Colorado Rockies: Tyler Kinley’s evolution into a great reliever

DENVER, COLORADO - JUNE 28: Pitcher Tyler Kinley #40 of the Colorado Rockies throws against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the sixth inning at Coors Field on June 28, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
DENVER, COLORADO - JUNE 28: Pitcher Tyler Kinley #40 of the Colorado Rockies throws against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the sixth inning at Coors Field on June 28, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

Tyler Kinley joined the Colorado Rockies before the 2020 season and he had some success at the MLB level prior to joining the team. After making his debut in 2018 and pitching poorly (12.27 ERA in 13 games between the Minnesota Twins and Miami Marlins), he appeared in 52 games with the Marlins in 2019 and had a 3.65 ERA.

There was always one problem that was holding Kinley back, though: control.

In 2018, he walked 6.5 batters per nine innings and despite the 3.65 ERA in 2019, his walk rate went up to 6.6 per nine innings.

He got it under control a bit more in 2020 in 24 appearances (in a 60-game season) but it was still a bit high, at 4.6 BB/9. In 2021, he lowered it again to a much more manageable 3.3 BB/9.

But in 2022, Colorado Rockies reliever Tyler Kinley has been one of the better relievers in all of baseball.

Entering play on Saturday, Tyler Kinley has appeared in 18 games for the Colorado Rockies and he has an ERA of 1.10. He has his walk rate down to 2.8 BB/9 and his strikeout rate is 9.9 K/9, which is up from 8.7 K/9 in 2021.

The advanced stats also suggest that much of his results have been true.

He has a FIP of 2.04, which is 31st among the 264 relievers with at least 10 innings pitched entering Friday. He is in the 90th percentile or better in expected ERA (xERA), expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA), expected slugging percentage (xSLG), and barrel percentage (the percentage of times that batters hit a ball with an exit velocity of 98 MPH or more and is, essentially, almost certain to be an extra-base hit or home run).

Last week, Rockies manager Bud Black said on the club’s most recent homestand against the Giants that Kinley has taken a few steps forward because he has been “pitching as opposed to throwing.”

In Pittsburgh, Black expanded on what he meant.

"“With Tyler, there were some adjustments mechanically that he really paid attention to this offseason,” said Black to Rox Pile in an exclusive conversation. “Stiller head, less head jerk (towards the first base dugout during his delivery), kept his pitching line (to home plate with his feet on the mound) better and, I think more than anything, the feel for the ball.“He’s starting to feel that so he’s been able to manipulate his slider to vary the break and vary the velocity. I think the delivery with subtle changes and subtle improvements have helped his fastball command as well. He’s throwing more strikes. Fewer big misses (in location). But he’s been impressive because I think he has always had a good heartbeat. The heartbeat seems to be a tick lower (than most pitchers) and he’s more poised on the field.”"

Kinley, for his part, agrees with Black on that as well as some more experience in the major leagues.

“There’s a constant ability to evolve in the game that’s needed to stick around,” Kinley told Rox Pile in an exclusive conversation in Pittsburgh. “I think I’ve just been in a good spot right now but I’ve been able to be consistent, be in the zone, be ahead of guys (in the count), trust my stuff, and make adjustments quickly, and that’s all part of pitching rather than throwing.”

With being the team’s most reliable reliever to this point, he also has appeared in the most games (18) for any reliever on the team. He’s on pace for 67 appearances after he had 70 last year.

Kinley told Rox Pile that he loves pitching nearly every other day and, in fact, he’d even love to pitch in more games.

“I love it. I wouldn’t want any other role,” Kinley said. “I prefer not to have days off. I know they’re going to give me days off and I always try to fight with them on it,” said Kinley, laughing. “But (manager) Buddy (Black) is the captain of the ship and he does a good job of trying not to wear me down and give me my days (off) where I need it.”

The all-time single-season record for relief appearances was in 1974 by Mike Marshall, who pitched in 106 games (208.1 innings) and won the NL Cy Young Award.

In the last 40 years, the person with the most appearances in a single season is Salomon Torres, who did it for the 2006 Pirates, who were managed by then-future Rockies manager Jim Tracy. Torres was also teammates with current Rockies manager Bud Black on the Giants in 1993 and 1994 and was the opposing starting pitcher in Black’s final MLB game in 1995.

As for Kinley, if he could, he would “love to” break the single-season record for appearances by a reliever. “I’d love to,” Kinley said. “I don’t know if they’d give me the opportunity to do it but I’d love to.”

Considering how well much of the rest of the bullpen has pitched thus far, the Colorado Rockies’ bullpen could use three or four versions of 2022 Tyler Kinley but for now, at least, they will have to deal with just one improved version him while they try to get some more consistent help from their other relievers.