If Chad Kuhl is traded, that could instantly change.
If action is not taken, it could be multiple seasons before the next crop of MLB-caliber starting pitchers are propelled through the Rockies’ minor-league system. ‘Multiple seasons’ should not sound appealing to veterans like Kris Bryant, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela and Ryan McMahon, having just committed five or more seasons to the Rockies within the past five months.
The club is forced to identify the best possible outcome for the services of Kuhl, their best starting pitcher to this point in 2022:
- Use him to keep the pitching rotation afloat, and risk losing him this winter for no return
- Sell him, and play the long game through asset management
In the Rockies’ system, there is a deficiency of high-ceiling prospects with higher-level pitching experience. Ryan Rolison is the only pitcher with a top 10 prospect ranking, and after season-ending shoulder surgery, the Rockies won’t anticipate his debut for at least another 10 months. Arms like Jaden Hill, Sam Weatherly and Chris McMahon, prospects ranked 11-13, have not made it to Double-A. The immediate starter fill-in from Triple-A has been limited to only Ryan Feltner, and the limited work of Peter Lambert has depleted that reserve even further.
Colorado elevation does not lure free-agent starting pitchers very often, so unless the Rockies are willing to burn a roster spot on a lower-touted prospect, they are likely stuck with their current pieces and the uncertainty of Rolison and Lambert for the foreseeable future.
The pieces in the big leagues were reportedly threatened to the bullpen last week:
The #Rockies, at this point, are not considering making a pitching coach change. They are, however, considering keeping Feltner up and moving a starter to the bullpen— Danielle Allentuck (@d_allentuck) June 3, 2022
Converting a starter to a reliever would suggest Kuhl isn’t going anywhere. The rotation could need every bit of stability available.
It doesn’t suggest the lack of organizational depth should be neglected, however. Jon Gray was not moved at the 2021 trade deadline. Two extra months of Gray in 2021 cost the Rockies an opportunity to address the current pinch with a legit prospect. A couple extra months of Kuhl could do the same.
How To Deal House Money
Colorado has committed nearly $40 million dollars to starting pitchers for this season alone. Here are the arms that have thrown at least five innings as starters:
Kuhl’s $3 million contract this year is one of the biggest bargains on the team.
Colorado’s starting rotation posted a 5.47 ERA in May. That figure has been met with an 8.04 in June so far, even after Kuhl’s six shutout innings on Friday and Freeland’s seven frames of one-run baseball on Saturday. Under these figures, it’s tough to feel comfortable parting with Kuhl.
The answer for an emergency starter since 2021 has been Kuhl, Ty Blach and Jhoulys Chacín. The lack of MLB-ready pitching prospects is no new struggle, but the ongoing moves are not quite long-term solutions that a prospect haul could resolve.
Once a “low-cost dice roll,” Kuhl is an ideal candidate for a trade-deadline rental. A 3.17 ERA in a Rockies uniform is a welcome sight for a playoff contender that may need an extra starter to keep postseason dreams alive.
This isn’t to say the Rockies can stack the deck with Kuhl alone, of course; he is the oldest starter in the rotation. Colorado can’t expect a return like Max Scherzer for Josiah Gray last year (WAS/LAD), but a similar-natured exchange could create a buzz if a top-10-worthy pitching prospect is thrown into consideration.
Somebody with at least Double-A experience would help bridge the gap between Triple-A Rolison and High-A Chris McMahon.
How bad is the rotation really performing?
2022 could be nothing more than an extended cold stretch for several big league starters. Our above chart shows that every single starter except Kuhl has an above-average BABIP (batting average on balls in play). This is a stat that doesn’t say much without context, but it does a good job of showing how lucky or unlucky a pitcher has performed. Higher BABIP generally means worse luck and vise versa.
Hard hit percentage is separated by just 4.8% from the highest Rockies starter to the lowest, so it’s not like any one pitcher is just getting shelled out there compared to the rest.
FIP and xFIP are touted as better predictors of future performance than ERA, so by following those stats and what they inevitably mean, the collective rotation can only get better than their latest ERA figures. Kuhl is the only arm in the rotation with a better ERA than FIP or xFIP.
Even a good old-fashioned regression to the mean will suggest the performance of all starters will level out over the coming weeks.
Márquez is one year removed from being the Rockies’ only All-Star. Freeland and Senzatela were both worthy of serious extensions last offseason. Gomber was the jewel of the Nolan Arenado trade. The Rockies have reason to invest further belief in all of them for those exact reasons.
Being patient can be hard — but is it harder than being patient for high-ceiling arms in A-ball to pan out?
If the Rockies are not in playoff contention during the final months of the year, how much does Ryan Feltner deserve stable work to show what he’s got?
What happens if Kuhl leaves and one of the remaining starters gets injured?
The Rockies held onto Jon Gray last year after the trade deadline for nothing in return. Is it fair to even compare Kuhl, and is now the time to suggest new action?
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There is nothing to second-guess when things are going well; there is all sorts of second-guessing to be had when performance is suddenly deficient. Kevin Larson of Rox Pile points out that Márquez’s wOBA with runners on base is far higher than it is with bases empty, and it could be a sign of tipping pitches. This feature is complete with all-time analysis over Márquez’s career compared to the 2022 sample.
Ranking fifth in MLB with 14 home runs is a solid way to support your All-Star candidacy. C.J. Cron could be the only Rockie suiting up at Dodger Stadium for the All-Star Game, however, says Patrick Saunders.
Reliever Tyler Kinley, holding a 0.82 ERA, is another All-Star candidate but lacks the high-profile closer duties in order to be a definitive selection, says Saunders. All-Star pitchers and reserves are selected by players and the commissioner’s office.
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On the Farm
Monday, May 30: League-wide off day for all minor league affiliates
New series starting today:
Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes (COL) vs. El Paso Chihuahuas (SD)
*Home/road split-series: Tuesday-Thursday in Albuquerque, Friday-Sunday in El Paso
Double-A: Hartford Yard Goats (COL) at Portland Sea Dogs (BOS)
High-A: Spokane Indians (COL) at Eugene Emeralds (SF)
Low-A: Visalia Rawhide (ARI) vs. Fresno Grizzlies (COL)
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