What is Going On With Josiah Gray?

Coming off an All Star campaign, there were high expectations for Josiah Gray as he looked to take the next step in his development. However, early results are less than inspiring and seem closer to his 2022 self than his 2023 performance. Should we be worried?
Mar 28, 2024; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Josiah Gray (40) pitches
Mar 28, 2024; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Josiah Gray (40) pitches / Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

It was not long ago when Josiah Gray was named an All-Star during the 2023 MLB season. The 26-year-old posted a 2.77 ERA through the first two months of the 2023 season, dominating hitters and filling the strike zone. However, the rest of the season he struggled with his command. You could tell he was starting to nibble instead of attacking the strike zone like he did early in the season. Nationals fans had high hopes for Gray heading into the 2024 season, but after two rough starts, should we be worried? 

Entering this season, there was much debate as to who was getting the ball on Opening Day, but ultimately Josiah was awarded the Opening Day start, as was the right decision at the time. He ended up allowing 7 earned runs on 8 hits in only 4 innings of work. His follow up start didn’t go much better, as he gave up 6 runs in 4.1 innings pitched in Pittsburgh. We have seen Josiah struggle at times since coming over from the Dodgers in 2021, but not like this. Typically he has struggled at home and given up too many home runs. This year, he has struggled mightily with his command. His struggles seemingly continue to get worse.

When the wheels fell off the wagon for Josiah last season, you could tell he was not being nearly as aggressive with his pitches. Walks became more of a problem as the 2023 season went on, which were also an issue in 2022, and he has struggled with his command through the first two games of this season because of it. The confidence we saw Josiah build up last year is completely gone.

We know Josiah’s fastball is not his strength. The response by Jim Hickey and company is to have Gray throw a cutter more this season because of it, and it has not played out. If you dive into the numbers, you will find that Josiah has relied on 7 different pitches this season. This may be contributing to his struggles as Gray is a jack-of-all-trades, master of none pitcher currently and does not have that one put away pitch or a pitch he can heavily rely on. His once best pitch, his slider, is basically nonexistent, likely due to the blurred lines between pitches with the addition of the sweeper and cutter. They move similarly and now he has minimal feel for all three pitches.

I would love to see Josiah lead with his best pitches in at bats, instead of trying to get ahead with the fastball or cutter. He has found himself nibbling too much on the first pitch of at bats because he knows how hittable his fastball is, falling behind in counts and consistently missing arm side due to his poor mechanics. If Josiah leads with his best pitch, pitching backwards like some starters do, he won’t have to shy away from the strike zone early in counts. Until we see this change, I don’t see Josiah finding much success.

I don’t think the solution to Josiah’s control issues is throwing his fastball/cutter more. If it is, his ERA is going to continue to sky-rocket. He has thrown his cutter and four-seam significantly more over the past two seasons, and it has hurt him. If Josiah wants to regain his confidence, he needs to pitch to his strengths. He has success when he is effectively wild, leading with his off-speed pitches. He needs to rely more on his good pitches and spend less time trying to tweak his arsenal or how he approaches each at-bat. Less is more.

It has been a brutal start to the season for the Nationals’ Opening Day starter. When Washington acquired Josiah Gray from the Dodgers, the fans were expecting a future ace. That is a fair desire, considering what we sent in that deal to Los Angeles, but the fanbase needs to temper their expectations. We did not trade for another Max Scherzer. In actuality, we got a young arm who still has some growing pains to get through. 

It still seems like Josiah is trying to figure it out on the mound in his 4th season, which is a serious concern at this point. Hopefully he goes back to relying on his off-speed pitches down the stretch, and stops forcing with the fastball early in counts. There is still a lot of baseball to be played this season, but you could not script a worse start for the “future ace.” Let’s just hope he turns it around soon, because the concern from the fanbase is only growing.