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Daytona State Alum Justin Lawrence Looks to Improve in Second Half of MLB Season

Justin Lawrence is one of four Daytona State College attendees ever to reach a Major League Baseball roster, and is the only one currently active in the league. He transferred there from his Division I spot at Jacksonville University to attempt to be a pitcher and position player, but wound up sticking with pitching after his numbers turned electric. Soon, he found himself picked in the 12th round of the 2015 MLB Draft by the Colorado Rockies.

Lawrence started out his MLB career with rough stints in the 2021 and 2022 seasons, posting earned run averages (ERA) of 8.64 and 5.70 respectively. He began to turn things around in the 2023 season when put up a 3.72 ERA, and earned 11 saves as the team’s closer. His 1.4 wins above replacement (WAR) made him the second-most valuable pitcher on the team. Though the Rockies missed the playoffs by a far cry, Lawrence showed he had potential as a closer at the major league level.

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With 2024 representing a contract year for Lawrence, the pressure has been especially high to perform. The team around him is no more competitive than they were last year, sitting with the second fewest wins in the MLB as of Monday. And on top of that, Colorado’s Coors Field may as well be a haunted house for MLB pitchers – the thin air at a mile of elevation makes pitchers worried they’ll give up homeruns much easier due to less atmospheric friction on the ball.  With the midseason All-Star break quickly approaching, Lawrence’s numbers have been…worse than he might’ve hoped.

As of Monday, Lawrence sports a 5.58 ERA across 29 appearances, with only two saves recorded thus far out of six opportunities. He’s struck out 24 batters with 18 walks, a ratio conducive to giving up runs – and games. Still, there’s reason to be optimistic about Lawrence’s season.

His splits indicate some of this is likely due to the aforementioned Coors Field effect, given that his home-park ERA is 8.79 compared to a drastically better 2.76 ERA on the road. He’s also shown signs of improvement month-over-month, with nearly every major pitching stat trending positively from April to May and from May to June. His numbers tend to be better when pitching in the 7th or 8th innings, indicating he may meet his full potential this year as a set-up man instead of a closer. If the Rockies did that, however, it may run afoul of sentiments communicated to him by the team this spring.

“[Manager Bud Black] said just that he trusted me in any situation, the coaching staff is behind me, the team is behind me,” Lawrence said in March right before the beginning of the season. “It was encouraging to hear that right before Opening Day from the skipper.” For what it’s worth, Lawrence’s primary competition for the closing job was to be Tyler Kinley, who’s also had his struggles in the first half of 2024.

With the Rockies set to take four days off for the All-Star break next week, Lawrence will be provided with the opportunity to reset and build toward a strong second half to finish out the 2024 season. The Rockies will come back with a six-game homestand followed by a westward road trip.

Written By

Chris Gollon is a Flagler County resident since 2004, as well as a staple of the local independent music scene and avid observer of Central Florida politics, arts, and recreation.

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