The 2022 MLB regular season is coming to an end, and with it comes the looming decisions that go along with the arrival of winter. The Colorado Rockies have a handful of players whose contracts expire this offseason, and today we want to dicuss two in particular: right-handed pitchers Chad Kuhl and José Ureña.
The two hurlers have much in common - they both joined the Rockies after failing to land a spot with Nation League Central teams (Kuhl from Pittsburgh, Ureña from Milwaukee), both started their Colorado tenure off hot before cooling down significantly, and their birthdays are just two days apart.
With Colorado’s rotation depth in question, the decision for which, if either, to retain for 2023 is one to ponder. Purple Row staffers do plenty of pondering, and a few got together to discuss the pros and cons of each scenario.
MARIO - The Rockies should re-sign Ureña
If this topic had came up about a month ago, I would’ve probably been indifferent. However, José Ureña did something in his last start that caught my attention. His repertoire is usually very firm, both in terms of velocity and movement: he throws a hard 95-97 MPH sinker with solid bite, a really hard 85-88 MPH slider with cutter-ish movement and a firm 89-91 MPH changeup that doesn’t deviate a lot from his changeup. He’ll throw the occasional four-seamer as well (95-97 MPH), but for the most part he throws about sinkers and that slider that’s really a cutter, almost 75% of the time between both offerings. As a result, he barely generates swings and misses.
Savant’s pitch tracking system doesn’t agree, but in his last start against the Giants it looked to me like he started using his curveball (last tracked in 2019). Either that or he started manipulating his slider, because he was throwing slide pieces at 82-85 MPH with close to 40 inches of vertical break at times, well ahead of the 30 he usually gets. I mean, look at this pitch. You know which other Rockies pitcher throws a curveball like that? Germán Márquez does. I’m not saying Ureña has all of a sudden found an elite pitch, but I do believe that version of his slider (which I’m calling a curveball) gives him a solid swing-and-miss offering to go along with the sinker and his more cutter-ish slider to complete a perfectly fine three-pitch mix for a back-end starter. Unlike Kuhl, Ureña throws hard as a starter, and because of it his sinker has enough utility for him to be able to start games. If he keeps that newer breaking ball, I think he’ll do a fine job.
Keep in mind - I’m writing this assuming we’re looking for a starting pitcher, or someone who would do both starting and long relief. Kuhl has been vocal about wanting to remain a starter, so while I think he could be a good multi-inning reliever who throws only 10-20% fastballs in the 2021 Collin McHugh mold, I’m going with Ureña here. I think that curveball (or slow slider) of his can be quite good for him.
MAC - The Rockies should re-sign Kuhl
Mario makes strong points about Ureña’s repetoire, but I think a lot can be said of Kuhl’s as well. Would you be surprised to hear that, per Savant, Kuhl’s curveball spin is in the 91st percentile of MLB?
That’s the thing - Kuhl hasn’t had a great season overall, but it might be better than you think. His FIP is lower than it’s been the last two seasons, as are his walks per nine. The problems he’s run into this season can largely be attributed to his hard stuff - his sinker and four-seam fastball.
The fastball, despite being thrown sparingly, has been hammered for a .444 average, while the sinker is Kuhl’s most-utilized pitch and owns a .364 average against. His slider, though, is money - that pitch holds opponents to a .204 batting average and .378 slugging percentage. It also causes opposing teams to whiff about a third of the time, and is easily the strongest weapon in his arsenal.
This tells me Kuhl’s been stung by bad luck of late. It’s true that he’s been hit hard this season, as he ranks low in most hard-contact categories, but I think there’s legitimate reason to believe he can bounce back and fill some innings as Colorado’s fifth starter in 2023.
It’s also important to consider that this was the first campaign in which Kuhl functioned as a starter for an entire season. Recall that the right-hander was lights-out in the first half of the season, including an incredible April that saw him post a 1.90 ERA through his first four games.
Kuhl has remained durable as well. Barring a 20-day stint on the injured list, he’s been a consistent part of Colorado’s rotation and will comfortably finish having thrown the third-most innings of any Rockies pitcher. With Colorado’s need for starting pitching depth in the wake of injuries to Antonio Senzatela, Ryan Rolison, and Julian Fernández, Kuhl’s consistency as an innings-eater would be a boon.
I don’t believe Kuhl is likely to wrest the ace title away from Kyle Freeland or Germán Márquez, but I see him as a low-cost arm that that’s due for a bounce-back season. May as well be in Colorado.
EVAN - The Rockies should let both go
I should preface this with the idea that if the price is right—read: very cheap—then I would be fine with the Rockies retaining the services of Kuhl or Ureña. Starting pitching depth has long been a problem for the Rockies. However, pitching rarely comes cheap at Coors Field. Unless they are willing to sign for less than $2-3 million, the Rockies should move on.
If Chad Kuhl had pitched the second half half as well as he pitched in the first, I’d welcome him back with aplomb. From his first start on April 12th through June 27th, Kuhl had a 3.49 ERA backed by a solid 3.94 FIP over 77 1⁄3 innings of work. Opposing batters had a .706 OPS against him and he capped off June with a three-hit complete game shutout against the dreaded Los Angles Dodgers. It was without a doubt the high point of his season and maybe even career.
Since June 27th, however, Kuhl has been on a massive slide. In 13 starts since July 3rd he has an ERA of 8.60 with a 6.97 FIP over 59 2⁄3 innings. He’s given up 18 home runs compared to the seven allowed in the first half. Since July 3rd his ERA has plunged to 5.72 on the season, he has just one quality start, he’s gone more than five innings just once, and he’s given up at least one home run in every single game.
José Ureña is a different brand of frustrating. Signed to a minor league deal—where he struggled immensely in Triple-A Albuquerque—Ureña has a 5.40 ERA through 16 starts and 83 1⁄3 innings. To make room on the 40-man roster for Ureña the Rockies designated well-regarded prospect Colton Welker for assignment. Welker was quickly snatched up by the San Francisco Giants on waivers.
Ureña does eat innings fairly well, going at least five innings in all but three of his 16 starts. However, he tends to sandwich a string of decent starts between brutal collapses. On July 28th against the Dodgers he gave up ten runs (seven earned) to the Dodgers in three innings. Then he had a few solid starts before giving up nine earned runs in just 1 1⁄3 innings against the Texas Rangers on August 24th. On September 4th he gave up seven runs (six earned) to the bottom-dwelling Cincinnati Reds over 5 1⁄3 innings.
Ureña has the highest BB/9 of all Rockies starters at 4.1, the second lowest K/9 behind Antonio Senzatela (a ground-ball specialist) at 6.0, the second highest H/9 at 10.5, and the worst WHIP at 1.620. Ureña simply yields too much contact and too many baserunners for a rotation that already gives up too much contact. His major upside is that he doesn’t allow too many home runs with nine on the season, but he’s also only made half the starts compared to most of the rotation. His 1.0 HR/9 matches Kyle Freeland and is just a tick above Senzatela’s.
Neither Kuhl nor Ureña have proven themselves particularly worthy of new contracts based on their performances this season. Unless the price tag is tantalizingly cheap, the Rockies should look elsewhere for rotational depth. The Rockies have both Ryan Feltner and Austin Gomber under team control and Antonio Senzatela will be back at some point next season. Noah Davis and Karl Kauffmann will both start next season in Triple-A, and the Rockies can look for free agents or trades over the offseason.
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When it all comes down to it, we don’t know what the enigmatic and insular Rockies front office will do. Who do you agree with? Who do you think the Rockies should retain, if anyone? Let us know down in the comments to keep the discussion going.
Which free agent pitcher should the Rockies retain?
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