Stop me if you heard this one before: A pitcher walks into Coors. Batter says the the pitcher, “Hey ace, what’s that in your right hand?” Pitcher says, “It’s a baseball.” Batter says, “Throw it here and let me have a closer look.” Pitcher throws the ball towards the batter. Batter swings and it goes over the fence. As he rounds the bases, the unsavory batter gestures impolitely and says, “Looked more like a dong to me.”
Way back in 2018, the Rockies got frisky. They signed Wade Davis and Bryan Shaw, and re-signed Jake McGee to some pretty lucrative deals to shore up a bullpen in hopes of making a deep run. At the time, Davis was a doe-eyed 32-year old reliever who had appeared in three straight All-Star Games, boasting a sterling 1.65 ERA over 169.1 innings and a 10.8 K/9. After enjoying some success with the Cleveland ballclub, Shaw was an under-the-radar signing. McGee, meanwhile, was coming into his own. After early-career success with Tampa, McGee struggled in the first season with Colorado. The 2017 campaign, however, was a rebound, and the metrics seemed to indicate that he was better than the 3.60 ERA would indicate.
Sadly, none of that really worked out. Shaw has pitched 126 innings to the tune of 5.67 ERA. McGee? Fewer than 100 innings and more than a 5.50 ERA. Davis, in case you haven’t been paying attention, has been pitching somewhere between the Yeesh and Woof reliever tiers. It’s almost as if signing three relievers entering their 30s, amounting to almost 25% of your team’s payroll, was a bad idea! Who knew?! In the end, the bullpen was historically awful, even by Colorado’s standard. Will it be better?
Rockies Projected Bullpen
Closer – Scott Oberg
Your best reliever was shelved in August due to a blood clot in his arm. Prior to that procedure, Scott Oberg was enjoying a career year during his age-29 season. A real shame for Oberg, who was finally being rewarded for his yeoman’s work in the seventh and eighth innings, deposing Davis earlier in August.
Oberg relies heavily on a fastball-slider combination. The fastball was emphasized more in 2019 than in previous years, but it doesn’t seem to be the key indicator on why he had been successful. Really, it comes down to luck. Over 31.2 innings at home, Oberg pitched a 1.71 ERA with a .191/.262/.374 slash line. More stunning? Despite a fly-ball rate of 26.7% (up from 2018’s 17.1% posting), he gave up zero homers. Zero! Nada! I will tattoo Oberg on my face if he pitches another 30 innings without giving up a dinger in Coors during the 2020 season.
Setup – Jairo Diaz
Diaz is a journeyman minor league arm who finally made good during 2019. Unlike most relievers, Diaz has three offerings. A four-seam fastball, sinker, and slider. The fastball is sexy and tops out at 99 mph, and the slider can look nasty. Sadly, it’s pretty clear that he has trouble with control, and when he misplaces the pitch, a fastball ends up going fast…and far.
Diaz, like most pitchers, struggles in Coors. The home/road splits are not kind to the righty. He gave up a markedly higher number of long balls in Colorado than away (1.53 HR/9), and the BABIP was a remarkable .351. It’s unfair to suggest it’ll be better because the FIP/SIERA were lower than the ERA. That can be said for almost any Rockies pitcher. That said, kudos to Jairo for finally putting together a respectable season after years in the minor leagues. He’ll likely get some looks in the closer role should Oberg struggle. Though, as you will see below, so could any one of the other arms.
Setup – Carlos Estevez
Now, if I’m going to get excited about a Rockies reliever, Estevez is the guy. Another four-seam, slider combo pitcher. The four-seam fastball, the fastest fastball in the league per FanGraphs, averages 98 mph, can reach triple digits and is thrown 69% of the time. Sadly, it’s also the worst reliever fastball in the league, with a wFB of -7.1. Cognitive dissonance! How? Well, it’s doesn’t really move in the zone. It’s basically really, really fast BP.
The slider, thrown 27.2% of the time, was Estevez’s best offering and one of the best sliders offered by a reliever. The improvements came on the chase of pitches thrown outside the zone, as he cut down the contact and increased the swinging-strike rate. A few servings of the slider and you have a legitimate back-of-the-bullpen arm…away from Coors.
Middle – Bryan Shaw
Shaw was the Rockies’ fireman, but a really bad fireman. The kind of fireman who showed up to the wrong house and forgot the hose. Outside Estevez, Shaw appeared in the most games by a country mile for Colorado during the 2019 season. Unfortunately for the Rockies, he gave up two runs or more 17% of his appearances and pitched less than an inning in 26% his 70 games.
Unlike all other relievers, Shaw had reverse home/road splits. So maybe there’s room for improvement. But, I’m a little worried about his usage rate. Shaw has a lot of miles on his arm and clearly wore down in the second half last year. As he enters his age-33 season, I am skeptical he will flash the endurance of a 27-year-old in Cleveland I so very much appreciated.
Middle – Jake McGee
McGee has yoyo’d between success and failure in Colorado through the last half decade. As mentioned previously, McGee rebounded after an abominable 2018 season. When Davis faltered, Oberg’s number was called. When Oberg went down, McGee got one shot. He blew it and never got another chance. In fact, McGee was relegated to just 3.2 innings of what FanGraphs deems “high leverage.”
Like Shaw and Davis, McGee has seen a drop in velocity, which has likely attributed to his being smacked around. I anticipate he’ll pick a tick back up as the bum knee never quite healed during the season, but don’t expect a return to 95+. I suspect he knew as much and thus decreased usage while emphasizing the slider, which was met with some success. That said, he was hit harder than he’s ever been in his career. His best days are behind him.
Middle – Wade Davis
It’s a little sad and a bit presumptuous to insert Davis as a middle reliever. The difference between Davis and the names above? Davis was bad at home and away.
There’s every reason to believe he’ll come back this season as the nominal closer. However, there’s no reason to believe he’ll keep the job. The likely line for supporting Davis’ appointment will be that “he wasn’t healthy.” The oblique issue likely led to the career high in walks. Davis’ velocity has diminished a few ticks over the last few years. This led to a career high in his .282/.414/.521 slash line on the four-seam fastball.
You either die a hero or live long enough to become an overpaid, mop-up reliever.
The Other Guys
- Yency Almonte: 34 innings pitched, 7.68 K/9, 5.56 ERA. Hard pass.
- James Pazos: Looked good in 10 innings of work last year. He had something going for the Mariners in 2018. Entering his age-29 season with reasonable velocity, he may become a cog within the bullpen.
- Joe Harvey: A former Yankees prospect who was unable to make the cut but has a nice mid-90s fastball with a biting slider. He’s shown success in the minor leagues and has plenty of swing-and-miss.
- Jesus Tinoco: He has plenty of offerings to keep batters on their heels, but the mechanics have always been an issue. You would think with four pitches, he would generate more whiffs, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
- Wes Parsons: As a matter of principle, I have never trusted a Wes in my life, and I’m not about to start now.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)