The Colorado Rockies lavished quite a bit of attention on their bullpen this past off-season. Colorado signed veteran relievers Boone Logan and LaTroy Hawkins to free agent deals and traded for lefty Franklin Morales (replacing fellow lefty Josh Outman). While I think this was a good investment for Colorado, I actually think that the gains the Rockies should see next year from the bullpen might be enhanced even beyond having better arms throw their relief innings.
Why did the Rockies think the bullpen needed so much attention this off-season? The easy explanation is that the bullpen finished last in the NL (28th in MLB) in reliever ERA last year with 4.23 - but when you look at a park-adjusted stat like OPS+ against, Colorado's relievers actually graded out above average (94 OPS+ against, indicating they were 6% better than league average). In both regards the relief corps was actually better than the starters (4.57 ERA, 103 OPS+ against).
Colorado's relievers actually finished 6th in MLB in reliever fWAR last year with 5.2. Of course, a large contributor to that number is the fact that Colorado's relievers threw the second most innings in the league last year with 555 2/3 (since fWAR is a cumulative stat, more innings pitched = more fWAR). That heavy workload is a big reason why the bullpen posted a 3.83 ERA in the season's first half and a 4.79 ERA in the second half.
Since the Rockies play their home games in such a great offensive environment in Coors Field and due to the altitude that seems to tire starters out faster in Colorado, Rockies starters are more likely to need to leave the game early than average. As such, the bullpen will consistently need to carry more of the load than a comparable MLB team - and the situations they are likely to enter are probably worse too (more runners on base, hitters pumped up by offensive environment).
In other words, a good reliever is likely to throw more innings pitching for Colorado than he would otherwise, which is why a good reliever is more valuable to the Rockies than he would be elsewhere in MLB. I believe that Logan, Hawkins, and Morales will provide higher quality innings in relief in 2014 than the Rockies got last year. I also think that Wilton Lopez will bounce back somewhat from a tough 2013, creating an overall deeper bullpen. The even better news for the Rockies, though, is that I don't think the bullpen will need to throw so many innings this year.
Here are the stats for 2013 on Colorado's starters in terms of their inning load and how deep into each game they went on average:
|Pitcher||Starter IP||GS||IP / Start|
|Jorge De La Rosa||167.7||30||5.6|
Due to injuries and ineffectiveness, 28% of Colorado's starter innings last year went to pitchers that, on average, didn't even go deep enough into the game to qualify for a pitcher win. That's abysmal and it went a long way towards taxing the bullpen and making it less effective as the season wore on. Also, Jhoulys Chacin is a freak of nature compared to everybody else on the staff.
One of the big reasons why I expect Colorado's pitching staff to improve next year is that their starting pitcher corps are deeper in 2014 with the acquisitions of Brett Anderson and Jordan Lyles. Instead of relying on the likes of Jeff Manship, Colorado will have Lyles or Christian Friedrich available should catastrophe strike.
For the fun of it, here's how the 2014 rotation would look if the top five starters pitched every game for the Rockies (for Anderson, I used his career IP/Start numbers):
|Pitcher||Starter IP||GS||IP / Start|
|Jorge De La Rosa||179||32||5.6|
In this scenario, the bullpen would be required to throw about 45 fewer innings in 2014, with the likely result that they would be more effective in the innings they do receive. Obviously this would be a wildly optimistic projection, but if Colorado could replace even half of the starts it gave to those replacement level starters last year with starts from Anderson and Chatwood, the bullpen would have about 30 fewer innings to worry about.
It's an interesting storyline that I'll be keeping track of throughout the 2014 season.
Troy Renck has a profile on a key pitcher in the Colorado bullpen: Rex Brothers.
Thomas Harding writes that Brothers is ready to pitch whichever inning Walt Weiss calls him in to pitch next year.
Jeff Wiser at Beyond the Box Score unveils his NL West All-Minimum Team and it includes eight Rockies out of the 25 man NL West roster, thanks in large part to the positive projections for Josh Rutledge and Juan Nicasio.
Also at BTBS, Jeffrey Long writes about the nuanced pitching approach of Ubaldo Jimenez. It's the kind of scouting report that an opposing hitter could use to help predict what pitch is coming given the situation.
Mike Podholzer of Rotographs ponders on the question of whether Colorado's starting pitchers are fantasy relevant for 2014.