The short answer: just give the poor guy a break, right?
Believe it or not, Matt Belisle does not lead the 2013 Colorado Rockies in appearances. That distinction belongs to none other than Wilton Lopez, who has logged 68 innings in 69 appearances. That’s good for 4th in the National League. For everything that has gone wrong for Lopez, you could argue that the guy is a work horse. The Rockies love work horse relievers, so we should probably expect to see a lot more Lopez moving forward, no matter how infuriating he has been this season.
Next comes Belisle with 64 innings in 65 appearances. That mark puts him 13th in the National League. Right on his heels? Rex Brothers with 59.2 innings in 64 appearances. For my part, I didn’t see that coming. Not at all. Perhaps it is a result of my man crush on Brothers, but I have consistently thought the Rockies don’t use him enough. This shows that the statistics do not support that feeling.
Back to the question at hand: the problem with Belisle is his heavy use in the seasons prior to 2013. Here’s how it breaks down:
2010: 76 appearances and an astounding 92 innings thanks to a lot of long relief work
2011: 74 appearances (14th in the National League) and 72 innings of work
2012: led the NL with 80 appearances and 80 innings
So as Belisle struggles in the late stages of 2013, including the late home run he surrendered to Jedd Gyorko on Saturday night, it is more the culmination of those years of heavy use than it is a problem with the way the team has used him this season.
With the Rockies out of the playoff picture and with Walt Weiss able to use an expanded roster for the rest of the season, it makes sense to take the heat off Belisle the rest of the way, even if that means using somebody less capable in a high leverage situation. Because the fact is, any high leverage situations will be in the context of meaningless games. The Rockies can afford to run somebody else out there.
That covers the rest of this season, but it raises another question: what should the Rockies do with Belisle in terms of their future plans?
Will be interesting to see if #Rockies pick up Belisle option. Thought would happen when Betancourt hurt. Now not sure given mileage on arm
— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) September 8, 2013
That would be a truly cruel sequence for Belisle.
“Hey Matt, we seriously overused you the last few years. Pretty much ran you into the ground. Thanks for being a company man and doing what we asked of you. So…uh…this is awkward, but now we are going to decline your option because of the way that we overused you. I’m sure you understand.”
Besides the fact it feels like it would be cruel, there are baseball reasons to pick up Belisle’s option and keep him. Here is one simple reason: he’s still good. The Rockies are already in need of help in the bullpen. Do they really think there’s an option available that would be an upgrade over Belisle? That seems ambitious to me.
Here’s a proposed plan. Use Belisle less between now and the end of the season. Insert Mitchell Boggs and other relievers in the spots you would normally use him and assess their ability to step up in those spots. Also, take a look at Chad Bettis as an option in the late innings as next season approaches.
The Rockies should exercise Belisle’s option and use him in the same spots they normally do next season and beyond. They should also get serious about finding other guys to pitch in those same spots, whether it be Boggs, Bettis, or a free agent like Jesse Crain, so that poor Belisle can be fresh and sharp when he does pitch.
This team needs depth in the bullpen, so they are hardly in a spot to let Belisle go elsewhere. They need to keep him, and then they need to find a way to be more reasonable in how they use him. If they want to improve their bullpen, keeping Belisle is an important step in that process.