Last night, as the Colorado Rockies were getting crushed by the Tampa Bay Rays, Chris Rusin pitched four solid innings for the Albuquerque Isotopes. With Rusin nearing a return from the disabled list, the Rockies will soon have to make a decision about where he fits on the roster. The problem is, Colorado doesn’t seem to know how to get the most out of Rusin.
In 2015, Rusin started 22 games, third-most on the team. The starts were, for the most part, wholly uninspiring. Rusin had an ERA over 5, and although his underlying stats suggested some bad luck, Colorado Rockies fans weren’t particularly heartbroken to see him removed from the rotation at the start of this season.
Rusin will probably rejoin the Colorado roster before the end of July. When he does so, the Rockies will most likely deploy him as a “sixth starter/long relief” type of role. This kind of role makes sense for some pitchers, but with Rusin, it would be an egregious waste of a potentially valuable commodity.
Let’s do a blind comparison of two pitchers:
Player A: ERA of 5.19, has a 1.56 WHIP, batters hit .300/.360/.480 (BA/OBP/SLG) against him
Player B: ERA of 3.34, has a 1.11 WHIP, batters hit .233/.288/.349 against him.
Obviously, Player B is the much better pitcher. The funny part is, Player A and Player B are the same guy. Player A is Chris Rusin as a starter, and Player B is Chris Rusin as a reliever.
To state this more plainly; Rusin’s body of work suggests that he is barely passable as a MLB starter, but when he’s used as a reliever, he’s a legitimately good pitcher. The word “suggests” is used here because the sample size is admittedly very small (only 35 MLB innings total). But there’s absolutely enough evidence to consider converting Rusin into a full-time reliever.
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Since Rusin’s injury, the starting rotation has become much stronger. However, the bullpen is up for grabs in Denver right now. Adam Ottavino is working his way back, and Carlos Estevez has showed a lot of promise, but there are plenty of spots for a lefty who can consistently get ground outs.
At the start of the year, Colorado decided to use Rusin as a reliever, only to see him get tagged for three runs in his season debut. Since that time however, Rusin has worked 14 consecutive scoreless innings when coming out of the bullpen. It’s just been hard to notice because it’s been sandwiched around some lackluster appearances where he was forced into the rotation.
“Rusin’s body of work suggests that he is barely passable as a MLB starter, but when he’s used as a reliever, he’s a legitimately good pitcher”
For the Rockies, this seems like a no-brainer. Rusin isn’t going to do anything to help them long-term in his current role. No one knows for sure if Rusin would be able to get the big outs in the later innings, but we do know that the evidence suggests he may be good at it.
Colorado has to commit to the idea of Rusin pitching as a reliever though. Every team needs a long reliever, but there’s no way to tell if a guy can come through in the clutch when he’s only being used to pitch in blowouts or when a starter gets hurt. If the Rockies want to see if Rusin can be a high-leverage reliever, they’ll have to actually use him in high-leverage situations.
Colorado has an opportunity to potentially turn a replaceable commodity into a valuable one. When your team is never going to lead the league in spending, you can’t really afford to let those pass you by.