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An Austin Gomber revisit: Starter or Reliever?

Colorado Rockies news and links for Tuesday, May 11, 2021

“I think he’s going to certainly prepare himself as a starter here coming into spring training.... but there’s a lot of conversations and relationships building [to be had], especially with him and our pitching coaches and Buddy [Black].”

— Jeff Bridich, Feb. 2, 2021

Colorado acquired Austin Gomber as the marquee return in the deal that sent Nolan Arenado to the St. Louis Cardinals. Upon arrival, the Rockies had options to use Gomber as either a starter or a reliever; the Cardinals used the lefty in both capacities last year.

The Rockies ended up needing immediate starter depth as Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela landed on the injured list. As they return and depth improves, the team could also foster a developmental taste of the big leagues for several starters in the minors.

It would be outlandish to base our full interpretation of Gomber on just the first six weeks of the season, of course, but if we assume both Freeland and Senzatela will return to become the workhorses they have been before, could Gomber be maximized as a left-handed reliever that the team needs?

Better yet: What ‘needs’ should be satisfied?

Workload vs. Command

Among all Colorado starters that have made multiple starts this year, Gomber has the highest walk percentage at 13.3 percent. The next closest Rockie is Germán Márquez at 9.4 percent. (The league average right now is 8.9.)

With this dip in command, Gomber has also seen a marginal decrease in his velocity across all four of his pitches:

2021 has shown more of a negative impact on both his velocity and command than some of his 2020 roadblocks: a delayed season, an undefined role and even a stint on the COVID list.

While in St. Louis, Gomber would often enter games out of the bullpen without the expectation of going at least five innings. In turn, he could attack hitters without saving anything to preserve his longevity. By allowing himself to push the gas pedal a little harder out of the bullpen right now, it could be of huge benefit for a fastball that has allowed some harsh contact on lower velocity compared to last year.

It isn’t to say a higher-output delivery will fix some command woes that have struck Gomber in a few outings, but anything that can get him closer to his 2020 self could be a useful provision.

Gomber’s stats were virtually better across the board as a starter than as a reliever last year, but his pitch metrics this year aren’t exactly the same:

Pitch mix: Better in the bullpen?

The slight decrease in velocity on each of Gomber’s pitches is paired with a dip in average spin rate—except on his curveball.

It is fairly common that a jump in velocity will feature a jump in spin. The opposite is also true, except in Gomber’s case where his curveball is setting career marks in movement.

If a relief role can help Gomber push the velocity a little harder, his current spin metrics suggest the nastiest curve of his career can only get nastier. Colorado’s starting rotation does not feature many breaking pitches like Gomber’s curve to begin with, so the lefty could provide a sharp contrast in later innings while helping preserve the work of existing starters.

Father Time = undefeated

Four of Colorado’s top six starters are over the age of 27:

  • Jon Gray (29.5)
  • Chi Chi González (29.3)
  • Kyle Freeland (28.0)
  • Austin Gomber (27.5)
  • Antonio Senzatela (26.3)
  • Germán Márquez (26.2)

This isn’t to say Gomber is ‘old’ by any means, but as the Rockies chase more favorable yearly projections in the win column, Gomber will only age further.

So will the minor league prospects that aren’t getting a chance in the big leagues right now.

The 2021 World Series featured two starting rotations dipped in the fountain of youth. The six most used starters for the Dodgers last year had an average age of 26.3. The top five for the AL-champion Rays were at 28.2. (36-year-old outlier Charlie Morton was the only one above 28.) Youth isn’t always a prerequisite for success, however, as the 2019 Series can show. The Nationals featured an average age of 30.8 for their top five starters when they won it all. The Astros won the AL that year with a 31.8 average among their top four starters.

Lest we forget, however, that youth is often a greater prerequisite for ‘developing’ success. Of Colorado’s top six starters, only Germán Márquez is aged younger than the Dodgers’ average from last year.

On the extreme of the spectrum: the 111-loss Astros from 2013 featured an average starter age of 27.0 between their top six starters. If 34-year-old Erik Bedard is removed from Houston’s equation, their average age would drop to 25.6 in arguably the biggest rebuild ever.

If Chi Chi González (29) were removed from the Rockies equation, that would mean Colorado’s top five starters have an average age of 27.5 this year.

Meanwhile, a series of younger starters are only getting older as they hope to achieve a full-time taste of the big leagues:

  • Ryan Rolison (23.8)
  • Peter Lambert* (24.1)
  • Antonio Santos (24.6)
  • Jose Mujica (24.9)
  • Ryan Castellani (25.1)
  • Chris McMahon (22.3)
  • Sam Weatherly (22.0)

*Recovering from Tommy John surgery (July 23, 2020)

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Struggling Rockies, now without C.J. Cron, set to play six of next ten games against San Diego | The Denver Post ($)

Kyle Newman gives us a full rundown of Colorado’s future slate as the Padres make their first appearance on the schedule. The loss of C.J. Cron will batter the Rockies beyond their existing pitcher injuries, but at least the Monday rainout will give Antonio Senzatela some additional recovery time. It appears he will return from the injured list for the Padres series.

Colorado Rockies: Who will become the next face of the franchise? | Rox Pile

This can be a tough read on the heels of a three-game sweep to Arenado’s Cardinals, but Aaron Hurt of Rox Pile points us to a timely topic.

On The Farm

Low-A, High-A and Double-A took the day off on Monday, a recurring feature of the 2021 schedules. Triple-A takes each Wednesday off, so the Isotopes were the only Rockies affiliate in action on Monday.

Albuquerque went to work in the fifth game of a six-game set with the Sugar Land Skeeters (Triple-A/Houston Astros), and the Isotopes have now fell to 1-4 in the early 2021 season. José Mujica was chased early in the contest, failing to complete three innings and allowing four runs to score in the third frame (Full line: 2 23 IP, 5 ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 5 K). That was enough offense for the Skeeters to prevail.

No Isotopes had a multi-hit game, but Taylor Motter went yard in the first inning for his second home run in as many days.

Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes 3, Sugar Land Skeeters 7

Double-A: Off (Hartford Yard Goats)

High-A: Off (Spokane Indians)

Low-A: Off (Fresno Grizzlies)

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