General manager Jeff Bridich says the Rockies have “thought highly of him for a number of years,” and things have finally come to Rockies fruition for the former Marlin, Tyler Kinley. He joins recent-acquisition Jose Mujica in a move west.
Kinley’s stuff bears strong resemblance to some of the more successful arms in Rockies recent history. His pitches are mainly fastballs and sliders; his right arm fires in a 95 MPH fastball according to FanGraphs averages, and his upper-80’s slider is there to complement. FanGraphs publishes ‘pitch type linear weights’ to suggest individual pitch effectiveness, and from this data, it suggests Kinley’s slider was more effective than his fastball in 2019. It also deserves to be recognized that a heater at 95 will essentially make any other pitch look better, too.
The acquisition through Bridich’s eyes makes much more sense after this analysis. Fastball velocity is widely independent of altitude, and when a breaking pitch doesn’t move quite as much in the thin air, it seems farfetched to expect a Barry Zito hammer to be as essential in a Rockies uniform. Scott Oberg, Jairo Diaz and Carlos Estevez, for example, are primarily fastball/slider guys. Their 95-plus fastballs are basically 95-plus everywhere, no matter if the field is at Mount Everest or Huntington Beach. A subtle flick of a slider on either would understandably show less discrepancies than a wipeout breaking ball that could look much different in Denver.
(‘Basically’ 95-plus: it actually ‘is’ a little harder at altitude, although “batters can easily adjust to it.”)
This prophecy is subject to scrutiny, as nothing is as simple as it seems—Carlos Estevez had one of the worst fastball linear weight values in the league this past year. The correlation of these values can have some strange patterns over the years, but as far as building consistency for what supposedly ‘works’ the best, it appears Bridich sees Kinley as a piece that could handle thin air on the seams better than others.
Kinley made his MLB debut with the Twins in 2018, notching 11 innings between the Twins and Marlins that year. He’s struck out nearly one per inning in just over 60 career big league frames, and averages 6.6 walks per nine innings. A career 5.22 ERA is overshadowed by a widely averse 2018 (12.27), as Kinley settled down tremendously to a 3.65 in 2019, besting the Rockies year average by 1.91.
While some may have expected little to happen, the Rockies actually did make a move at the Winter Meetings. It’s a waiver pickup and not a big Strasburg-esque splash, but something did happen.
Patrick Saunders wastes no time on this one: the subcaption throws down “Davis’ 8.65 ERA was the second-highest ERA by a reliever in big-league history.”
Davis possesses a more ‘complete’ arsenal than a mere fastball/slider guy; he throws a fastball, cutter and curve mix. It’s not to say it’s a less effective mix than the guys mentioned above—Davis still has plenty of hard off-speed stuff—but it certainly adds to the mystery for what really happened in 2019.
Everyone throws different stuff, and every hitter responds differently. 2019 was the first time in six years that Davis had a negative linear weight on his fastball (indicating more success to the hitter); despite those numbers lacking consistent yearly correlation among many arms, Davis had some steady figures. It proves for some form of optimism, at the least, but some mystery given that hitters hadn’t responded effectively for years prior to this season.
Bridich commented on the bullpen while at the Winter Meetings, detailing how mixed results have come from his aggressive pursuits to sign relievers in past years. His comments don’t seriously turn many heads, since anybody can pinpoint the struggles.
Nonetheless, Bridich’s comments appear fitting in the wake of the Kinley signing. As the trio of Davis, McGee and Shaw continues to take plenty of the payroll, players like Kinley, Jose Mujica and Ashton Goudeau look to prove as viable, lower-salary options. Given the money already designated to Davis, McGee and Shaw, these lower-salary arms in comparison may be the best hope if 2019 pitching struggles were to continue.
It’s a continual mystery of how the Rockies will handle their pitching. It’s also probably agonizing for any fan to be subject to more ‘altitude’ conversations, too, but it constantly acts as a hurdle for getting guys here. It looks as though Bridich counteracts it by employing these fastball/slider guys, the Kinley, Estevez and Oberg of the world, and understandably so, keeping the faith in Wade Davis in hopes to avenge the adverse impact thus far.