Nationals Baseball: Who is Josiah Gray?

Friday, July 07, 2023

Who is Josiah Gray?

Josiah Gray is the Nats All-Star and as explained a couple posts ago, it's deserving. Even if he isn't the best choice from the Nats, he's a good one as the innings thrown and the results garnered play as an All-Star selection. But I keep hedging my best on Gray. Why is that? Because the fancy stats tell me so. 

The first fancy stat we tend to look at is FIP. It's fielding independent pitching and it's supposed to remove things out of a pitchers control - like how good his fielders are - from the equation. Looking at this can tell you how good a pitcher is really doing. In Gray's case his FIP sits at 4.79 which suggests quite the drop off from his ERA of 3.41.

Now of course Gray is pitching here and now so if the defense is helping him that shouldn't be dismissed. But we've noted the defense isn't good, it's bad. And guys like Gore, Corbin, and Irvin, show greater agreement. What is going on here exactly if it's not a defense thing?

Well FIP focuses on Ks, BBs, HBPs, and HRs and assumes kind of a base BABIP. Gray's BABIP, agreeing with our "it's not the defense!" theory, is a perfectly ok .297.  In fact that could be a little better. His HR/FB rate is down but it isn't too low. At 13% or so that's normal and great for a guy who's biggest problem before now was giving up too many homers (HR/FB sat around 18%). Coupled with a lot fewer FBs to begin with (from about 50% to under 40%) that explains why Gray has pitched better. But by that I mean that explains why Gray's FIP went from a "maybe out of baseball 5.86 to a workable back of the rotation 4.79.*  It doesn't explain the 3.41. 

His K's have gone down and his walks remain high. He should be giving up more runs. We dig further and we find a LOB% that is up among the best in the league.  Not unsustainable but you have to figure out why Gray might be here.  Guys here generally induce a ton of GBs (think Bryce Elder, Gray does not) or get a ton of Ks (Kershaw, Snell, again Gray does not) Occasionally they don't walk anyone (George Kirby, Gray does not). This shouldn't work this way.

Now one thing that DOES seem to be a "thing" for Gray, something that explains part of this and also has been so repeatable over his career that you can start to think of it as reasonable to continue - he doesn't give up homers with men on base. He's already given up 71 homers in his short career. 50 of them are solo shots. Only 5 have been for three or more runs. That's on the very low side for a starter and extremely low for a guy that doesn't keep guys off base. This year he's given up a quite reasonable 14 homers and only 2 have been with men on. Gray seems to be a different pitcher with men on base, focused on not making the big mistake. He'll be less likely to walk a guy, less likely to strike one out as well, and guys can still hit Gray but they won't get that homer they might have gotten with no one on. 

That doesn't cover everything though so there is some regression to happen but I'd bet it's to more of a low 4.00s ERA than a high one. And that doesn't mean he's stuck there. He improved from 2022 to 2023. That lets us consider the possibility that he does it so more in the future. He learns to use the mix more effectively getting even more ground balls or Ks, or gains better command of his pitches. He's a mid rotation guy now who is getting a little lucky but there is hope for something better that will stay.


*We can go into this as well - a better mix of pitches going from basically a 3 pitch guy to someone that can break out 5 pitches. Especially useful is the cutter which fills in a speed gap between FB and the CB and slider so it's harder to recognize the FB. It used to be a negative pitch for him and it's hard to be good without a good fastball. Now it's even.


Cautiously Pessimistic said...

His baseball savant page pretty well explains the FIP vs ERA difference to me. He's average or below-average in most metrics (hence higher FIP), but he has succeeded particularly well in inducing soft contact. That results in fewer homers, more grounders, and more outs. Compared to the last two years, his barrel% and launch angle are way down, resulting in a higher xBA but a lower xSLG than in the past.

Basically, it seems that he's completely changed his approach to trend towards a groundball pitcher. Let them put it in play but with lower likelihood of damage. Kind of like the Nats offense

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it's just my bias from the games I've watched, but he seems to be delivering far fewer uncompetitive pitches. Because his arsenal from last year to this changed drastically, I think it's reasonable to hope that his command of it will improve further.

Harper said...

CP - that could be the case but what would explain the FIP vs ERA differences in the previous years? I mean I guess Luck this year, Skill the next is possibls