slider and changeup which meant he was using his four seamer less often. Fans saw those positive results as Maeda was the team’s most consistent starting pitcher for the entire season.
Gray relies on five pitches, a four seamer (48.3%), a slider (29.2%), a changeup (13.1%), a curve (8.4%) and a sinker (1.1%). His biggest change last season was an increased use of his changeup which increased by over 10% from the 2019 season. His fastball velocity consistently ranks high, but there isn’t a lot of movement on this pitch. Could Wes Johnson work some of his magic and get Gray to rely more on his secondary pitches?
Everything with Gray is going to come down to the health of his throwing shoulder. He might be worth the risk if the Twins get a look at his medicals and everything checks out. The cost likely wouldn’t be very high with one arbitration year left and his poor performance in 2020.
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