Welcome to the 2017 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the in-season contributions of every player to don the purple this past season. The goal wasn’t and isn’t to quibble with order. Instead, it’s to get a snapshot of a player along with a look forward. For that reason, we simply sorted by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement (rWAR) and will start at the bottom and end up at the top.
No. 4, Jon Gray (3.1 rWAR)
If one looked at the beginning and end of Jon Gray’s 2017 season, it would be fair to think it had been a disaster for the Rockies starter.
Gray’s season started with a foot injury in Spring Training that became a full blown broken foot during his third start of the regular season against the Giants on April 13, an injury that kept him out of action until the end of June.
His season ended in the NL Wild Card Game, which he started for the Rockies and only lasted 1 1⁄3 innings, giving up four runs, all earned, on seven hits with no walks and a pair of strikeouts.
The injury limited Gray to just 20 starts and 110 1⁄3 innings in 2017, but he still put up his best season by rWAR with 3.1, tied for second-most among Rockies pitchers. He led Rockies starters with a 3.67 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP.
One big key to Gray’s success in 2017 was a reduction in walks, cutting his walk rate to a career-low 6.5 percent. He did so while keeping his strikeout rate at 24.3 percent, which is right about the mark he has posted for his career. He walked 30 and struckout 112 in his 110 1⁄3 innings of work.
Gray also succeeded with greater use of his curveball in 2017, especially on the road. He threw the curve nearly 14 percent of the time this season, with his curveball usage at around 20 percent in many road games. He struck out 27 hitters on the curve, and opponents hit just .206/.217/.250 against it.
Despite the increased curveball usage, Gray’s out pitch was still that devastating slider, which he threw 28.2 percent of the time and which accounted for 68 of his 112 strikeouts. Opponents hit just .173/.224/.250 against it in 2017. It is worth noting that several pitchers noted having issues throwing their slider with the baseballs used for the postseason, which may have contributed to Gray’s rough outing in the Wild Card Game.
Unlike 2016 in which he had a complete game shutout with 16 strikeouts against the Padres in September, Gray did not have one standout game in 2017, but was instead consistently strong on the mound. He finished the regular season with 13 consecutive starts in which he allowed three runs or less. In fact, he allowed three runs or less in 17 of his 20 starts this season.
Toward the end of the season, there was much debate over whether or not Gray was an ace, and that doesn’t happen unless someone is pitching like an ace, and Gray was doing just that. In 11 starts in August and September, he posted a 2.44 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 66 1⁄3 innings with 15 walks and 66 strikeouts. The Rockies were 7-4 in those 11 games, and scored a total of just 10 runs in the four losses.
Also notable about Gray’s success in 2017 was just how much of it came at Coors Field. Gray made eight home starts, with a 3.13 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. Opponents hit just .244/.296/.352 against Gray at Coors this season, and he gave up just nine extra-base hits in 46 innings at home. Since the beginning of 2016, Gray has a 3.89 ERA at Coors Field, where opponents have hit just .238 against him in 129 2⁄3 innings.
Gray has been able to master what few other Rockies pitchers in history have, finding a way to have consistent success at Coors Field, and it was a big key to his success in 2017 and should be a platform for him to be even better in 2018 and beyond.
Barring another Spring Training injury or a stunning offseason acquisition, Gray will be right where he was this season, on the mound on Opening Day for the Rockies in 2018. His goal will likely be to make 30 starts and pitch 200 innings for the first time in his career and to lead the Rockies back into the postseason.