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Austin Gomber was thrown a curveball in his second season at altitude

Gomber showed promise in his initial season with Colorado, but a took a step backward in 2022

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Welcome to the 2022 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2022. 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.

★ ★ ★

No. 20, Austin Gomber: 0.3 rWAR

When the Colorado Rockies traded away the third-baseman-who-shall-not-be-named, Austin Gomber was the only piece of the return package to have collected MLB experience at that time. Armed with a curveball that some considered elite, the question arose as to whether that pitch would translate at altitude, and how effectively he’d be able to slot in behind an established Rockies rotation that had worked together for years.

Working as the fifth starter, Gomber held his own in his initial season in Colorado, collecting a record of 9-9 with a 4.53 ERA. What really impressed was just how well the southpaw performed at Coors Field — after nine home starts, Gomber owned a 5-1 record and an ERA of just 2.09 through 47 13 innings. There was reason to believe he could be a steady and consistent part of the Rockies rotation the next season, and that his initial season in purple pinstripes was a precursor of things to come.

Unfortunately, the opposite was true in 2022. Gomber first four starts saw him collect a 3.86 ERA through April before jumping north of 5.5 in May. Things seemed to bottom out after a particularly disastrous outing in Washington that saw the left-hander hammered for eight earned runs in just 1 13 innings. That was his last start in May... would June prove any better?

Baseball, though, is a cruel and unrelenting sport. Gomber’s very next game was another - arguably worse - clunker, this time against the Braves. He was able to gut his way through five innings, but nine earned runs saw his ERA balloon to 6.54. Two outings later, Gomber would see his turn in the rotation come to an end as he was sent to work out of the bullpen. The signing of José Ureña gave manager Bud Black another option in his starting five that left Gomber the odd man out. He would need to earn his way back to his starter role by first showing positive results as a reliever.

His initial stint out of the ‘pen went poorly, as the 28-year-old hurler allowed at least one earned run in each of his next eight appearances. The second half of the season was much the same as Gomber was able to put together just one set of back-to-back scoreless outings at the tail end of August against the Rangers and Braves (which is kind of cheating, as the latter appearance constituted just a single out). The season ended largely the same and the lefty finished with a career-high 5.56 ERA for his troubles.

So what went wrong? Well, Gomber’s fastball is a likely culprit. That pitch, thrown 40% of the time, was easily his weakest point and was hammered at a .376 clip. With that pitch sitting at around 91mph, he’s not likely to fool many MLB hitters if he’s going to keep relying on it as his main weapon. It’s especially tough when considering that his other tools — his changeup, his slider, and particularly his plus curveball — have all seen far more success.

My colleague Mario has a deep-dive breakdown of Gomber’s arsenal that sheds light on what he could do to find more consistent results at the big league level. Without getting into the intricacies of his repertoire, we can still speculate on his future in the organization.

Gomber is under contract through 2025 and figures to be an important part of the team until at least then. With Antonio Senzatela set to start the season on the injured list, only Kyle Freeland, Ryan Feltner, and Germán Márquez are locks for the rotation. Gomber is a strong candidate to regain a starting job, though eyes will be on him in spring training to beat out youngsters such as Noah Davis, Karl Kauffman, Ryan Rolison, and Peter Lambert (the latter two are returning from serious injuries - we’ll see how/if they factor in).

Colorado could test the free agent market as well. They may explore a reunion with departing arms Chad Kuhl or José Ureña or look to a new face. There are arms available such as Noah Syndergaard, Carlos Rodón, or Wade Miley, among others. Gomber will likely fill a role on the 2023 iteration of the Rockies, but whether that is as a member of the bullpen or rotation could largely hinge on the front office’s decision to add another arm.

It’s a shame that Gomber’s 2022 season was such a marked step back from his solid-enough 2021. It’s important to remember, though, that he’s still just 28 years old with promising offspeed pitches and is improving his skillset. For example, he’s walking less batters than ever (2.5 BB/9) and his breaking pitches seem to only be improving. Gomber has time to turn things around, but will need to do so soon. The Rockies are continuing to shift to a younger and fresher identity, and he could be a key part of it. It’ll be up to him to take the strides necessary to cement his position in that new core.