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The Rockies Bullpen Can Be Dominant When Not Overworked

Despite sitting 22 games below .500 and dead-last of the NL West, one rather impactful position group has stood above the rest of the team and, in some ways, above most of the rest of the league. The 2023 Colorado Rockies bullpen has been fantastic and a massive part of most of their wins, but they have sometimes blown things. 

The bullpen was the game’s toy in Tuesday’s win over the Houston Astros. Twirling a combined eight scoreless innings, they broke a franchise record for most scoreless innings by their bullpen, beating the 7 2/3 innings they threw against the Philadelphia Phillies back in May. 

Of the six pitchers to pitch in at least 30 games out of the bullpen, just one pitcher has posted an ERA+ below 100 to this point in this season, which ironically enough has been their closer Pierce Johnson, the man supposed to be the most dominant. 

That game was a sign that the pitchers in the bullpen are all fantastic but are often one of the most overworked units in the league. They were pitching in 39 innings already this season, the fourth most in the league, leading to fatigue in several of their pitching performances and worse results. 

As well as that, beyond their top five dominant pitchers, production out of the bullpen has been among the league-worst, skewing the statistics to bring their overall numbers down as well. But how good have the top five relievers been?

Rockies Bullpen Breakdown

Brad Hand 

The left-handed 13-year veteran on his eight teams still produces at the big-league level. Through 31.2 innings, he has a respectable 105 ERA+ and is striking out 2.47 batters for each one he walks. 

While he has recently been on a downward production trend, FIP through May was below 2.00 and looked like a top trade target. If he can find his early season production, he is likely dealt at the deadline, but the Rockies hope he stops his current skid either way. 

Jake Bird 

With a 4.11 ERA and striking out just 8.5 batters per nine, it is easy to overlook Bird based on his surface-level stats. But with a 3.29 FIP, 123 ERA+, being worth 0.6 bWAR and having the highest strikeout/walk rate among the Rockies relievers on this list, 2.84, he has deserved his spot here. 

He is the innings-eater of this group, having 57.0 innings spread over 44 games, including two starts and four games finished. Plugging in wherever the team needs him, he might be managerBlack’sack’s favourite piece of the pitching staff. 

Brent Suter 

Through his first 30 or so innings, Suter was one of, if not the most, dominant pitchers in the entire league. Now sitting at 42.2 innings, he settles for being still one of the better relievers, but not the beWorthHe’sseorth 0.9 bWAR over those 42.2 innings; the one thing he is missing as a dominant reliever is a strikeout pitch. His 2nd percentile fastball velocity is part of why he has a low strikeout rate, but at the same time, it makes him great. 

His command and movement are unparalleled, leading to his skill in missing the barrel. Evident by his 100th-percentile average exit velocity, 99th-percentile hard hit percentage and 98th-percentile barrel percentage, proving he is one of the game’s best at forcing lousy contact. 

Justin Lawrence 

Through his first two seasons in the league, in 2021–22, Lawrence was a well-below-league-average pitcher. He’s struggled with giving up hits throughout his tenure. In 2023, he has been the yin tauter’s yang, perfectly complimenting his skillset. 

With only a 32nd-percentile average exit velocity but still a 92nd-percentile barrel percentage, Lawrence relies on his strikeout rate of 9.4 K/9 and 77th-percentile fastball velocity. Throwing only a sinker and slider, he produces at an impressive rate. 

In 49 innings, he has a 2.57 ERA, 2.88 FIP, leading to a 197 ERA+. The most critical stat has been his ability to limit hits, giving up just 5.7 per nine innings while walking the least number of batters per nine in his career.  

Daniel Bard 

Bard has had one of the league’s most exciting careers of all active players. Making his debut back in 2009 with the Boston Red Sox, he had an MLB hiatus from 2013–20. Now with the Rockies, his last two seasons have been the best of his career. 

In 2023 specifically, he has thrown 33.2 innings to a 2.14 ERA and 237 ERA+. Giving up just 0.5 HR/9 and 5.1 hits/9, the only knock on Bard is his absurdly high 7.0 BB/9. The reason he is walking so many batters is due to batters not chasing outside the zone, highlighted by his 1st-percentile chase rate. While his stuff outside the zone is not enticing, batters still need to hit it when it is in the zone. 

Top 5 Against the Rest of the League

This table shows the top five relief pitchers. It includes more than 30 games, and 30 innings pitched in terms of ERA+ were taken. Their statistics were averaged to determine where the best parts of the Rockies’ies’ bullpen stack up against the rest of the best in the league. 

(Statistics through July 19 games) 






Park Factor (below 100 favors pitchers)

113 95 94 97 98



228 213.3 199.2




3.24 2.74 2.89


SO/9 8.7 8.6 10.9 8.8



4.0 3.6 3.2 3.0 2.7
H/9 7.4 7.4 6.6 7.3


Avg. ERA+ 169 175 168 148


Photo Credit: © Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Players/managers mentioned:

Pierce Johnson, Brad HandJake Bird, Brent Suter, Justin Lawrence, Daniel Bard 


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