Jon Gray’s 2024 performance has Rangers raving about him, but it may not last

Texas Rangers v Kansas City Royals
Texas Rangers v Kansas City Royals / Ed Zurga/GettyImages

During a season where it feels like the Texas Rangers get bad injury news every other day, Jon Gray has been a bright spot. After averaging a 4.45 ERA through his first nine years in the league with the Rockies and Rangers, Gray has shown out this season with a 2.50 ERA in his eight appearances and was credited by manager Bruce Bochy as the reason why the Rangers beat the Royals on Sunday.

In some respects, it is hard to argue with the results. Gray's slider has remained absolutely filthy and among the best pitches in baseball, and he is striking out more than 25% of the batters he is facing. He deserves some plaudits for the good work he has done in 2024.

However, there is a good bit of evidence to suggest that Gray's hot start might not last as long as Rangers fans are hoping.

Rangers' Jon Gray has been great, but still has same fundamental problems

The one thing that has held back Gray in his career is the quality of his fastball. This isn't a velocity problem as he throws plenty hard. The issue is that his fastball doesn't fool opposing batters and they hit the pitch really hard, so he has had to live and die by how hitters react to his breaking stuff. From 2021 to 2023, the opposition is hitting .331, .275, and .346 off his four-seam fastball with a lot of that contact being absolute scorchers. In 2024, they are still hitting .303 against the pitch despite his hot start. That is not good.

Another problem here is that Gray's velocity is down a tick compared to where he generally averaged in previous seasons. Assuming that that change is indeed because he is focused on throwing more strikes and not because of an underlying health issue, that still isn't good. Gray already has middling-to-poor metrics this season when it comes to hitters barreling his pitches and allowing hard contact in general. If his fastball is both slower than it was AND in the strike zone with opposing hitters not being fooled by it, the odds suggest that some serious regression is coming.

There is a potential silver lining here, though. Assuming Gray both can't regain his previous fastball velocity or find another measurable improvement for it and hitters start doing even more damage against it, a simpler solution could come from his pitch usage. His slider is still so good that if he starts throwing it more while throwing his fastball less and mixing in some more changeups, that could keep hitters from sitting on his fastball and play into his strengths more.

It isn't a perfect solution, especially if hitters can lay off his slider, but it probably has a better chance of working long term than what he is doing right now.

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