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Kuhl’s second half could determine the future rotation

Colorado Rockies news and links for Friday, July 17, 2022

For five years, the Rockies rotation featured what I am going to call “the core.” From 2017-2021, the Rockies depended on three starters who came up through the system — Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland, and Antonio Senzatela — and Germán Márquez, who arrived via trade as a promising 21-year-old in 2016.

The core helped the Rockies earn back-to-back playoff appearances in 2017-18 for the first time in team history and clearly became the foundation to build around. For many of us who thought that foundation was also structured around stars like DJ LaMahieu, Nolan Arenado, and Trevor Story, we were wrong. It’s been the core, which has been the best, most consistent four starters in team history. Heading into 2019, the future looked bright.

But the rotation suffered from an inadequate offense and a bullpen gifted at blowing games. Instead of more playoffs, the Rockies suffered awkwardly, and at times painfully, through three consecutive losing series. While the Rockies extended Márquez and Senzatela, and eventually Freeland, the same deal wasn’t made to Gray.

Like usual, the Rockies either believed they could re-sign Gray or didn’t have a realistic view of his value, and decided to sit out of the trade market in 2021. With a chance to be the No. 1 guy somewhere else, and despite saying he wanted to stay, Gray departed for Texas, where he signed a four-year, $56 million deal after the 2021 season ended.

While Gray had a rough start (a 5.56 ERA and 1-2 record in his first seven starts over 34 innings), he is turning things around with a 2.59 ERA and 5-2 record in 55 2/3 innings in nine starts over June and July.

For the Rockies in 2022, “the core” remains, but it is only three-strong now. To admit the obvious, “the core” gets older every day and the window to capitalize on their strengths shrinks. This season, all three are performing below their career averages. Freeland, 29, is still building back from his wayward 2019 season, currently holding a 4.96 ERA and 1.41 WHIP; Márquez, 27, has a career-high 5.66 ERA and is still learning how to rebuild his arsenal after trying to add too much in the offseason; Senzatela, 27, has a career-high WHIP at 1.80 and is currently on his second stint on a 15-day IL. On the bright side, all three are under 30 and can remain the core for a while with K-Free and Senza under contract through 2028 and Márquez through 2024.

The Core: 2022 vs. Previous Seasons

Name Year(s) Age W L W-L% ERA GS CG SHO IP ERA+ FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
Name Year(s) Age W L W-L% ERA GS CG SHO IP ERA+ FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
Kyle Freeland 2022 29 4 7 .364 4.70 17 0 0 97 2/3 100 4.39 1.372 9.7 1 2.7 6.1 2.28
Kyle Freeland 2017-21 24-28 40 40 .500 4.20 119 0 0 654 118 4.54 1.407 9.5 1.2 3.2 7 2
German Marquez 2022 27 5 7 .417 5.66 17 0 0 97 83 5.06 1.474 9.8 1.7 3.4 7.5 2.19
German Marquez 2016-21 21-26 54 41 .568 4.28 138 4 2 814 1/3 116 3.85 1.27 8.8 1.2 2.6 9 3.46
Antonio Senzatela 2022 27 3 5 .375 4.95 13 0 0 60 95 3.86 1.8 14 0.8 2.3 5.1 2.2
Antonio Senzatela 2017-21 22-27 39 40 .494 4.85 111 1 0 639 2/3 102 4.37 1.445 10.2 1 2.8 6 2.15

Austin Gomber, 28, has now become a staple in the rotation, but has struggled this season as well with a career-high 6.11 ERA, even being demoted to the bullpen where he gave up four runs in 4 1/3 innings before returning to the rotation. To round out the rotation, the Rockies brought in Chad Kuhl, who despite cooling off after a hot start, has still been the best pitcher for the Rockies this season. Compared to Gray, he’s been pretty similar, even though Gray has a lower ERA and more strikeouts. He also doesn’t pitch at Coors Field anymore.

Jon Gray vs. Chad Kuhl This Season

Name Age W L W-L% ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP ERA+ FIP WHIP BB9 SO9 SO/W
Name Age W L W-L% ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP ERA+ FIP WHIP BB9 SO9 SO/W
Jon Gray 30 6 4 .600 3.71 16 0 0 89 2/3 74 40 37 10 27 100 3 105 3.33 1.126 2.7 10 3.7
Chad Kuhl 29 6 5 .545 4.11 17 1 1 92 92 44 42 11 37 65 0 114 4.46 1.402 3.6 6.4 1.76

There is one big difference: The Rangers are paying Gray $15 million this year, while the Rockies are paying Kuhl $3 million. At 29 years old, Kuhl is the senior starter on the staff, but recently told The Gazette’s Danielle Allentuck “I would love to be here for multiple years. I don’t want to be the guy that bounces around from team to team.”

The other starters this year have included Ryan Feltner (7 starts. 6.15 ERA, 1.337 WHIP), Ty Blach (1 start, 6.00 ERA, 3 innings with 2 runs on 6 hits), and José Ureña (2 starts, 2.13 ERA, 1.421 WHIP). While promising prospects have made starts over the last few years like Ryan Castellani, Peter Lambert, and Jeff Hoffman, they are now DFA’ed, injured, or traded, respectively (Castellani was picked up by Oakland and is now a reliever for Triple-A Las Vegas). Members of the next generation in the farm system are either injured or not close to ready.

With the Rockies being the Rockies, we expect nothing major to happen at the trade deadline, despite the Rockies owning valuable commodities like C.J. Cron and Daniel Bard, who could potentially bring returns of young starting pitchers.

For now, the Freeland-Márquez-Senzatela-Gomber-Kuhl rotation is the Rockies best option. The Rockies control Gomber through 2023 and Kuhl is open to an extension. Another vet, Ureña, could be good to keep as the No. 6 and a long reliever. Lately, the Rockies are finding much more success with finding cheaper veterans (see Bard, Cron, Elias Díaz, José Iglesias, more) than rushing up rookies without proper development and coaching. “The core” costs $25.25 million this year, with Kuhl ($3 million), Gomber ($710,000), and Urena ($700,000) bringing the total to $29.66 million.

Until the Rockies can rebuild the starting pitching depth in the farm system, the Rockies could stick with Gomber and Kuhl. (For more of a deep-dive on Kuhl, check out Skyler Timmins’ Rockpile on July 3.) This could save money and buy time through 2023 to see if younger prospects can heal or are ready for the big leagues. In 2023, “the core” will make a $35.75 million dent in the payroll. Kuhl could sign a two-year deal for somewhere between $6-8 million, with Ureña needing to sign a deal, and Gomber headed for arbitration with a raise due for service time. While it will be more expensive next year than this year, staying the course is better than bringing in a free agent — if one who wants to play at Coors Field exists.

However, there is one big question that needs to be answered before knowing if this plan is sustainable: How will Kuhl do the rest of this season? Kuhl is in his sixth year in MLB and has 92 innings pitched this season, which is already the second-most for a season in his career. He’s been struck by the injury bug often in his career, visiting the 60-day IL in 2018 for a forearm strain before undergoing Tommy John surgery at the end of that season. After missing the 2019 season, COVID-19 shortened 2020, and then he missed time with shoulder issues and with being in COVID protocols in 2021.

If Kuhl can complete this season and get close to his career-high innings (157 1/3 in 2017), while continuing to be effective and perhaps throwing fewer balls than he did on Wednesday, then the Rockies could buy themselves some more time to start developing the next “core.”

★ ★ ★

Rockies’ Brendan Rodgers making case as one of MLB’s best defensive second basemen | Denver Post ($)

Despite spending most his life as a shortstop, like Patrick Saunders points out, Brendan Rodgers is working very hard to be a great fielding second baseman and his work is paying off. Part of that work is using a smaller glove for fielding drills and working on nabbing different heights and lengths of hops. The statistics are starting to prove his talent with Rodgers first in MLB in Ultimate Zone Rating and defensive runs saved as a second baseman.

★ ★ ★

On The Farm

Triple-A: Sacramento River Cats 3, Albuquerque Isotopes 2

A three-run sixth inning by the River Cats proved to be too much to overcome despite an RBI single from D.J. Peterson in the seventh and a solo homer by Dom Nuñez in the ninth in the Isotopes loss on Thursday night. In a low-hit affair, Albuquerque was held to four hits, while Sacramento posted six. Corey Oswalt, who started the year with Sacramento, put up four scoreless frames against his old team before Nate Griep gave up a homer and two-run double in the sixth that ended up being the difference in the game.

Double-A: Hartford Yard Goats 9, Harrisburg Senators 4

Hunter Stovall smashed a three-run homer, Kyle Datres hit a two-run homer, and Isaac Collins added a triple and two doubles, which led to one RBI and two runs scored, in Hartford’s victory on Thursday night. Despite falling behind 2-0 in the top of the first, the Yard Goats rallied back to take a 5-2 lead in the second on Stovall’s homer and then continued to add one insurance runs throughout the game. Nick Bush earned the win on the mound, despite giving up four runs in seven innings with eight strikeouts. Stephen Jones and Gavin Hollowell each threw an inning of scoreless relief to secure the win.

High-A: Eugene Emeralds 4, Spokane Indians 2

Eugene jumped out to a 2-0 lead after two innings thanks to two solo homers, and despite being out-hit 8-5, the Emeralds hung on for the victory on Thursday. Spokane got one run back in the third when Julio Carreras hit an RBI single to make it 2-1. Evan Shawver gave up all four runs in 5 23 innings. Even though he had seven homers, he also gave up six hits, three of which were homers. Robby Martin Jr. hit an RBI double to account for the Indians second and final run in the ninth inning. Martin Jr., Zac Veen, and Warming Bernable each recorded two hits for Spokane, while Nik Kent also singled.

Low-A: Rancho Cucamonga Quakes 8, Fresno Grizzlies 2

The Quakes hit three home runs and wielded a pitcher-by-committee method (five different pitchers) to beat the Grizzlies on Thursday night. Thank goodness for Juan Guerrero or else Fresno wouldn't have had any runs at all as the center field hit an RBI double and posted a sacrifice fly. Even though Fresno recorded eight hits, they couldn’t string together a comeback rally. McCade Brown took the loss after giving up five runs on seven hits in five innings, despite seven strikeouts.

★ ★ ★

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