Colorado Rockies player reviews: Tyler Kinley was on pace to be an All-Star

Welcome to the 2022 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2022. 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.

★ ★ ★

No. 10, Tyler Kinley: 1.1 rWAR

Context first.

the Arizona Diamondbacks had one All-Star in 2022: a middle reliever named Joe Mantiply, holder of a 1.83 ERA on July 10 when the All-Star rosters were announced. Mantiply had tossed 34 1/3 innings at the time of the roster unveil, holding a 25.8 strikeout percentage.

Tyler Kinley at that point in the season: 0.75 ERA, 24 innings, 27.0% strikeouts.

ERA isn’t everything for a reliever, of course, but a 1.83 relief ERA is impressive. At 0.75 is unmistakable. Kinley’s home ballpark has an elevation approximately 4,000 feet higher than Mantiply’s.

If Mantiply served as the reliever (non-closer) measuring stick, Kinley was every degree an All-Star.

While pitching at the late-inning launch pad that Coors Field can become, Kinley didn’t give up a single home run in 2022. He ranks 10th in our Ranking the Rockies series and only played for two months; with a healthy arm and sustained production, he could easily rank in the team’s top five.

The only thing that slowed Kinley in 2022 was injury.

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Kinley posted career bests in ERA, xERA, FIP, xFIP, bWAR, fWAR and walk percentage — all without posting a save.

Note: Kinley posted a 1.1 rWAR (Baseball Reference) and 0.9 fWAR (FanGraphs) in 2022. rWAR is calculated with ERA, while bWAR uses FIP.

It took a committed eye to recognize his effort on a recurring basis. The ninth-inning spotlight was seldom placed on Kinley with closer Daniel Bard sustaining a near-All-Star nod of his own, but Kinley’s late-inning work was huge in securing Bard’s save situations to begin with.

The Rockies finished the 2022 season with a combined bullpen ERA of 4.85, ranking 30th of 30 in Major League Baseball. If Kinley’s numbers were erased, that number would jump to 5.03.

There was no gradual decline leading up to Kinley’s season-ending injury diagnosis, as he ended his 2022 campaign with seven consecutive scoreless appearances. The all-around showing by Kinley embodied the ideals of top middle relievers: his presence was felt, and his absence was felt perhaps even more.

What Made Him So Dominant?

For the fifth consecutive year, Kinley threw more sliders than fastballs. There weren’t any significant changes to his horizontal and vertical break figures, which suggests he brought the same (or extremely similar) arsenal in consecutive seasons. His pitch selection was almost identical to 2021, as were his average pitch velocities.

A six-percent walk percentage was a career-best, however. An ability to command the zone, paired with a Coors-favorable fastball/slider pitch mix, could have been Kinley’s primary recipe for success — and his significant change in performance.

Post-Injury: Team Performance, Outlooks and Extensions

The loss of a key reliever led to the Rockies signing veteran Dinelson Lamet. The team ERA in Triple-A Albuquerque was among the Pacific Coast League’s highest at the time, and as Bard continued to serve as a late-inning anchor, two-inning saves weren’t always viable with Kinley unavailable.

The extra breathing room from a top reliever can be priceless — or at least worth $6.25 millionfor Kinley’s latest extension.

Last week, Kinley and the Rockies came to an agreement on a three-year deal that will secure the right-hander in a Rockies uniform at least through 2025. Reliever deals can be volatile, as recent three-year contracts have shown in Colorado, but it can be tough to see a top relief asset disappear into free agency, too (see Adam Piccolo). This can be especially true in a market like Denver, where available relievers can favor sea-level destinations.

It can be tough to predict relief performance, as a five-year retrospect will show any Rockies fan (Almonte, Davis, McGee, Shaw, Ottavino, Chacín). Despite the natural uncertainty, a three-year contract bodes extremely well for the Rockies if Kinley’s 2022 remains consistent.

Post-Injury: The Recovery Road Ahead

Kinley’s official diagnosis in June was an elbow strain with a forearm flexor tear. He was able to avoid Tommy John surgery, but after undergoing a separate procedure, his timetable for a return could still be a calendar year. This would call for a summer reunion between Kinley and a Colorado uniform.

He’s got job security on the back end of his recovery, which can certainly help him breathe a little easier as he works back to being game ready. For the profession of all relievers — a duty best cool under pressure — this could make a world of difference.

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