2022 Pod Projections: Josiah Gray — A Review

Let’s finish up my Pod Projection reviews by looking at former top starting pitching prospect, Josiah Gray. Despite a disappointing debut in 2021 that resulted in an ugly 5.68 ERA, he did manage to post a superb 14.1% SwStk%, giving us hope that he would eventually break out thanks to a strikeout rate surge. Let’s find out what happened.

Games Started | IP: 24 | 125 Projected | 28 | 148.2 Actual

I was conservative here, being cognizant of Gray’s lack of big innings historically and only 86.1 innings pitched in 2021. My forecast implied 5.2 innings per start and he actually ended up recording 5.3 innings per start, so nearly nailed that.

K%: 24.1% Projected | 23.7% Actual

There was clearly upside hinted at via his underlying metrics, including a 14.1% SwStk% and elite curveball and slider SwStk% marks. With at least an average four-seamer at generating whiffs, along with two excellent swing and miss pitches, he looked like a potential big strikeout guy. However, I conservatively forecasted a bit of regression given his lack of history, and he did end up suffering a minor decline. All this primary pitches lost significant SwStk%, despite stable velocity. He even threw his slider, his best whiff pitch, more often at the expense of his four-seamer, but that wasn’t enough to offset the declines in whiffiness.

BB%: 8.8% Projected | 10.2% Actual

I don’t understand what happened here. He had never posted a walk rate over 8.2% in the minors, and now hasn’t been able to push his walk rate into single digits in the Majors. His strike% fell, continuing to remain below league average, which led to a higher rate of 3-0 counts than the average, after finishing better than average during his 2021 debut. Given that his ability to generate swinging strikes also declined, he needs to improve his control if a breakout has any chance of being on the table.

GB%/LD%/FB%: 35% / 20% / 45% Projected | 33% / 17.8% / 49.2% Actual

Welp, I was right that his batted ball distribution did move toward the league averages, but they didn’t move enough! He still remained an extreme fly ball pitcher, and continued allowing a better than average LD%. All these flies and lack of liners is fantastic for his BABIP, but scary for his potential home runs allowed.

HR/FB%: 13.5% Projected | 18.6% Actual

Gray easily posted the highest HR/FB rate among all pitchers that recorded at least 140 innings. Clearly, the memo that the league HR/FB rate was down at its low in some years failed to reach him. On average, extreme FB% pitchers average lower HR/FB rates and yet Gray has been at this mark over 219.1 innings so far. Is this another symptom of poor command and/or control? I have no idea. But it’s obviously killing his ERA, especially when combined with the double digit walk rate.

BABIP: .281 Projected | .256 Actual

While Gray posted the highest HR/FB rate among 140+ innings pitchers, he posted the 13th lowest BABIP among that group of 72. That’s thanks to the extreme fly ball rate and low LD%. It’s always hard for me to understand how a pitcher could allow a high HR/FB rate, but a low BABIP. On the one hand, he’s serving up meatballs and hitters are taking advantage by hitting them out of the park. On the other hand, he’s not serving up meatballs, and actually making pitches that are tough to hit squarely? I’m not sure I will forecast him to continuing posting a FB% around 50%, but if he does, his BABIP should stick well below the league average.

Below is a comparison of my projected pitching line, the other forecasting systems, and 2022 actuals:

Projections vs Actual
2022 Actual 148.2 7 5.02 1.36 154 9.3 4.0 2.30 23.7% 10.2% 17.8% 33.0% 49.2% 0.256
Pod 125 8 4.25 1.27 127 9.2 3.3 1.52 24.1% 8.8% 20.0% 35.0% 45.0% 0.281
ZiPS DC 120 5 4.55 1.30 139 10.4 3.5 1.68 0.303
THE BAT 139 8 4.30 1.23 132 8.5 2.9 1.59 22.5% 7.6% 0.281
ATC 139 7 4.74 1.31 137 8.9 3.3 1.63 23.4% 8.6% 0.295
FGDC 129 6 4.82 1.35 138 9.6 3.5 1.73 0.303
Steamer 139 8 5.06 1.39 136 8.9 3.6 1.77 22.4% 9.0% 20.4% 33.4% 46.2% 0.287

All the systems undershot his innings pitched, and yet we mostly ended up in line with his win total. That’s what happens when you’re supported by a weak offense that ranked 26th in runs scored and you post an ERA over 5.00! Speaking of ERA, Steamer actually almost nailed it, as the only system forecasting a mark over 5.00. Of course, he finished with a SIERA of just 4.28, so based solely on his skills, I ended up pretty close, as trying to pin down a pitcher’s BABIP / HR/FB / LOB% in any particular season is a fool’s errand.

Thanks to the inflated walk rate, Gray’s 1.36 WHIP was higher than the majority of the systems, though here, Steamer actually was too pessimistic, despite underestimating his walk rate. I ended up the closest on his strikeout rate, as ZiPS was far too optimistic, while the others were too pessimistic. Given his minor league history, 14.1% SwStk% as a rookie, and two elite secondary pitches, I’m unsure how some of these systems landed in the mid-22% range for a projected strikeout rate.

Obviously, we all completely missed his HR/9 rate, which was well above 2.00 thanks to an absurd HR/FB rate, combined with an extreme FB%. Finally, both The Bat and I forecasted the lowest BABIP of all the systems, and yet still missed by a mile. It’s baffling that ZiPS projected a mark over .300 given his extreme fly ball tendency.

Overall, the forecasting systems essentially all suggested he wasn’t worth speculating on except if in a deep or NL-Only league, so we were right for the most part, even though we got many of the underlying metrics wrong. Admittedly, I was pretty bullish here and drafted him in my shallow 12-team mixed league as a breakout candidate, but he didn’t make my active roster very often. He has definitely lost some luster after his 2022 performance, but I do think better times are ahead.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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10 days ago

The high HR/FB and low BABIP makes sense. Barreled fly balls usually go over the fence, non-barreled fly balls usually find outfielders’ gloves, but the difference between barreling and not barreling a ball is often very small, even if the pitcher grooves it. The hitter just gets under the ball slightly, or a little toward the label, or does barrel it, but to the opposite field where it dies, or whatever. Of the 141 batted balls off of Josiah Gray that Savant classifies as fly balls, 37 were HRs, but only 11 others even fell for hits. That’s a .340 BACon, but only a .106 BABIP.

Gray has a bad fastball that he commands poorly. He can get away with one of those things (by virtue of his having two plus breaking balls), but not both.