The Colorado Rockies were all set by the middle of April when Adam Ottavino took hold of the closer's role and proved himself ready for the ninth inning spotlight. And then... Ottavino tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, and the club was suddenly without a closer.
With Rafael Betancourt a shell of the reliever he had previously been, and LaTroy Hawkins having already lost the closer's role earlier in the year, the Rockies turned to John Axford to finish games. And except for one very bad ten-day stretch, Axford was more than admirable in his first significant stint as a closer since 2012 in Milwaukee.
For the season, Axford ended up finishing with the third-most single-season saves of his career and some good peripheral numbers, except for a high walk rate:
|John Axford, 2015||60-0||55.2||56||27||26||32||62||4-5||25||4.20||9.1||5.2||10.0||111||3.57||1.581|
There was that awful stretch from July 20-30 where Axford blew four saves and picked up three losses (and two vultured wins!) in five appearances. That little dark period (3.2 innings pitched, eight hits, eight walks, four strikeouts and two home runs allowed for a 19.63 ERA) ended up making Axford's final ERA 4.20; it would have been 3.12 without those five games.
But, you can't pick and choose certain appearances to take off the stat line, and here we are.
All things considered, though, Axford filled in well as the Rockies' closer while throwing nearly the hardest fastball of his career. He also did cool things away from the field, like producing a documentary.
John Axford's 2016 outlook
While it seems like he's been around longer than this, Axford will go through arbitration this winter and likely see a nice raise after his strong summer. In fact, his 2016 raise could be so substantial that it may well be in the Rockies' best interest to non-tender him and see if they can negotiate a better deal.
If he returns to Denver, he's set to hit free agency for 2017, and by then it will probably in the Rockies' best interest to move on. But until then, Axford ought to be a valuable option in the bullpen this coming summer.
Adam Ottavino won't be back with the Rockies until at least a month or two into the season, and until he's healthy and re-installed in the closer's role, Axford will likely get the first shot at saving games next year. Even as the Rockies continue to transition to a younger pitching staff and bullpen for the future, Axford's veteran presence will be a welcome piece of the 'pen in 2016.