In a manner in which few may have imagined, the Rockies have addressed their immediate left-handed pitching needs. As part of the Nolan Arenado trade, Austin Gomber has officially joined a Rockies team that threw only three lefties last season.
Gomber made four starts in 14 appearances for the Cardinals last year, posting a 1.86 ERA that was good for his lowest figure in the past nine years (college included). 2020 was the first year in which he pitched exclusively in MLB contests, collecting 29 innings of work between four starts and 10 relief appearances. If his Sept. 17th relief outing in Pittsburgh were erased (1 2⁄3 IP, 4 ER), Gomber would have posted a 0.66 ERA on the season.
Those impressive figures come alongside a 3.54 FIP, however, so his ERA alone could be misleading. It is furthered by an xFIP of 4.75, suggesting he got lucky on some batted balls in the air. Only four percent of Gomber’s fly balls in 2020 turned into home runs, compared to a league average of around 10 percent in which xFIP is calculated with. His FB/HR percentage in 2019 with Triple-A Memphis was 12.2 percent; it was 9.1 in his only other year with the Cardinals (2018).
Should his HR/FB rate return to previous levels, his past effectiveness should still help limit the damage. Gomber’s 1.17 WHIP last year was comparable to Colorado’s bWAR leader, Antonio Senzatela (1.21).
Gomber’s 2020 came with plenty of interruption, as time on the COVID-19 list forced him out of action for 21 days. He worked as a reliever in his first six games back (8 IP total) before making starts in four of his next six outings to close the season. Under those provisions, some may easily consider Gomber a ‘starter first’; the relief appearances could have been a product of extremes that only the crazy 2020 schedule could cause. Most of his professional work—102 starts in 104 minor league appearances—have been starts.
It is also important to note, however, that the Cardinals used him as a reliever even prior to landing on the COVID list. 28 of his 43 career appearances in the big leagues have been out of the bullpen, and he didn’t start a game in 2020 until Sept. 5.
During the Tuesday press conference, Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich briefly addressed Gomber’s future: “He’s going to certainly prepare himself as a starter here coming into spring training, but there’s a lot of conversation and relationship building, especially with he and our pitching coaches and Buddy [Black].” It is often easier to adjust from starter to reliever than the other way around, so perhaps his preparation as a starter is just a formality. It appears the Cactus League may decide whether he, Ryan Rolison, Ryan Castellani, José Mujica or another will claim the fifth spot in the rotation. Peter Lambert also waits in the wings as he returns from Tommy John surgery.
Kyle Freeland was the only left-handed Rockie with a season ERA below 10 last year. James Pazos was released by the organization after the 2020 season (he signed with the Dodgers in December), leaving Phillip Diehl as the only remaining lefty that pitched with Colorado last year. The Rockies currently have lefties Gomber, Yoan Aybar, Ben Bowden, Lucas Gilbreath and Helcris Olivarez on the 40-man roster alongside Freeland and Diehl; only Freeland is older than Gomber.
Acquiring a 27-year-old pitcher is different than acquiring a compensatory first-rounder, as would be the case if Arenado exercised an opt-out in Colorado. Bridich and Dick Monfort further addressed on Tuesday how they saw the collective package of players from St. Louis, five players in all, with more appeal than an additional draft pick. Gomber has just over one year of MLB service time, so we may see him in Rockies pinstripes for quite a while.
His acquisition comes at a sour time for Colorado fans, but it has nothing to do with his own doing. It will be easy to think about the Arenado trade for Gomber’s first few outings, but here’s to the lefty making a name for himself in Denver.
Gomber wore No. 36 in St. Louis; that number hasn’t been used in Colorado since Christian Bergman in 2016.
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“In the case of Josh Fuentes, it’s more than just a confidant and teammate. It’s his family.”
Late innings in the NL West may have grown more difficult, as the Diamondbacks have hauled in Joakim Soria on a one-year, $3.5 million deal. The 36-year-old posted a 2.82 ERA in 2020, his best figure in five years. This comes after Arizona’s previous closer, Archie Bradley, was shipped to the Reds at the 2020 trade deadline. (Bradley has since signed a free agent deal with the Phillies.)
Robert Sanchez of 5280 Magazine holds nothing back on this one.
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