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Karl Kauffmann struggled with inconsistency as a rookie

Karl Kauffmann’s rookie season was full of ups and downs in limited playing time, but there is hope for the future.

Welcome to the 2023 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2023. 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.

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No. 51, Karl Kauffmann: -0.8 rWAR

Right-handed Michigan product Karl Kauffmann started his 2023 season ranked no. 23 in our Purple Row prospect rankings and was the no. 28 organizational prospect per MLB Pipeline. By the time mid-season PuRPs rankings were released, Kauffmann had fallen off both lists.

After drafting Kauffmann with their competitive balance pick in 2019, the Rockies decided to challenge him out of the gate. Following a COVID-shortened 2020 season, the Rockies essentially chose to begin Kauffmann’s career with the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats. He struggled with the Yard Goats in 2021, but made offseason adjustments and performed well enough in 2022 to earn a promotion to the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes. Kauffmann struggled in his first stint with the Isotopes, but there was hope he would adjust heading into 2023 like he had the season prior in Hartford.

Kauffmann had a difficult April in Albuquerque. In six starts and 28 13 innings of work he posted an 8.26 ERA while walking 12 batters and giving up three home runs. It likely would have been better for Kauffmann to continue working in Triple-A, but disaster struck that called him into big league service.

At the end of April the Rockies designated José Ureña for assignment with the returns of Germán Márquez and Antonio Senzatela from the injured list. Unfortunately both pitchers were very quickly returned to the IL in need of Tommy John surgery and several other starters were either injured or not ready. Now desperate for pitching, the Rockies called up Kauffmann to make his big league debut.

Kauffmann debuted far from home on May 19th against a red hot Texas Rangers club in Arlington. His outing started well with his first two big league strikeouts in the first inning. Kauffmann looked sharp in his first three innings. He fanned four batters while giving up two hits and just one walk. However, cracks started to show in the fourth inning. He walked the leadoff batter before slugger Adolis García hit a two-run home run to put the Rangers on the board. Kauffmann gave up a single and a double following the García home run, but was able to end the inning without further damage. The bottom of the fifth inning started with a fielding error, a single, and a two-run double to end Kauffmann’s debut after 4 13 innings.

Kauffmann saw sporadic use for most of the season, bouncing back and forth between the Rockies and Triple-A. He made three starts in May—never going more than 4 13 innings—with an ERA of 11.37 over 12 23 innings pitched. He gave up 22 hits, three home runs, and seven walks during that time before being optioned back to the Isotopes.

He returned to the Rockies again in late June, this time as a long reliever. Kauffmann worked exclusively out of the bullpen for the Rockies for the rest of the season with stints in June, July, August, and September, and he ultimately logged more innings as a reliever than he did as a starter.

Karl Kauffmann 2023 - Starter vs Reliever

Starter 3 11.37 12.2 22 17 16 3 7 7 2.290 5.0 .407 .469 .667
Reliever 8 6.45 22.1 20 17 16 2 9 9 1.299 3.6 .247 .340 .395

Kauffmann performed much better out of the bullpen, albeit with a limited sample size. While he exclusively worked as a starter in Albuquerque, he only appeared out of the bullpen when he was called up.

His overall performance this season fell on two major factors: increased hits and decreased strikeouts. His hits per nine innings both in Albuquerque and with the Rockies were the second and third highest in his professional career, while his strikeouts per nine innings were the lowest and third lowest of his career.

Karl Kauffmann Career Pitching 2021-2023

Year Level G GS IP ERA FIP H R ER HR BB SO H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
Year Level G GS IP ERA FIP H R ER HR BB SO H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
2021 High-A 2 2 9.1 2.89 3.98 5 3 3 0 2 6 4.8 0.0 1.9 5.8
2021 Double-A 19 18 82.0 7.35 6.50 23 73 67 18 41 65 13.5 2.0 4.5 7.1
2022 Double-A 15 15 77.2 4.06 4.15 71 36 35 9 34 84 8.2 1.0 3.9 9.7
2022 Triple-A 13 13 64.0 6.05 6.46 70 48 43 11 45 60 9.8 1.5 6.3 8.4
2023 Triple-A 19 19 92.1 6.43 5.01 125 71 66 11 42 61 12.2 1.1 4.1 5.9
2023 MLB 11 3 35.0 8.23 5.91 42 34 32 5 16 16 10.8 1.3 4.1 4.1

Kauffmann might need to explore some mechanical changes this offseason. His low velocity sinker and four seam fastball aren’t done any favors by his arsenal of breaking pitches that lack movement. Only his changeup and cutter have above average vertical movement, while all of his breaking pitches have horizontal movement well below league average. Because of this, he isn’t missing bats nor is he fooling opposing batters into swinging. Only his four seam fastball and slider had put away rates above 10% and only his cutter had a hard hit rate below 40%. Along with mechanical tweaks, a full-time move to the bullpen might be beneficial if it allows him to get a bit more oomph out of his fastball.

While Kauffmann struggled in his rookie season, he has a prime opportunity going into 2024. Two rotation spots are potentially up for grabs with Germán Márquez and Antonio Senzatela set to miss the season. If Kauffmann can make adjustments this offseason and turn in a strong performance at spring training, one of those spots might be his.