On July 30th, 2021, the Washington Nationals traded away Trea Turner and Max Scherzer for four prospects from the Los Angeles Dodgers, including highly regarded starting pitcher Josiah Gray and catcher Keibert Ruiz. Gray had struggled in his first eight big league innings with the Dodgers, but he was still only 23 years old, with a lot of time to still develop into the frontline starter that many industry experts expected him to become. With four pitches: a four-seam fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup, Josiah attacks the zone, primarily using his curveball to get whiffs. He mostly uses sliders versus right-handed hitters and his changeup against left-handed hitters, and though he has not seen success from this approach, his expected numbers reinforce that it could work quite well for him over a larger sample. Gray excels at certain aspects of his game, like his ability to get whiffs and his curveball, but still has much room for improvement, like his overall repertoire.
Josiah Gray excels at missing bats. In fact, he is one of the best pitchers in the league at it. Of 381 all pitchers who have faced 150 batters, Gray ranks as the 19th best in whiff percentage. This is crucial for Gray’s success at the moment because when hitters do make contact, it tends to be for extra bases. This can be seen in his barrel percentage, which is the 9th highest in the league. Having a high barrel percentage is not necessarily a bad thing. Top closers Aroldis Chapman and Liam Hendriks are both in the top 15 in the league in this category, but their ability to get whiffs limits any sort of damage they could give up. If Gray can limit the opportunities for these extra-base hits he will have better odds for success.
The bread and butter pitch in Josiah Gray’s repertoire is his curveball. He has a .439 slugging against the pitch but gets whiffs on 60% of the 155 curveballs that he has gotten swings on, or approximately 45 curveballs. According to Statcast numbers, hitters have vastly overperformed against the curveball as well since it has a .274 expected slugging. One of the things that benefit Gray’s curveball is his height. At 6’1”, Gray is one of the shortest pitchers in the league. Being so short allows Gray to have one of the lowest extensions in the league. We have seen what extension can potentially do to a pitcher in Patrick Corbin and I believe we are seeing the reverse effect in Josiah Gray. This allows for what according to advanced metrics is a below-average curveball to overperform these metrics. This happens due to the curveball breaking farther from the plate, allowing it to drop more than it would if he had an average extension. Players with similar spin rates to Gray see success on their curveballs as well, but nowhere near the dominant 60 whiff percentage that Gray has.
One of Josiah Gray’s most glaring weaknesses is his repertoire. While he throws his four-seam and curveball to hitters on both sides of the plate, his slider and changeup are used almost exclusively against hitters on one side of the plate. Adding another pitch to use against right-handed hitters or developing his changeup so that it is a viable weapon against right-handed hitters, would go a long way. Just developing his changeup more would be beneficial given that he has only thrown 14 in all 574 that he has thrown this year would help. Another high-velocity pitch, like a sinker or cutter, would be beneficial as well. The cutter would be preferred because of its splits between both sides of the plate.