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Rockies 2014 season review: Adam Ottavino continues to impress in more defined relief role

Adam Ottavino, picked up on waivers from the Cardinals back in 2012, was Colorado's best reliever in 2014 despite not quite reaching the heights he achieved in 2013.

Justin Edmonds

If you were to ask me what Dan O'Dowd did well as GM of the Rockies, I would point to his success in unearthing players like Adam Ottavino - struggling starters that become decent players for the team at a bargain price. Ottavino was a first round draft pick of the Cardinals in 2006 - and he was a player that the St. Louis organization, vaunted for their player development, gave up on. None other than the Rockies, a team much maligned for their pitching development, was able to pick him up on waivers and harness his talent into one of the best relievers in the National League. Go figure.

Coming into 2014, Ottavino had expectations to be good from Rockies fans. After all, he'd just put up 2.2 rWAR over 78 1/3 relief innings with a 2.64 ERA in 2013 - often working multiple excellent relief innings at a time. The 28 year-old righty was expected to be a key cog in a bullpen that had actually looked pretty decent in 2013 with Ottavino and Rex Brothers locking down their innings.

What happened

Ottavino continued to be a good reliever this year, often coming in to a mess and cleaning it up with a strikeout on a wipeout slider. By throwing 65 innings of 3.60 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 3.10 FIP ball, Ottavino was a rock amidst the bullpen chaos this year. Furthermore, he provided further evidence of his potential as a shutdown ace reliever by posting the best K/9 of any Rockies pitcher this year at 9.7 - which meant that he struck out more than a batter per inning - while simultaneously posting the best BB/9 (2.2) of his career as well.

Ottavino once again had an unusually high mix of off-speed stuff in his arsenal, throwing his excellent slider 47% of the time while basically eliminating his change-up from his repertoire. Meanwhile, his fastball velocity really jumped up late in the year, with Ottavino hurling in the high 90s in several instances. In all, Ottavino's velocity increased to 94.3 MPH, up three MPH from last season.

By the numbers
Adam Ottavino, 2014
IP 65
ERA 3.60
FIP 3.10
K/9 9.7
BB/9 2.2
GB% 46.7
BABIP .347
rWAR 1.2

It was a curious year for Ottavino. For most of the year, he was nails. In fact, he was un-scored upon his first 13 appearances of the season. He entered June with 25 innings pitched, a 1.80 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, and a 25:3 K/BB rate. Then all of a sudden Ottavino was terrible, allowing 14 runs on 25 hits in 11 2/3 innings in June and raising his ERA on the season to 4.66. In that month, opposing hitters were an unconscious .446/.484/.679 against him.

After the calendar turned to July, Ottavino was suddenly dominant again, throwing 11 innings of 1.64 ERA ball and holding hitters to a .179 batting average. If you take June out of Ottavino's numbers, he's almost certainly an even better pitcher on a rate basis than he was in 2013 (1.98 ERA) and he's probably a two win guy out of the pen again. Obviously you can't do that, but his struggles really were mystifying given what preceded and succeeded them.

2014 Grade: B

Ottavino was again a bright spot among Colorado relievers this year, pitching very well most of the season. If it weren't for that horrific June, Ottavino would have at least an A-. It's great to have at least one great reliever in the fold who isn't in his 40s.

What to expect in 2015

Ottavino's role with the Rockies will be as a key member of the pen in 2015, that much seems clear. However, I think the Rockies could utilize Ottavino's atypical reliever skillset more effectively - I think the way Ottavino was used (mostly in the 7th and 8th innings) didn't truly leverage his strengths at times.

One reason Ottavino's fastball velocity saw such a jump is that he wasn't expected to work very long in his individual appearances. Ottavino appeared in 75 games for Colorado, the most of any Rockies pitcher, but his average relief appearance length was less than an inning long (0.87 innings per outing). In fact, only nine of his appearances lasted longer than an inning, while 27 lasted less than a frame. This is a stark contrast from last year, in which Ottavino threw 78 1/3 innings in 51 appearances (about 1.5 innings per outing) - including 29 stints of more than an inning (24 of which lasted at least two innings) and only nine of less than an inning.

While it was good that he was on average entering higher leverage games (1.5 LI in 2014 vs. 1.1 in 2013), I'd rather have had Ottavino pitch 14 more innings in less relief appearances. As Ottavino told me last year, he's always been a multiple inning guy and he really has shown that he can be effective in longer appearances. I believe pretty firmly that in order to win consistently, the Rockies need a great swing-man/long reliever, and Ottavino really does provide a great potential alternative there. His results also show that he might be the best option to close down games next year if LaTroy Hawkins falters.

Either way, the Rockies will have Ottavino's services for another three years, and at a bargain price given the relative lack of weight given to good set-up/swing men out of the pen. Despite his success this year, Ottavino is a candidate for positive regression in 2015, given his elevated BABIP this year even in the face of improved peripheral stats.