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. 50, José Ureña: -0.7 rWAR
While teams around the league bustled about making big signings and trades to bolster their rosters in preparation for the 2023 season, the Colorado Rockies milled about. They made a few trades for depth, made some minor-league signings and brought in a free-agent reliever or two before spring training, but their first big free agent signing of the offseason was to re-sign right-handed pitcher José Ureña to a one-year $3.5 million contract with a $4 million club option for 2024.
Ureña had been solid for the Rockies in 2022. He made 17 starts, not skipping his turn in the rotation once, pitched into the sixth inning 12 times, and allowed three or fewer runs 12 times. He ranked 22nd last season with a 0.3 rWAR and it made sense to bring him back in the hopes that he could replicate that success and bolster the rotation.
From the start of 2023, things were not looking good. In spring training, Ureña pitched a total of 19 1⁄3 innings to the tune of a 6.52 ERA, giving up 14 runs on 14 hits, including five homes, with six walks and nine strikeouts. One could overlook that since it is just spring training, he was getting back into shape for the season or perhaps was working on some things, surely he would get back to 2022 form once the season started, right?
Reader, he did not.
Disaster in Colorado
Ureña made five starts for the Rockies in the month of April. In four of those starts, he failed to pitch five complete innings. In three of those starts, he failed to pitch four innings. In two of those starts, he failed to pitch three innings. He gave up at least three runs in all five of his starts, at least four runs in four of them.
You will not that there is one outlier start in his time with the Rockies this season. On April 12 against the St. Louis Cardinals, his third start of the year, Ureña allowed three runs on five hits and had six strikeouts to just one walk. It was a return to form that the Rockies needed, as the starting rotation that month had struggled with length. The bullpen was already overworked from the get-go and Ureña’s struggles amplified that problem. Unfortunately, this single start wasn’t enough to change his fortunes.
His next two starts were disasters, including his final start against the Philadelphia Phillies in which he gave up four runs in 3 2⁄3 innings. Having seen enough, the Rockies designated him for assignment and later released him before the month was over.
So what was the cause of his problems?
As evidenced in spring training, Ureña suddenly couldn’t find the strike zone with the Rockies. In his 18 1⁄3 innings with the Rockies this season, he walked 14 batters and had just nine strikeouts. He threw at least 70 pitches in each of his starts, averaging 19.80 pitches per inning. His lack of command resulted in plenty of bad pitches, nine of which resulted in home runs. Opposing teams batted .346/.441/.821 against Ureña, with a 51.4% hard-hit rate and an average exit velocity of 93.3 mph, all of which are career-highs.
Ureña’s previous success in 2022 came from his 50% usage of his sinker to get ground balls, but his usage of the sinker went down a bit as he resorted to using his four-seam fastball a bit more again. Teams slugged 1.172 against his fastball, as opposed to a sinker and slider combo that would have produced better results.
With his 9.82 on the mound and struggles overall, the Rockies had no choice but to wisely cut their losses and move on from Ureña to make way for other pitchers who would contribute over the course of the year.
In case you’re wondering, Ureña went to the Washington Nationals in May and struggled in the minors before he was released in August. He then signed on with the Chicago White Sox organization and finished the season with the big league club, making five starts in the final month of the season.
In five starts with the Sox, he tossed 26 1⁄3 innings, including three games in which he went six innings, with an ERA of 4.10. He returned to relying on his sinker more and ended up with 20 strikeouts to eight walks with a 49.4% ground ball rate and a 29.6% hard-hit rate.
Ureña struggled for the Rockies in 2023 but returned to previous success elsewhere, showing that the team still has a long way to go to figure out how to develop and aid pitchers in Colorado, rather than simply relying on bargain bin pedigree for success.
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