Much like the starting rotation, the Colorado Rockies bullpen has long been a victim of Coors Field. A reliever will occasionally have a strong year but repeating those results have been a problem for numerous bullpen arms. However, that might be changing this year as the Rockies pen has solid early results despite a lack of results from its two most well-known options.
Colorado Rockies Bullpen Producing
The Rockies bullpen as a unit has been average this year but it also has flashes of brilliance. Nine pitchers have thrown in relief for a combined 3.68 ERA and .4 WAR. They have been slightly better than the earned runs would suggest, however, with a 3.45 FIP. Overall, the bullpen is largely doing what modern bullpens do. It is striking out just over nine batters per nine innings, minimizing walks and suppressing home runs.
But the bullpen has some of the same issues as the starting rotation. It is only average at generating groundball outs. The Rockies’ relief unit is 17th in the league with a 42.4 percent groundball rate. There isn’t much statistical difference between them and some of the more well-regarded bullpens but any improvement is welcome.
The two players with the largest impacts on the team’s ground out rate are the two with arguably the best results thus far. Jairo Diaz has a 1.69 ERA in 5 1/3 innings despite a groundball rate of 20.0 percent. Fellow late-inning reliever Carlos Estevez has a 1.23 ERA with only a 30.4 groundball percentage. Six of the other seven relievers including closer Wade Davis have induced groundouts at least 40 percent of the time or higher. Diaz is excelling on the strength of 11.81 strikeouts per nine innings. Estevez has only 6.14 K/9 but has kept the ball in the park despite most of the opposing batters getting the ball in the air. We still only have six games-worth of flyball data for Coors Field in 2020 but returns from younger relievers are great to see.
Some Relievers Have Struggled
You can’t talk about the strong showings from Diaz, Estevez, and others without also mentioning Davis’ struggles. He was recently placed on the 10-day IL with a right shoulder strain after he blew a save against the San Diego Padres on Friday. The veteran closer pitched just two-thirds of an inning with two hits, two walks, and four earned runs. The two hits were both home runs which caused Davis’ early ERA to balloon to 16.88. Davis’ average fastball is down to 91.6 mph in 2020 from 93.2 in 2019. That could be due to age, a lack of ramp-up time, or actually being hurt. It’s not good whatever the reason and is one of the major concerns when he comes back. He can’t give up hits and walks at his current rate and expect to remain the closer.
Diaz will handle closing duties for now but the team would have liked Scott Oberg to take over when Davis went down. The 30-year-old right-handed pitcher had an excellent 2019 with a 2.25 ERA and 56 innings. The problem is that he was moved from the 10-day IL to the 45-day with blood clots in his arm. He has had surgery to remove the clots twice. Oberg is one of the best relievers when he’s healthy but blood clots are a serious concern. Hopefully, he can recover and help dominate hitters in 2021.
Some Relievers Are Poised to Help More
The team debuted James Pazos in a victory against the San Diego Padres but the left-handed veteran left after only two-thirds of an inning. He has an ERA of 54.00 thanks to three hits, one walk, and four earned runs. The six-year veteran has good career numbers so this might just be the result of debut jitters. He is the most experienced lefty on the roster so the team will need him for same-sided hitters at some point. Similar things can be said about left-hander Phillip Diehl, who has a 6.75 ERA in his sole appearance. He could support Pazos if the team needs him to despite the three-batter minimum rule for relievers.
There are two other relievers currently active that have yet to debut. There’s intriguing 27-year-old prospect Ashton Goudeau who broke out in the minors in 2019. He had a 2.07 ERA in 78 and a third innings with the team’s Double-A affiliate in Harford. Goudeau then had a 0.00 ERA in 13 innings during the Arizona Fall League. He is one of the most interesting pitchers in the entire system. Joe Harvey was recently added to the active 30-man roster after being recalled from the team’s alternate site. Harvey has just 18 innings of work with a 5.00 ERA. He pitched last year for the Rockies and the New York Yankees.
Further injuries to relievers will force options like Jose Mujica, Jesus Tinoco, or someone else from the 60-man pool into action. The Rockies have promise in its pool but a lack of experience. Any call-ups from the alternate site will only come if the team’s record plummets or multiple injuries stack on top of one another. Several are likely to play bigger roles in 2021 but the current group has Manager Bud Black‘s trust at the moment.
Rockies Pen Can Improve
Colorado has not needed its bullpen for the most part; the unit has thrown just 36 and two-thirds innings so far which is 24th in the Major Leagues. The Rockies will need to keep working on striking batters out or getting them to put the ball on the ground when they are called upon. The relievers posted a 43.6 GB% in 2019 and a 45.8 percent rate in 2018. There is still some room to improve from its current groundball figure to dominate even more. The overall returns are promising but we still don’t have enough data to make concrete predictions about the rest of the season.
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