The Colorado Rockies bullpen has been a problem for years, and given Coors Field’s effects, 2021 is no different. The team has struggled with consistency and is currently near the bottom of the WAR leaderboard for MLB relief groups. How has this happened and can the team recover to salvage anything over the next few months?
Rockies Bullpen Struggles
11 pitchers have appeared in a game for Colorado purely as a reliever. Only two of those have an ERA under 3.50 and one of them was recently optioned to the minors. There is still plenty of season left, but it’s been an atrocious first few weeks for the unit. None of the few bright spots from 2020 have been able to recapture their previous magic.
The most glaring example of that is Daniel Bard. While he does have .2 WAR via the FanGraphs system, his ERA has ballooned to 5.29 in 2021. There is certainly a chance that his numbers stabilize. A 3.80 FIP with 11.12 strikeouts per nine innings is very strong, but it is not the start anyone wanted for last year’s outstanding comeback story. The 36-year-old reliever might be more valuable as a late-inning option on a contender with his solid peripheral stats.
Many of the same things can be said about the majority of the bullpen as everyone outside of Jordan Sheffield and Antonio Santos have ERAs higher than their FIPs. It is a unit that collectively strikes out the lowest percentage of batters on top of the eighth-highest walk percentage. Finally, it looks as though Coors Field’s effects are making themselves known once more as the team has the sixth-highest home run to flyball ratio at 15.6 percent.
Bright Spots Do Exist
However, we do need to note that two individuals are quietly having respectable seasons out of the bullpen. Sheffield and Santos currently combine for .2 WAR in just over 18 innings. Sheffield has been particularly interesting as a Rule 5 selection from the Los Angeles Dodgers. The former 36th overall selection from 2016 has a sparkling 1.84 ERA and 3.29 FIP while striking out 23.2 percent of batters. The FIP does indicate some seriously good luck on batted balls, but Sheffield might be a strong indicator of the organization’s scouting ability. Santos was recently optioned to the minors, but he might be the next arm called up if someone is injured.
We should also acknowledge Mychal Givens. The veteran doesn’t have eye-popping numbers, but he does have a respectable 3.86 ERA and leads the team in WAR via Baseball Reference’s method. The underlying numbers are quite poor, but it might be enough to flip for something good near the trade deadline.
What This Means For The Future
The good thing about this bullpen, even if it is very bad right now, is that none of the arms are particularly expensive. Givens is the only active reliever making more than $4 million for 2021. The only reliever with a guaranteed job after 2021 is Scott Oberg, despite his recurring blood-clot issues. Everyone else is very cheap–either before or in the midst of the arbitration years.
That could mean wholesale changes as the deadline approaches. Both Bard and Givens might fetch reasonable returns given their history. The team could also consider moving Carlos Estevez and Robert Stephenson in order to clear space for prospects. The 2021 season is almost a lost cause already, so holding onto underperforming pitchers in the Rockies bullpen does absolutely nothing right now. Restructuring things now gives management more time to study and plan for 2022.
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