For Rockies reliever Rex Brothers, the struggle is real

Thearon W. Henderson

Brothers is having all kinds of problems in the early going. We look at a couple of potential causes.

Rex Brothers looks like a completely different pitcher in 2014. That's not a good thing.

I'm sure, if you're reading this, that you already knew that. Yes, Brothers has been on the losing end of consecutive highly publicized heartbreaking losses for the Rockies, but his struggles stretch further back than that.

The Rockies found themselves having to fiddle with Brothers during spring training while he was in the midst of 9⅓ horrible innings in which he posted a 5.79 ERA and walked more batters than he struck out. That should have been a warning sign, but folks are perhaps too quick to believe that spring stats have absolutely no bearing on the immediate future, which for pitchers at least, is far from the truth.

And we're seeing that now with Brothers, who is eliciting a ton of concern beyond just his results. The first sign of his steep decline lies in his velocity. Brothers fired his fastball at an average speed of more than 95 MPH en route to very good campaigns in 2011 and 2012. In those seasons, the young left-hander struck out a combined 11.8 batters per nine innings, which helped mitigate the potential effects of a walk rate approaching 5.0 per nine.

Yes, Brothers has always had control issues, which makes his penchant for walking people this season not all that surprising. However, with an average fastball that has dipped below 92 MPH, he hasn't been able to rack up the Ks. In fact, the reduced velocity and poor control has resulted in Brothers posting swing-and-miss rate of only six percent. SIX PERCENT. That figure had never been less than 12.2 percent in his previous three seasons, suggesting a serious lack of life with his pitches -- particularly, his fastball, which he's having to use more now than he ever has, despite its ineffectiveness, because he's falling behind in counts so often.

Though really, no amount of swings and missed and/or punch-outs would be enough to soften the blow of a walk rate of a staggering 11.1 per nine innings. This is Rex Brothers in 2014, folks, and it's not good. And, not only is it visible in the stats -- it's also easy to see with the naked eye. Here's Brothers' delivery and release point when he was at his best in 2013:

As you can see, Brothers' delivery is smooth; it's relaxed and deliberate, and his front side is perfectly balanced upon releasing the ball. Now, fast forward to last night's outing (this one isn't available for embedding ... sorry!):

VIDEO

Brothers' delivery is a bit more rushed, and he's a disaster upon landing during his release. The stride foot hits the ground well before the ball is released, which isn't necessarily a problem, but in this case it's doing so in an uncontrolled manner. The herky-jerky motion caused by the rushed front side results in an inconsistent release point, and that's where we sit now -- with the Rockies' prized young reliever having allowed seven walks in 5⅔ innings.

All of the inconsistencies in the delivery and release could be what is causing the lost velocity, but there's a concern in the back of my mind that Brothers could be suffering from an injury, as well. It's hard to pinpoint in the video. but having watched him all season, it appears Rex is compensating for something during his delivery. He looks more upright upon releasing the ball, suggesting maybe an oblique issue or problem with some other core muscle. That's pure speculation, of course, but it just looks like he's trying to figure out some other way of getting on top of the ball than what he's done before.

Regardless of the problem, an ineffective Brothers means bad news for the Rockies' bullpen, which has shown considerable improvement otherwise. The rotation is currently littered with back-end starters, or guys coming off of injuries, so the unit isn't going to be able to shoulder all that much of a workload. Brothers' struggles, combined with the Rockies recently deciding to return to a seven-man bullpen, could result in a domino effect that ends Colorado's season before it even gets a chance to start.

That's why it's imperative that the Rockies either identify a potential injury and allow Brothers proper time to heal, or move him out of high-leverage situations until he can get his delivery under control.

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