You’ve heard of Earl Grey tea, right? In the mind of this non-tea drinker, the name Earl Grey conjures images of overcast skies over Britain and seems to me to be what one drinks to take away the chill of a dreary day in the British Isles.
Earl Grey tea, let me introduce you to your thirst-quenching cousin: Jon Gray Kool-Aid. It’s an invigorating elixir of promise and performance that is absolutely refreshing on eighty degree spring days in Arizona. I’ve never had a drink of Earl Gray tea in my life, but Kool-Aid? I’m all about the Kool-Aid. This year the Jon Gray Kool-Aid is particularly potent, and no one in the fantasy baseball world seems to be talking about it.
Twitter was all aflutter with the news of Blake Snell getting shelled by a college team. We’ve all heard about the dominant springs Chris Paddack, Forrest Whitley, and Gerrit Cole are having. But Jon Gray throws nine innings in three games of 1 run, 2 hit, 0 BB, and 10 K ball with a 1.00 ERA and a 0.33 WHIP and there’s the social media and internet equivalent of radio silence.
I know what you’re thinking. The Jon Gray Kool-Aid never seems to be as refreshing or intoxicating between April and October in Denver (and the other cities of the NL West) as it is in Arizona during the month of March, but at his current ADP of 189 (Fantrax) we can all afford a little Jon Gray and hope he keeps us refreshed through the season.
Gray’s performance this spring has been of particular interest to me since I own him for the tidy little sum of $3 in my twelve team keeper league. I’ll admit, after his performance last year he wasn’t going to make the cut this year. I acquired him and Bregman ($21) in a trade where I sent back Bellinger ($6) and Michael Fulmer ($16). The trade was in May, at the height of Bregman’s early season struggles (and Gray wasn’t faring any better). I knew Bregman would come around, but I wasn’t sure about Gray and I almost cut him. Since he was only 26 and had shown glimpses of greatness, I thought I’d give him a season to see if he could finally put it all together. He didn’t. Due to some league rules that I’m not particularly fond of, I carried him for most his 5.12 ERA and 1.35 WHIP last year. So I understand the argument against falling too hard (again) for Gray this year. But daaaaaaaang did you see the numbers so far this spring?
It’s not like he does this every spring. Gray’s February and March numbers have been pretty ordinary. His best spring training ERA up until this year was 3.86 in 2016, which isn’t horrible, but it came with a 1.71 WHIP (12 hits and 8 BBs) and only 6 Ks in 11.2 innings. Even with the excellent numbers this spring, his career spring training ERA and WHIP are still higher than one would like at 4.62 and 1.24 respectively. I know spring training numbers are, well, spring training numbers. Nothing to really get excited about unless you believe they are due to real changes the player has made over the off-season – a tweak in mechanics, increased velocity, or the addition of a new pitch for example.
So what changed for Gray? I scoured the web looking for specifics regarding an off-season trip he made to Driveline Baseball, but could only find confirmation that he did spend some time there. It appears he’s also overhauled his off-season strength and conditioning program and spent time with Denver Broncos strength and conditioning coach Loren Landow. Also, don’t underestimate an athlete’s will to prove people wrong. He was sent to AAA Albuquerque for two starts in July. Colorado then seemed to give up on him at the end of the year when they left him off the post-season roster. Insult to injury or fuel to the fire? It looks like he used it as fuel over the off-season and now we are seeing the fire.
Without specifics about what they found or what tweaks, if any, were made at Driveline, or what the unspecified health issue was last year, it’s hard to say that the change we are seeing this spring is real. But I can say that it sounds like he believes they are and, so far, you can’t argue with the performance or results. By the time I file this article, he will have pitched another spring training outing. Let’s hope it adds a little more sugar to the Jon Gray Kool-Aid instead of watering it down.
- Editors Note: Gray pitched three innings of one hit ball Monday night with 3 K’s before getting tagged for 2 runs in the 4th. He left with runners on the corners – Almonte limited the damage. A little water added, but still refreshing.