2012 was a rough year for the Colorado Rockies: between the NL lowest 5.22 ERA, an ultimately poor defense, and position players beset by injury, the Rockies struggled to get by with a 64-98 season. Through the misery of the season came a small glimmer of hope, behind the Astros and the Cubs, the Rockies would get the 3rd overall pick of the 2013 Amateur Draft, a draft that promised to bring some talent to the ailing team. With their picks, Houston chose pitcher Mark Appel and the Cubs chose position player Kris Bryant, leaving the Rockies with the obvious choice of pursuing Jon Gray, an incredibly talented collegiate pitcher from the University of Oklahoma. At the time both Appel and Gray were considered to be amongst the best up and coming pitchers and both were highly sought after by MLB franchises.
In the nearly three years since the 2013 Amateur Draft, the results have begun to play out: pick #1 Appel bounced between minor league affiliates within the Astros organization before winding up with Phillies AAA affiliate Lehigh Valley in 2016. Pick #2, Bryant has become a household name in Chicago and a thorn in the side of the Rockies, having hit a walk off home run in late July of 2015 on the very day that LaTroy Hawkins and Troy Tulowitzki ended the night on their way to Toronto.
That leaves pick #3, and poster boy of Rockies misfortune, Jon Gray. Very few players have appeared to have as much bad luck as Gray: in his first 13 starts with the Rockies, Gray had either pitched in no-decisions or losses and despite some terrific recent outings, his record stands as losing. Start number 14 was lucky and brought him a resounding 5-2 win against the defending NL champions, while his following game was his worst yet giving up nine runs over three and a third innings against St. Louis. He then bounced back with an 8-2 victory at Boston. The question really is, does Gray just have bad luck, or is it time to re-evaluate the 2013 Amateur Draft choice.
In his major league debut for the Rockies, Gray found himself pitching against a surging Seattle offense. In his first inning, Gray looked wildly inefficient. It would take him 33 pitches to strikeout two, earn two runs, walk one, and induce a lineout. Given that it was his first start, it was clear that if Gray continued to need such high number of pitches to get through an inning, his time on the mound would be limited to just a few innings. In the next inning, the story changed, and Gray was able to get three easy outs on only 10 pitches. By the time he would be taken out in favor of pinch hitter Drew Stubbs in the bottom of the 4th, Gray would record four strikeouts, two walks, five hits, and two earned runs on 77 pitches. It would take seven more starts for Gray to get his first decision, a loss in a low scoring game against the Dodgers, a game which saw him pitch a major league career high eight strikeouts and only two walks.
Through his first season with the Rockies Gray put up appetizing numbers: In 40.2 innings, he struck out 40 and allowed only 14 walks. His 5.53 ERA was high, but for a rookie that was called up mid-season, his 0-2 record could have been a lot worse.
Fast forward to 2016 and it is the same story as before. With more maturity, Gray has been allowed longer outings, his K/BB ratio has only gotten better, but the bad luck still exists. While his first two starts looked rusty, his numbers in May have been much more promising: on May 2nd Gray set a personal best for strikeouts at 11, struck out five in a row, allowed only two runs in six innings, and yet still earned a loss. In his next appearance on May 7th, Gray allowed only one hit over seven innings, pitching into a no-decision.
Looking at his record, it is clear that for what Gray has in strikeout ability, he tanks with a lack of game-to-game consistency. Surely he doesn’t have enough starts for these few data points to form a trend, though if this is how it will go, with a few low scoring starts broken up by a pitching yard sale, he is worth keeping around. Jon Gray clearly has the potential to become a great player, but if the Rockies are unable to back up his better performances, Colorado might become just the first stop on a much more diverse career. With the typically low win summer still just beginning, how much longer will the Rockies be able to wait for the offense to start giving Gray more wins in order to bring a sliver of a silver lining to their 2012 season.
So far Weiss and the rest of the team management have indicated that Gray’s bad luck is just that and that someday Gray, and the rest of the pitching prospects will be a panacea to the ridiculed Rockies pitching woes. With pitchers such as Chad Bettis, Chris Rusin, and Tyler Chatwood showing glimmers of competence on the mound, how long will it be until the Rockies can headline a Cubs and Astros-like redemption. With an on again, off again NL West where no team has yet shown the strengths of a standout leader for the whole season, this is the best shot the Rockies could ask for.
To bring the focus back to Gray and whether or not he is on a good track, it is worth revisiting the 2015 season. While Gray’s first start ended with a 4.50 ERA, his two follow up games brought that number down to 2.40. In those two games he only let one run go apiece and everything looked right with the rookie righty. One game later he came out and pitched his worst performance surrendering seven runs through just five outs, and yet still it wound up as no-decision. In a career dominated by bad luck, that was one of those good luck moments that he could use more of. With two wins under his belt and a 2-2 record in 2016, maybe his lucky day is coming soon.