Colorado Rockies: Bullpen changes positive signs for what could be


Over the span of exactly one year, the Colorado Rockies went from having three unreliable pitchers come in in relief to having those three pitchers off their roster.

On July 17, 2020, the Colorado Rockies announced that they were releasing relief pitchers Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw. It was a move that was necessary if the Rockies bullpen was going to move forward with a plan to make the playoffs rather than just be content with what ingredients were already in the cupboard.

On July 17, 2019, in an 11-8 loss to the San Francisco Giants at Coors Field, Shaw, McGee, and Chad Bettis were all used in relief by Colorado manager Bud Black. While the trio fared decent on that day (one earned run in a combined 2.2 innings pitched), it was the angst felt in Coors Field (and around the world by Rockies fans) when one of those three pitchers came into the game last season that was truly palpable. The nervousness could be felt like the sun beating down on 20th and Blake that 94-degree July day.

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Make no mistake about it. Those three men are good, decent human beings. I’ve been lucky enough to talk to all of them multiple times for articles. However, they were being paid for what they did on the field rather than the kindness and grace they may have shown off of it. Baseball is a business, and that’s how we arrived at July 17, 2020.

Bettis would finish 2019 with a 6.08 ERA/5.16 FIP in 63.2 innings worked before clearing waivers with the Rockies and signing a minor league deal with the New York Yankees in the offseason. During baseball’s hiatus caused by COVID-19, Bettis announced his retirement.

While Bettis was raised in the Rockies farm system, Shaw and McGee came to the franchise from other organizations (McGee in a trade and Shaw through a free agent signing). Both were part of the Rockies plan for a super bullpen (along with Wade Davis) that had its moments but never truly materialized as a three-headed, late-inning monster.

McGee finished his four years in Colorado with a 4.78 ERA/4.65 FIP and an ERA+ of 104 (compared to the 138 he produced in six years with the Tampa Bay Rays).

Shaw’s numbers are uglier, with an ERA+ of 89 in two seasons with the Rockies (compared to the 136 he posted in five seasons with the Indians that was part of the allure of bringing him to Denver). The 5.61 ERA/5.07 FIP and roughly two and a half runs higher than what he logged in Cleveland.

But that was then and this is now. Since the 2019 campaign ended, the Rockies have shed relievers who didn’t perform and will enter 2020 taking some chances on some new faces.

The Daniel Bard story has been well told and is one of the few feel-good moments of the baseball season so far. The Rockies are counting on him to be a right-hander who can make an impact in relief. As good as the story has been so far, it has to have a fulfilling ending for the Rockies to have a chance at the postseason.

Tyler Kinley’s signing went mostly under the radar in the offseason, but he will likely be one of the relievers who starts the season on Colorado’s 30-man roster.

A trade for James Pazos last April now gives Colorado a southpaw option out of the bullpen that will likely take over McGee’s former role.

Put those three together along with the development of Scott Oberg, Carlos Estevez, and Jairo Diaz (and yes, Davis continuing in his role as the veteran arm), and you see the core of what will be the 2020 Rockies bullpen. It’s a different cast of characters, and time will tell if it is an improved new group.

For all of the grief that Colorado general manager Jeff Bridich has taken through the years for making few changes in the organization, this could be viewed as the largest shake-up since the Rockies returned to regular postseason conversation. The small moves since the end of last season that resulted in a big news day on Friday now have to work.

"“Their stuff was similar to what we’ve seen the past couple of years,” Black said Friday after McGee and Shaw were released. “The direction of our pitching staff, for this season and moving forward, (needed to be different).”"

Next. 3 pitchers who could be X factors for the Rockies in 2020. dark

Those are words Rockies fans have been wanting to hear, since before July 17, 2020, or even July 17, 2019. Will yesterday’s words and actions equate into better bullpen results? That’s the biggest gamble and unknown of all … but we’ll know more beginning on Friday in Texas.