Colorado Rockies: Starters doing the bullpen no favors

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 29: Relief pitcher Chris Rusin #52 of the Colorado Rockies is removed by manager Bud Black #10 during the sixth inning of the opening day MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on March 29, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 29: Relief pitcher Chris Rusin #52 of the Colorado Rockies is removed by manager Bud Black #10 during the sixth inning of the opening day MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on March 29, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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Adam Ottavino of the Colorado Rockies
DENVER, CO – APRIL 09: Pitcher Adam Ottavino #0 of the Colorado Rockies throws in the ninth inning against the San Diego Padres at Coors Field on April 9, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

Adam Ottavino’s sliders are so filthy they belong on Cinemax. Here’s a fun fact:

And if you’re into saves, closer Wade Davis has 10 saves in 11 opportunities (in his lone blown save, the Rockies still won in extra innings to Atlanta).

But so far, Davis and Ottavino’s performances and are the only things truly “super” about the Rockies’ “Super Bullpen.”

Scott Oberg was optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque following his disastrous encounter with the Padres. Early on, Oberg inspired confidence with his command, velocity and 95+ mph fastball combined with a slider that’s produced a lot of swings and misses. Issues with inherited runners aside, he allowed just one earned run in his first six outings.

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Then he hit the mound four times in six nights, and he lost control of his fiery fastball.

"“The stuff is there,” manager Bud Black told The Denver Post. “You look at the velocity and you look at the secondary pitches, they are all of major-league quality. But for any player, that has to show up consistently between the lines. He’s aware of that.”"

Bryan Shaw also struggled as he was called upon more often. His command began to desert him, and teams like the Cubs, Padres and Nationals took advantage of pitches left tantalizingly in the middle of the zone. Maybe Shaw’s brand new football will cure what ails him.

Let’s look at our bullpen using one of my favorite stats, Baseball Reference’s ERA+. According to the MLB Glossary, ERA+ “takes a player’s ERA and normalizes is across the entire league” and “accounts for external factors like ballparks and opponents.”  It adjusts so 100 is the league average.

Only two of seven Rockies relievers who have pitched enough to qualify for the stat have an ERA+ above 100. Adam Ottavino’s is an unsustainably high 710, and Wade Davis is at 180.

Meanwhile, the rest of the bullpen is below league average. Chris Rusin, who was already off to a discouraging start before going on the 10-day disabled list, has an ERA+ of 94. Antonio Senzatela is at 59, having given up 22 hits and 12 earned runs in 13.2 innings. The former starter is basically eating innings in lost games. However, he was the star in Friday night’s 1-0 win in Miami with 3.2 scoreless innings, a hopeful sign of things to come.

(Mike Dunn hasn’t pitched enough to be a qualifying pitcher, but in his last two innings gave up six runs on five hits and two walks. Yikes.)

Despite all this, I am not especially concerned about the bullpen itself. The stats are skewed by some rough outings. Guys like Shaw and Jake McGee are effective when they aren’t being trotted out every night. The stomach-churning innings are partially a function of fatigue. When McGee gave up four runs in the soul-crushing seventh inning against the Padres on April 23, it was his third appearance in three games.

But the bullpen — and, of course, the Rockies themselves — will live and die by the starting pitching. The Rockies need more innings from Gray, Freeland, Anderson and Marquez. Otherwise the relievers will continue to be overworked, and the nine-run inning against the Padres may not just be an anomaly.

Next: Looking back at the results of the Corey Dickerson trade

And if that doesn’t work, we could always try bullpen cars.