The focus for the 2023 season for the Washington Nationals is going to be the development of the young guys in the organization. One of those young guys is Josiah Gray. After coming over to the Nationals in a trade at the 2021 trade deadline, Josiah Gray has shown flashes of being a really solid major league starter, but those flashes have been too often short-lived and followed by disappointing starts. The key to Josiah Gray taking the next step as a MLB starter is consistency.
It’s too early to say that Josiah Gray is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of pitcher, but it certainly is puzzling to see him dominate during certain outings and struggle mightily in others. Last season, Gray’s biggest issue was keeping the ball in the ballpark. Gray gave up an MLB-worst 38 HRs last season, but home runs weren’t the end of Gray’s struggles. Gray was also worst in the National League in walks (66).
Just looking at the peripherals, Josiah Gray’s 2022 campaign is not very encouraging for a prospect the Nationals traded Max Scherzer and Trea Turner for in 2021. If you look a bit deeper, however, you see a pitcher whose main issue is consistency.
In the 28 starts that Josiah Gray made for the Nationals last season, Gray gave up four or more runs 12 times. That is certainly not good, but on the flip side, Gray also had 12 starts in which he went 5 innings or more and gave up two or fewer runs. In essence, for every good start from Gray there was a blow-up start with it. For Gray to take the next step in his development as a MLB pitcher, he must find a way to limit the blow-up outings and salvage a solid start.
For years, Nationals fans have been spoiled with elite pitching from the likes of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and numerous others. One thing that sets those types of pitchers apart is their ability to keep their team in the ballgame despite not having their best stuff. While the dominant, 8-inning, 12-strikeout-type performances are impressive, it’s almost as impressive when elite pitchers battle through struggles and work their way into the 6th inning only giving up a couple of runs. This is what sets great pitchers apart from good pitchers.
Josiah Gray has shown that he can go toe-to-toe with many great starters when he is at his best. His issue is finding a way to battle when he isn’t at his best. If Josiah Gray can find a way to work through his bad outings and limit runs, he can become a pitcher that projects to be a frontline starter for the Nationals going forward.
This season alone has shown the dual nature of Josiah Gray. Coming off a solid spring, expectations were high for Gray’s first start of the season. Unfortunately, his first start looked much like his bad starts last season. The Braves lineup took advantage of Gray for 5 runs and 3 home runs.
In his last two starts, Gray has shown his ability to bounce back from those tough starts. Gray’s second start of the season came in Colorado at Coors Field. For the pitcher who gave up the most homers last season and had given up three homers in his first start, Gray was not in a great spot to succeed. Yet, Gray took the mound against the Rockies and delivered 6 strong innings of 1-run ball without surrendering a single home run. The Nationals unfortunately did not provide any run support and Gray was stuck with the loss despite his strong performance.
Gray followed up his Colorado start with another solid start in Anaheim. Gray only gave up two runs over 5 ⅔ innings, but did surrender a home run to Logan O’Hoppe in the 6th inning. Yet again, however, the Nationals were unable to provide Gray with any run support. They will look to get their offense right for his next start, but Nationals would love to see more of what Josiah Gray has given in his last two starts.
Consistency is going to be the key to Josiah Gray taking the next step in his development, and the best way for him to become more consistent is improving his fastball. Last season, Gray gave up 24 of his 38 HRs off of his 4-seam fastball and batters hit for a .305 average. In terms of Statcast’s run value, Josiah Gray’s 4-seam fastball was the 4th-worst pitch in all of MLB. The only pitches with a worse run value in 2022 were Patrick Corbin’s slider, Madison Bumgarner’s 4-seam fastball, and Chad Kuhl’s sinker. In his three starts this season, batters are hitting .500 against Gray’s fastball.
Josiah Gray has the potential to be a really solid major league starter. While there are numerous things he must improve on, his fastball must be at the top of the list. Gray must find a way to become a more consistent starter to take the next step in his career, and improving his fastball is the avenue to do so.