The Rockies entered the 2013 season with a whole bunch of questions surrounding the roster, but one area that looked relatively stable was the bullpen. The unit had a proven closer, a pair of reliable setup men, a breakout performer from the year before and a fairly highly touted new acquisition.
Of course, unpredictability is firmly entrenched in the nature of every bullpen, and Colorado's was no different. Incumbent closer Rafael Betancourt battled a series of injuries and, for the first time in his career as a Rockie, bouts of ineffectiveness. Matt Belisle became even more prone to blowups than he already was and suffered from a "dead arm" down the stretch. And that prized acquisition? Well, he was never able to shake the perhaps unfair reputation saddled on him as a result of early struggles.
But, one guy emerged as the pillar of Colorado's bullpen due to an unbelievable first half and continued success in the latter part of the season.
That guy was Rex Brothers.
Entering the year, Brothers, a first-round draft pick in 2009, owned a career strikeout rate of almost 12 per nine innings but had the tendency to get himself in trouble by issuing too many walks -- nearly five per nine, in fact. However, walks aren't as much of an issue for pitchers who don't allow hits often, and Brothers certainly fit that bill. He gave up only eight hits per nine innings in his first two seasons as a big-leaguer and his 1.7 percent home run rate in 2012 helped minimize the damage caused by his increased walk rate.
The affinity for allowing walks never really escaped Brothers in 2013, but hitters' inability to do much of anything else against the 25-year-old left-hander allowed him to have as dominant of a first-half as imaginable. Take a look at Brothers' numbers between the beginning of the season and the end of June:
Sure, you'd like to see less walks, but Brothers made up for those by striking out more than a batter per inning and inducing six double-play grounders. During this stretch, he also held a four-digit ERA+, which is always fun to see.
Brothers wasn't allowing a ridiculously low average on balls in play during that stretch (.268), but some of those hits started to fall in the second half. The BABIP-against rose to .296 and Brothers allowed four homers after July 1 compared to only one before that. Brothers allowed less line drives in the second half and had similar strikeout and walk numbers, suggesting he might have just regressed to the mean.
If Brothers' season ending totals of a 1.72 ERA, 19 saves in 21 opportunities, 10.2 strikeouts per nine and a 3.1 rWAR are the mean, then most Rockies fans should be happy -- especially because he has shown the ability to be successful against left- and right-handed batters, maximizing his future value.
Grade with the Rockies: A-
Get those walks under control, kid.
Brothers is almost undoubtedly in line to become the Rockies full-time closer next season. Betancourt underwent Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire season, in addition to the fact that the Rockies declined his option anyway. However, the team appears to be looking into some insurance policies in the case that Brothers scuffles or gets injured or whatever else can happen to baseball players. Brian Wilson, Grant Balfour and Jose Veras -- all of whom have spent time as closers during their careers -- are on Colorado's radar.
The best case scenario is that Brothers gets off to another hot start, limits the ninth-inning drama and forces whatever offseason acquisition made by the Rockies into high-leverage roles in earlier innings.
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