Colorado Rockies: Is Jon Gray Still Their Ace?

May 13, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Jon Gray (55) in the dugout fifth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
May 13, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Jon Gray (55) in the dugout fifth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

For years now we’ve heard that the Colorado Rockies had an ace on his way to the majors that could turn around the franchise. Well, Jon Gray has come, conquered at times, but since being on the disabled list for much of the season, there are a number of contributors that could become challengers to Gray’s throne.

From 2014 to 2016 Jon Gray was ranked within every major outlet’s top 37 MLB prospects, so the expectations for the Colorado Rockies ace have always been there. After debuting in August of 2015, the results have been mixed. He’ll go from giving up five earned in four innings to the Padres in San Diego to striking out 16 in a complete game shutout against those same Padres, at Coors.

But those inconsistencies are to be expected for a young pitcher. This season looked like it could truly be Gray’s breakout campaign, but a foot injury has kept him out since April 13. He’s scheduled to make a rehab start on Wednesday in Lancaster, so his return to the Rockies’ roster could be imminent. But is he still the best pitcher on the staff?

That could be a tough one to answer.

If we are going by WAR, Gray’s 0.2 output this season looks minuscule, but considering that he put that up in just 12 1/3 innings, it’s a little more respectable. The team leaders in fWAR on the mound are rookies Antonio Senzatela and German Marquez who are tied at 1.0. The difference between them is the roughly 25 more innings pitched Senzatela has accumulated and the higher strikeout rate of Marquez.

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While Senzatela holds an 8-2 record and Marquez is 4-3, it’s Marquez that holds the better FIP at 3.90 to 4.39, which is a bit more indicative of how they’re actually pitching, and shows us how his WAR total can be adding up at a quicker pace. That pace is even better than the one that Gray was off to, though he had yet to have a real signature start just yet this season.

Kyle Freeland has been another solid addition to the rotation (another rook) at 7-3 with a 3.34 ERA. But above all three of these guys is recent rotation addition Jeff Hoffman, who, in 19 1/3 innings before yesterday’s start had accumulated a 0.9 fWAR. That pace would put him at roughly one win above replacement per month of the big league season. Over the course of a six month season, that’s somewhere around a 6.0 WAR, which would have ranked him behind Clayton Kershaw (6.5), Noah Syndergaard (6.4) and Jose Fernandez (6.1) in 2016.

It’s worth noting that Hoffman held the Cubs to one earned over 6 1/3 yesterday in Wrigley while striking out eight and walking one, which means that WAR total is going up.

Hoffman came to the Rockies in the Troy Tulowitzki trade, which, if Hoffman can maintain anything close to this level of production in his time with Colorado, is going to make this look like an absolute steal. Also, what the heck are the Jays doing trading away Hoffman AND Thor? Glad R.A. Dickey and Tulo are working out…

Anyway, back to the point of this whole thing.

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While the Colorado Rockies have been winning without Gray in their rotation (along with Ian Desmond, David Dahl, Chad Bettis and others missing time as well), he is still the ace of this rotation. Outside of Tyler Chatwood he has the most experience on the staff, and still has one of the higher ceilings, too. That counts for something.

Regardless of who you think the ace of the rotation may be, the fact that there can be a bit of a debate here is nothing but good news for that the Rockies are doing and their outlook not only for this season, but for the next few years as well.