In the top of the third inning tonight at Coors Field, current Los Angeles Angels and former Colorado Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta hit a solo home run to put his new team ahead of his old team 10-0. The home run was the fourth of the game allowed by Rockies starting pitcher Chad Bettis and spelled the end of a night that saw his ERA balloon from a solid 3.67 all the way up to an unsightly 4.95. The outing also raised the ERA of the Rockies rotation as a whole to 5.11 on the year, the second worst mark in the Majors. The team remains stuck on just 29 quality starts in 2015, the fewest in the league.
Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, no. 1 PuRP Jon Gray hurled six stellar innings for Triple-A Albuquerque. His final line looked like this:
For Gray, tonight's start marked his ninth quality start in his last 10 outings. In his last five starts, Gray has averaged 12.39 strikeouts per nine innings. It certainly seems like a switch has flipped for him in these last five starts. It could be a case of the proverbial leash being taken off, a correction of a flaw in his mechanics, further development of his secondary pitches or a combination of all three, but whatever he's doing is working. Five starts may seem like something that could just be a small sample size fluke, but stabilization for a pitcher's strikeout rate comes after only 70 batters faced, so what he's doing now actually appears to be legitimate.
Gray has now shown that he can go out and get strikeouts, like he has in his last five starts, and he's also shown that he can work efficiently to get deep into games, like he did on June 11 when he worked eight innings in exactly 100 pitches. Like any pitcher, Gray still has areas that he can work to improve, but it sure seems like he's ready to take the next step and face big league hitters. The only question now is when to call him up.
There are a few different schools of thought here. There's the crowd who thinks that Gray's first Major League start should've come yesterday, those who think he should make his debut later this season, and those who believe it would be best to let him begin his Major League career in 2016.
The primary reasoning behind wanting Gray up now is that there are only a certain number of good pitches in every pitcher's arm. In a world where the question with pitchers isn't if they'll get hurt, but when they'll get hurt, it would be unwise to waste an arm that's ready for the big leagues in Triple-A. This school of thought definitely makes sense, as the team should theoretically be aiming for maximum value for all of their players at the Major League level, and Gray can't provide Major League value if he's pitching in Triple-A.
Group numbers two and three generally believe that, with the Rockies now sitting at 35-48 on the season, the team isn't a contender with or without Gray. Since they aren't contenders anyway, the most logical thing to do is be patient and keep Gray on the same development path he was on the start the season. Where this group differs is when they believe the optimal time to promote Gray is.
On one hand, there are those who think it will help Gray to get his feet wet in the big leagues prior to 2016, valuing experience over the additional year of team control the Rockies would get by waiting until 2016 to start his Major League service clock. The other side, naturally, believes that the additional team control is more valuable to the Rockies than the experience Gray would gain by pitching for the Rockies in 2015, so they want to wait.
One of the greatest, but also one of the most frustrating, things about baseball is that, no matter which of these groups you might belong to (maybe there's even a fourth group that I didn't mention here!), there is no way to know for certain which course of action is the right one. If the Rockies call up Gray to make his next start in the Majors, we could all look back five years from now and wish they had waited. If the club waits until 2016 to start Gray's Rockies career, we could all look back five years from now and wish they had brought him up sooner. For now, all we can do is wait and see.