There are many lessons I hope the Rockies are learning from the failures of the past few seasons. The biggest one I would want them to get from 2023 is simple: You can never have enough starting pitching, especially in Colorado.
In 2023, 16 different pitchers made at least one start for the Rockies. Even if you subtract bullpen days, like three starts by Jake Bird, two from Brent Suter, and one from Matt Koch, that’s still 13 different starting pitchers to cover 156 games.
Five of those 16 pitchers had an ERA over 7.00, eight never earned a win, and only two pitchers totaled over 100 innings. No one hit double digits in wins or triple digits in strikeouts. It all adds up to an MLB-worst 5.91 team ERA for Colorado’s starters. Rockies starters were also in the MLB basement in strikeouts at 533, more than 100 fewer than the No. 29 Royals total of 636 and over 430 fewer than Minnesota’s league-leading 970.
The Rockies tried and failed with their usual bag of fixes: promoting players from the farm system, trying to turn relievers into starters, signing arms from the waiver wire, and inking more players to minor league deals. Injuries were a huge factor, but they can’t be an excuse. Injuries are going to happen, so depth is needed.
You know who would have been nice to have in the rotation this year? Jon Gray.
In 2023, his second year with the Rangers, Gray appeared in 29 games, posting a 9-8 record with a 4.12 ERA with 142 strikeouts. The only two who come close to those figures are Kyle Freeland, who went 6-14 in 29 starts with a 5.05 ERA and 94 strikeouts, and Austin Gomber, who went 9-9 in 27 starts with a 5.50 ERA and 87 strikeouts. Even factoring in Coors Field inflation, Gray would have been a top starter for the Rockies.
While Gray is no ace, he’s a solid starter who went 53-49 with a 4.59 ERA in 204 starts (205 appearances) with 849 strikeouts in seven years in Colorado. He’s in the top-10 career leaderboards in several categories for the franchise including strikeouts per nine innings (No. 1 at 9.2), strikeouts (third), and eighth in WAR for pitchers (11.4), ERA (4.59), wins (tied with Pedro Astacio) and innings pitched (829 1/3), and tied for eighth in wins. In a term fitting for the birthplace of the Sandlot Brewery beer, a pitcher like this only comes around once in a blue moon.
The Rockies are often loyal to a fault in hanging onto players after they lose value and effectiveness when they could have traded them earlier. With Gray, their first-round pick in 2013, the loyalty disappeared or the Rockies didn’t understand the value of what they had. The Rockies refused to trade Gray in the middle of the season when playoffs were out of the picture. Gray was interested in staying and the Rockies expressed interest in resigning him, but Colorado offered a contract that Gray rejected — suggesting it wasn’t as much as Gray was hoping for and eventually got in the form of a 4-year, $56 million deal with Texas.
At the same time the Rockies didn’t put up the funds to keep Gray from electing free agency, they signed Antonio Senzatela to a 5-year, $50.5 million deal. That wasn’t a bad deal, just tragic in hindsight with injuries as Senzatela has pitched 21 games in the last two seasons and will miss at least half of 2024. On the other hand, Gray has started 53 games and is currently in the ALCS with the Rangers. It is worth noting that Gray has served two stints on the 15-day IL since Aug. 2 and is currently coming out of the bullpen since his arm isn’t built up. But, he’s on the active roster.
That same offseason, the Rockies decided to save their money and hand over $182 million on a 7-year deal to Kris Bryant. Seems like a few million from that would have been much better spent on Gray.
In 2023, the Rockies gave $5 million to Dinelson Limet, who started five games before being released, and $3.5 million to Jose Ureña, who started in five games before being cut at the end of April. Throw in $1.1 million for Ty Blach and about $720,000 apiece for Chris Flexen and Connor Seabold and that’s over $11 million. Seems like throwing in an extra $4 million, which would match Gray’s current annual salary with Texas, would have been worth it for the stability and production.
No one can see into the future and it’s certainly easier to judge past decisions than make good ones in real time. But when the Rockies have one of their best pitchers in franchise history, or any starting pitcher who has shown they can pitch well in Colorado over an extended period of time, they need to learn to recognize that value. And pay up to keep him.
The mistakes are many, but Thomas Murray narrows it down to the three major ones that led to the worst season in Rockies history. Hopefully, the Rockies can learn lessons from all of this.
Rockies Mailbag: Pitching, trade rumors, Charlie Blackmon’s deal and future of Rox TV | Denver Post ($)
Patrick Saunders answers a variety of questions in his mailbag, including one query from Purple Row’s own Skyler Timmins. It’s a great question about the probabilities of a Rockies trade for starting pitching since it’s hard to get it any other way. The mailbag has lots of insightful nuggets on a variety of topics, including that he hasn’t heard any news on the future of any Rockies TV deals as one of many.
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Arizona Fall League
Sterlin Thompson hit a two-run single and scored a run to add to his impressive stats in the AFL, Benny Montgomery drew a walk and scored a run, and Drew Romo singled and scored a run in an impressive offensive showing for the Rockies prospects. Unfortunately, the pitchers didn’t have as good of a day. After entering in the fourth and pitching two scoreless innings, Chris McMahon struck out his third batter of the day to start the sixth before the trouble started. He surrendered two doubles and two singles and all of those batters came around to score, cutting the Rafters six-run lead to 9-7. Juan Mejia entered the game in the seventh with Salt River clinging to a 9-8 lead, but it didn’t last. Mejia got a strikeout before giving up a double to Tyler McDonough, who then advanced to third on a passed ball by Romo. McDonough scored on a sac fly and even though Mejia avoided any more damage, the Desert Dogs scored one more run on a pair of doubles in the top of the ninth to complete the comeback win.
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