The Colorado Rockies bullpen will feature some new faces when the team has its opening day on Friday. They released Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee in a surprise move late last Friday. Those two weren’t the most productive relievers but both were expected to be significant bullpen contributors. The team will rely on other options that do not have as much experience in the major leagues.
Rockies Bullpen Will Feature New Faces
It’s a mild shock that Colorado released Shaw and McGee when they did. Both players would have needed only a handful of appearances to activate options for 2021 but there was no reason the Rockies couldn’t have tried them for two weeks to see what they could do. They could have cut either Shaw or McGee if they weren’t producing value.
However, Colorado hasn’t lost much in terms of recent production. Shaw struggled to -.7 WAR in two years as a Rockie. He threw 126 2/3 innings with a 5.61 ERA, 112 strikeouts and 57 walks. His hit and walk rates were almost a full run higher in Colorado compared to his career averages. Shaw also performed poorly in spring training with a 10.38 ERA, three strikeouts and four walks in just 4 1/3 innings.
McGee started strong with Colorado in 2016. He was worth almost 2 total WAR between 2016 and 2017 but he collapsed in 2018. McGee had a career-worst 6.49 ERA in 51 1/3 innings with 47 strikeouts and 16 walks. His home run rate ballooned to 1.8 per nine innings in 2018 and increased to 2.4 last year. McGee wasn’t the worst option last season but his 4.50 ERA in four innings this spring didn’t inspire any additional confidence. He leaves Colorado with a 4.78 ERA in 195 2/3 innings with a total WAR of -.3.
The two most notable replacement options are Tyler Kinley and Daniel Bard. Kinley had a respectable 2019 with the Miami Marlins. He threw 49 1/3 innings with a 3.65 ERA and 46 strikeouts thanks to heavy slider usage; Kinley threw his primary breaking pitch almost 58 percent of the time along with a four-seam fastball that averaged almost 95 mph. He will need to lower his walks significantly to be an impact reliever but Colorado might view Kinley as a poor man’s Adam Ottavino.
Bard is an incredible comeback story. He last pitched in 2013 with the Boston Red Sox before a legendary case of “the yips”, combined with injuries, kept him away from the game. He will be a fascinating option if he can recapture some of his Red Sox production; Bard had a 3.67 ERA in 257 1/3 innings across five seasons in Boston. He has an extraordinary challenge making a comeback in Coors Field but the organization loves him. Bard’s story is an inspiration about overcoming mental obstacles if nothing else.
McGee’s departure also means someone new will take over as the primary left-handed reliever. James Pazos should be the primary option when the season begins Friday. The 29-year-old had a solid 1.74 ERA and 10 strikeouts in just 10 1/3 innings last season. Pazos has allowed a .692 OPS against left-handed batters but is respectable against righties as well. Right-handed hitters have a combined .725 OPS. New rules in 2020 mean a reliever will have to face at least three batters. Pazos should be able to handle that this season. He will receive help in the form of 26-year-old Phillip Diehl who doesn’t throw hard but does have good walk rates from his time in the minors.
What This Means Beyond 2020
Bard will be a free agent after this year. He will be 36-years-old going into 2021 but a strong comeback season could make him a cheap, experienced option. That is especially true if he resembles the player he was with Boston from 2009 through 2011 when he accumulated almost a 5 WAR.
Kinley will reach arbitration for the first time after 2020. He has just over one year of total service time thanks to limited usage since his debut in 2018. The team has plenty of relief options in its system so Kinley will need to demonstrate significantly improved command if he wants to remain on the team into 2021 and beyond. The fastball/slider combination has potential but the Rockies can’t afford to risk unnecessary money on its bullpen after the debacle with Shaw and McGee.
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