Buy Low Candidates: Should We Target These High Upside, Struggling Young Starters (Jon Gray & More)

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

We all love to have the high upside starting pitchers, but what are we supposed to do when things go south?  Should we cut bait and go with a more consistent, trustworthy option?  Is there enough upside to stick it out?  Let’s take a look at a few pitchers who are currently struggling and try to decide how to proceed:

 

Jon Gray – Colorado Rockies
2018 Statistics – 55.2 IP, 5.34 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 10.19 K/9, 2.10 BB/9

It’s hard to call the issue with Gray based on pitching in Coors Field, considering his 0.97 HR/9 courtesy of a 46.0% groundball rate.  The problem has been that he’s been hit hard (25.8% line drive rate), which has helped lead to some poor “luck” metrics (.371 BABIP, 63.7% strand rate).

He hasn’t lost any velocity on his fourseam fastball:

  • 2016 – 96.04 mph
  • 2017 – 96.33 mph
  • 2018 – 96.35 mph

That said, how effective is the pitch really?  Opponents have hit .327 against it, with a .542 SLG, so it makes sense that he wants to reduce the usage (down to 52.52%).  However, the decreased usage isn’t enough to limit the impact of the pitch.

Even last season he owned a 22.5% line drive rate, and for his career he’s at 24.1%.  Strikeouts and control can’t always overcome this type of hard contact, and that’s where Gray has been burned this season.

Would we expect him to turn the corner?  Absolutely, and he has generally been a better pitcher in June (career 3.65 ERA) and July (3.97 ERA) throughout his career.  That said he also shouldn’t be considered a given.  He’s worth buying, but until we see the contact weaken he’s going to be tough to trust and instead should be more of a plug and play option.

Verdict – Cautiously Buy

 

Jameson Taillon – Pittsburgh Pirates
2018 Statistics – 51.1 IP, 4.56 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 8.42 K/9, 2.81 BB/9

This isn’t so much a luck based issue (.297 BABIP, 72.6% strand rate), and his WHIP helps to back that up.  Instead he’s struggled with a somewhat elevated home run rate (1.23 HR/9) despite a similar groundball rate to last year’s mark (47.3% vs. 47.7%).  The problem has come at home, which is an even bigger surprise:

  • Home – 1.69 HR/9
  • Road – 0.73 HR/9

It’s interesting that he hasn’t generated nearly as many groundballs at home (40.6% vs. 53.8% on the road), but that would seem like more of an aberration than anything.  We’d expect that split to correct itself, and with it should come significantly better results.

He may not be a strikeout per inning pitcher, but there’s nothing unrealistic with where he is there or with his control.  As long as the home runs return to where we’d expect, there’s good reason to be buying in all formats.

Verdict – Solid Buy

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

Missed our Top 100 prospect rankings?  Make sure to check it out by clicking here.  

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