Washington Nationals: Is it time for Josiah Gray to be shut down?

Washington Nationals v New York Yankees
Washington Nationals v New York Yankees / Mike Stobe/GettyImages

It has been a season with a lot of improvement for the young Nationals starting pitcher, Josiah Gray. However, he is still a work in progress and there are some factors that suggest it should be beneficial for him to manage his work load.

Alongside Jeimer Candelario and Lane Thomas, Josiah Gray was one of the brightest spots in the first half of the season for the Nationals, a half where the team had a 36-54 record.

That success was covering some issues. He was allowing a lot of hitters to reach base by both walks and hits, but was able to escape in most cases, exhibiting a bend, but don't break ability. While he has expanded his pitch mix with the addition of a cutter and sweeper in order to be more deceptive and, among other goals, reduce the homeruns against, he still keeps walking hitters above league average. In fact, his 11.7 BB% is a career high for Gray.

As he is not a high velocity pitcher, he depends a lot on the balls in play. He has not taken a step forward suppressing barrels. His expected stats are in a career worst and he has been failing to make batters swing outside of the strike zone.

Is Josiah Gray experiencing fatigue?

In the press conference following Gray's last start, a 6-3 loss against the Blue Jays last Monday, Dave Martínez tell reporters Josiah was pushing a lot of balls. He also pointed out that he looked like he was struggling with mechanics.

Gray's average four seam fastball velocity had decreased 1.5 miles per hour since June. The same with his sinker since May.

Poor mechanics and decreased velocity are associated with fatigue and could explain why Gray has been struggling. Skipping Josiah Gray's next start, which would be this Sunday against the Marlins and reigning Cy Young Sandy Alcántara, is something some beat writers had been writing about as a possibility.

Gray has thrown 137.2 innings so far this season, just 11 less than his career high last season. During his time in the Minor Leagues, Gray threw over 100 innings just once, back in 2019 when he threw 130 innings. This is basically his first time pitching over 130 innings in back-to-back seasons. Gray is also a converted shortstop, so getting late into the season and pitching at a high level is still new to him.

It will be interesting to see how the Nationals address this situation. Shutting Josiah down might open the door to promote Jackson Rutledge. Another scenario would be going back to a five man rotation or bringing Cory Abbott to eat some innings. They are also facing similar decisions with MacKenzie Gore and Jake Irvin, who are at career highs in innings pitched.

The Nationals are playing their best baseball since 2019, but the chances of the making the playoffs are low, so there's no pressure on keeping Gray in the active roster when he is clearly struggling like he has never done before. Particularly when you consider the mental aspect of Gray's struggles and wanting him to remain confident heading into 2024.

In conclusion, Gray's struggles have surfaced in the last month, but it is more like a regression to the mean in some cases as he was over performing in the first half. I think he needs a break and I would prefer if he's shut down for the rest of the season. However, I understand that's a big move and is probably not the direction the Nationals are going, unless he keeps performing so poorly.