What are the bullpen roles this season?

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Rex Brothers ended 2013 as the closer for the Colorado Rockies, but a closer look at his strengths says that LaTroy Hawkins should have that job when the 2014 campaign begins.

When the Rockies claim they signed LaTroy Hawkins to be their closer, I hope they're serious. Not because I think he's the best reliever  on the team, but because I think Rex Brothers is better suited in a role that doesn't involved the ninth inning.

Sure Bothers can handle himself fine, but his strengths are largely wasted in this frame while his biggest weakness is magnified. If you've watched Bothers pitch, you'll quickly notice that not too many balls end up in play against him. In fact, when Brothers is on the mound, 42% of all plate appearances end in either a walk or a strike out.

This high K% / high BB% doesn't suit starting off the ninth inning too well. All the strikeouts are awesome, but his career walk rate against of of 12.4% gets him into significantly more trouble than a guy with his overpowering stuff should ever be involved in when trying to put a bow on the game. As a result, opposing hitters have a career .324 on base percentage against Brothers (.311 in 2013). Not horrible, but not as low as you're looking for in the ninth inning when the number one objective is to keep the opponent off the base paths - Especially when the lead is two or three runs and a free pass brings to tying run to the plate.

Compare those numbers to LaTroy Hawkins and you get an entirely different story. Hawkins may not be able to overpower hitters like Brothers, but over the last three seasons, he's only walked 4.9% of the batters he's faced while holding them to a .303 on base percentage. Maybe you expect a big regression here because he's 41, but if the 2014 Hawkins is anything close to the guy he's been the last three seasons, he's the guy I want finishing games. He's become an extremely smart pitcher, something that can often prove just as effective in the ninth inning as overpowering fireballs.

More importantly however, Hawkins pitching the ninth allows the Rockies to use Brothers in not only more important situations, but also situations that better fit his strengths. When you have a guy who strikes out 29% of the batters he faces (26% of righties and 35% of lefties), he's the guy you want on the mound during any of the late innings when the opponent has men in scoring position, specifically when they get a man on third base with less than two outs representing the tying or go ahead run.

In the reverse situation when you get to this spot in the seventh inning and you can't use Brothers because you have to save him for the ninth, you have no great options to go to if the batter is right handed. Boone Logan is ideal if the batter is left handed as he's strike out 32.8% of the hitters he faces from that side of the plate over the last four seasons, but that number tumbles all the way down to 19.1% when facing guys from the right side.

Just run through different game situations and it doesn't take long to figure out that the Rockies have quite a few more favorable options in terms of getting to the ninth inning when Brothers is not closing. One of the biggest factors that helped send the Rockies into a tailspin last summer was the loss of Rafael Betancourt, and not just because the team lost his production, but because it ate away at the bullpen depth and forced Brothers into the ninth inning role.

If the Rockies truly realized how much better off they were early last season when they had Brothers in the fireman role and consistently ruining promising pre ninth inning rallies for the opponent, then they deserve credit for grabbing Hawkins and taking a shot a setup that should allow them to maximize the abilities of their best reliever.

Links

Christian Friedrich, the forgotten man, could be a wild card to the 2014 season. His career has been derailed by injuries, but he appears healthy entering camp this spring, and it's still possible (however unlikely) that a healthy version this pitcher is one that can help the Rockies win games.

Jorge De La Rosa wants to build on the career year he turned in during the 2013 season. This is a huge development to watch on multiple fronts. There's the obvious link to a De La Rosa strong season and the Rockies having any chance of competing in 2014, but then there's also the fact that De La Rosa is in the final year of his contract. This means that if De La Rosa backs up his 2013 season with another one like it, the Rockies should be able to slap a qualifying offer on his this fall and at worse end up with a draft pick between the first and second round for the potential loss of his services in 2015.

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