The Colorado Rockies are about to have a bullpen problem
By Jake Shapiro
DENVER — One of Jeff Bridich’s main focuses in his tenure as General Manager of the Colorado Rockies has been the bullpen. Long thought that a deep and strong relief corps could be a key to combating Coors Field’s hitter-friendly tendencies, Bridich’s bucks have been placed here.
This past offseason, he let franchise icon Adam Ottavino walk and it left a hole in the bullpen’s back end. The combined near $50 million invested there, however, figured to solve the problem, even though the struggles of Bryan Shaw, Jake McGee and, at times, Wade Davis over the past calendar year raised questions. Still, Bridich did not want to go down the line of investing more into the Colorado Rockies bullpen given how much he had already spent and the proven volatility of the endeavor.
In truth, the real problem is that the Rockies only have two true homegrown relievers: Scott Oberg and Carlos Estevez. Though this isn’t the given problem worth addressing right now. That problem stems from the statistics.
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Covered in the nightmare start from the offense has been a tattered bullpen that has more or less gotten the job done. But that’s probably going to change.
Coming into Sunday, Colorado’s bullpen has surrendered the highest hard-hit rate in the National League thus far. At 41.9 percent hard-hit rate, this mark is up from 34.5 percent in 2018 and 31.7 percent in 2017. Of course, this is concerning … but it’s made more concerning by the fact that the Rockies bullpen has a BABIP that’s fourth-lowest in the NL (.264.). The ground ball rate isn’t particularly noteworthy from this group in either direction, though the past two years’ BABIPs each over .300 shows change is coming.
While their home run to fly ball rate of 11.0 percent (which is third-lowest in the National League) is right around the mark of the past two seasons, it still suggests regression is coming given how hard the ball is being hit and with fly balls against increasing at about 5 percent in the early going.
On top of this, the thing the Rockies relievers have been solid at the past few years, strikeouts-to-walks, has not rung true thus far. That rate has fallen just a bit and truthfully it’s in the margin of error for small sample size theater. On the other hand, both the strikeout rate has dropped and the walk rate increased.
You can see this in given players like Shaw who, by the looks of it, has been good with two earned runs across 12 innings. But at the same time, he’s struck out four while having walked seven. DJ Johnson also has more walks than strikeouts. Davis, meanwhile, who has had his walk rate increase a few times year over year in the past few seasons, has early numbers that suggest this year may follow in that trend.
This is the microcosm for the Rockies bullpen as a whole. It’s too early to be judging individuals but, as a group, Colorado’s bullpen has followed along a similar trend. The ERA and big numbers have been pretty good … but the peripheral numbers are scary, meaning the ERA could soon rise. The math, depth and recent history of player performance are not on the side of Colorado’s bullpen sustaining success in 2019.