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Rockies may have a reliable waiver-wire reliever in Tyler Kinley

The Rockies may have a rare win from the waiver wire

Welcome to the 2020 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2020. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

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No. 12, Tyler Kinley: 0.2 rWAR

Very little went right for the Rockies bullpen in 2020. Heck, very little has gone right for the Rockies bullpen outside of Scott Oberg for the last three years. One of the great critiques of the vaunted “Super Bullpen” was that it’s unwise to build a bullpen off of the free agent market. The wisdom in such critique was proven this year as not one of the Super Bullpen arms ended the season on the Rockies roster. So how do you build a bullpen? Converting live arms in the minors to relief and scooping up players with skill sets via trade and waivers.

Enter: Tyler Kinley.

The Kinley pick-up came with little fanfare last winter. Case in point: after some debates, the Purple Row editors decided to have the transaction lead the next day’s Rockpile rather than receive its own post. There was some promise seen in Kinley’s wipeout slider and live fastball, and he had a good enough early spring that he was a lock for the roster come August.

Those of us who watched the Purple Row Sim had high hopes for Kinley once the season actually started. He struck out well over a batter an inning for the Sim Rockies and took over closing duties when Sim Scott Oberg had a brief IL stint. Speaking at least for myself, expectations were high that Kinley could be the next (first?) great waiver-wire bullpen find for the Rockies.

Kinley didn’t quite live up to those expectations, but it wasn’t all bad. He had a 5.32 ERA, which when adjusted for park and league comes out to a precisely average 100 ERA+. He got a little unlucky, stranding only 51.6% of his runners (league average was 71.6%), but he was great at limiting contact. His .202 BABIP may seem a bit on the lucky side, but Statcast thought it was legit, putting his expected batting average allowed in the top 10% of all pitchers in 2020. His hard hit percentage of 29.1% was also top ten percent in the league. But that all together and, based on the contact allowed, Statcast gave him an expected ERA of 3.59, which would’ve been pretty alright.

Tyler Kinley 2020

Tyler Kinley 24 23.2 5.32 1.06 9.9 4.6 51.6% .208 .187 29.1% 3.59
League Avg -- -- 4.44 1.36 9.4 4.0 71.5% .293 .250 34.9% --
Stats courtesy FanGraphs, StatCast

So what gives? If he was so great at limiting contact and striking guys out (9.9 K/9), why was his ERA closer to six than to four? Baseball Prospectus hasn’t, as of this writing, published their Deserved Run Averages for 2020, but I suspect we would find that a lot of Kinley’s baserunners were allowed to score by relievers who came in after him.

It’s still a good season and it’s good new for a Rockies bullpen that will need some serious help this offseason. It means the Rockies have a right-handed reliever with an 89-mph slider and 96-mph four-seamer who should be considered a lock on the roster in 2021 and who, with a little luck, may even improve on his 2020 numbers. And I think that is shagadelic, baby.