Let’s talk about the headline. Is it bold? Yes. Did it get you to click? Okay, cool. More importantly, do I believe in it? Yes. Colorado Rockies right-hander Jon Gray will win the Cy Young Award in 2018.
Go ahead and laugh. Get it out of your system. Schedule your “and then what happened” tweets now.
Consider this, last year — a season where Gray’s first half was derailed by injury and several of his starts after were hampered by the recovery — the one thing that kept him from the Cy Young conversation was health.
Over his 20 starts (110 innings pitched), Gray posted a 10-4 record with a 3.67 ERA and 3.18 FIP which amounted to a 3.2 fWAR/3.1 rWAR. Again, this was essentially a half-season with stats that were negated by injury for few starts. What do Cy Young winners do? Win 20 games with a 3.25 ERA. He pretty much did half that in half as many games.
Gray’s last two spring starts were stellar, allowing no runs over 9.1 innings of work allowing only five hits and one walk while striking out 11. He’s ready.
It says a lot about Gray and the Rockies’ confidence in him that he’ll be the Opening Day starter in Arizona when his last meaningful outing came in the National League Wild Card game at the same location. That ended about as poorly as possibly for Gray. Yet the confidence in Gray (both by himself and Colorado) is what’s helped develop Gray from the No. 12 prospect in all of baseball to one of its best zone pitchers.
Last season, the 26-year-old’s unadjusted ERA (he pitches at Coors Field) was 40th among the 149 starters who threw 90 or more innings, his FIP (another unadjusted for park stat but which factors out things out of Gray’s control theoretically) with the same parameters as before was 13th-best in the game.
Take the sample and extend it out over 200 innings and Gray was comparable to, if not better than, Zack Greinke last year. Without even making an adjustment for park, league, strength of schedule or anything else, one can view Gray as a real ace.
Over Gray’s last two seasons, he’s pitched 268 innings. Among starters with at least 250 innings over the past two seasons, Gray’s 77 FIP- ranks 8th-best in the majors. That essentially means he was 23 percent better at run prevention than the league average.
Sure you can pick Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale or Corey Kluber as your frontrunners for the Cy Young in each league. The funny thing is, the only four pitchers Gray hasn’t been as good as over the past 200 innings are those guys.
There’s only two NL pitchers in that group. Both those players are over 30 now. Which is not to say that either will be bad but Kershaw has been placed on the DL, missing significant time the past two seasons. Looking at recent stats, there should be some concern about the best pitcher of the decade. Meanwhile, Scherzer has shown no signs of slowing down. If the Rockies and Nationals were to finish with the same record in 2018, there should be a lot more hype about Colorado’s club.
Some of that isn’t concrete, I’m aware. The Cy Young is not concrete. It’s done by a vote of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
On the other side, Gray is still growing. He has started just over 50 MLB games. He has yet to be healthy for 162 games and he has only been a full time big leaguer for two years.
With the benefit of health and his continued development he walks into the 2018 season as strong as any pitcher in the game.
I wrote this exact paragraph a few months ago at BSN Denver but I will publish it again:
Give Gray an entire season in 2018 and there’s a good chance he will have the greatest single season by a hurler from Denver. The only thing left for Jon Gray to do is to pitch as well as he has for the past 200 innings for the next 200 and do it over one season. If he does, Gray will be the first Rockie to be awarded the Cy Young.