Carlos Estevez spent his first two years with the Colorado Rockies just learning how to be a Major League pitcher. After a year lost due to injury, he certainly passed the test in 2019.
"“I felt like I learned more in ’16 and ’17 … this year I just got the chance to implement what I’ve been learning,” Carlos Estevez told Rox Pile in an exclusive chat after last the final game of the season on September 29."
The 26-year-old posted a 3.75 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 2019, both second among Colorado Rockies relievers with at least 20 innings pitched, and his 26.3% strikeout rate was the best in the bullpen (and much needed for a corps that was bottom in baseball at 21%). His 71 appearances were tied for the 11th-most in the National League.
Estevez’s 7.5% walk rate was also a career-low. Opponents had a slash line of .250/.306/.450 against him – not quite elite – but it is why keeping down the free passes and ratcheting up the strikeouts was critical to his success. By late in the lost season, Estevez was one of the precious few bullpen arms manager Bud Black could count on.
"“I was settling into a role at the end of the year … I knew like the way the game was going if I was going to get in. But it was good to know you have a spot like that,” he said."
Estevez thrived as setup man. Over a total of 24.1 innings in the role, he posted a 2.22 ERA, had 26 strikeouts to just seven walks, and allowed just one home run. Opponents hit .145/.209/.241 against him.
It’s hard to know if Estevez will continue his role as an eighth-inning specialist. Ideally, the bullpen will rebound and Colorado will have more arms to choose from in 2020. But regardless, greater consistency will help Estevez no matter where he is in the bullpen.
"“Right now, I’m just going to be going into the offseason looking for consistency … just perfecting my pitches. They’re good, but try and make it better. Try and be more consistent, that’s what I’m focusing on right now,” Estevez said."
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Estevez is a “traditional” flamethrower with just two go-to pitches. He threw his four-seam fastball 69.3% of the time in 2019 and his hard slider 27.2%. And we just saw what happened when a guy with that kind of profile loses control of his pitches, as Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers handed the NL Wild Card Game to the Washington Nationals in the eighth inning.
Despite the encouraging statistics, there are reasons Estevez should work more on his command. He had a career-high 40.4% hard-hit rate with just a 38.1% ground-ball rate in 2019, which led to 1.5 homers-per-nine innings, also a career-high.
But still, Estevez is going into the offseason off the heels of a fantastic September, easily his best month yet in the big leagues. He posted a 0.84 ERA over 10.2 innings, as opponents managed just two hits and two walks off him compared to 11 strikeouts.
Estevez said he’s going into this offseason with a better mindset than previous offseasons.
"“I’m going to go into the offseason healthy, I’m not going to spend two months rehabbing and then have to play winter ball,” he said."
And if the Rockies are due to rebound in 2020, a healthy and effective Estevez could be a big reason why.