Christian Bergman was never supposed to play in the majors. That’s less a comment on Bergman than it is on college pitchers drafted in the 24th round out of college. His path was supposed to have been written once the first 23 rounds of the 2010 amateur draft passed without him getting a phone call—or, more likely at that stage of the draft, a telegram.
Bergman was never supposed to play in the majors after he debuted in rookie ball as a 22 year-old. He was a year older than the average age at the level, and he didn’t impress with a 5.96 ERA in about 48 innings. But Bergman did exhibit control, as he only walked two batters per nine in his debut season. It was a sign for what was to come. While Bergman's ERA fluctuated over the course of his professional career, his command remained stubbornly in place.
Bergman advanced to Short Season-A ball in 2011, where he was two years older than the competition. His 2.59 ERA was quite an improvement from his debut. Bergman also lowered his already quite good walk rate, as he only allowed one free pass per nine innings. At this point, Bergman began carving out his path. He skipped Low-A, and from 2012-2014, his walks per nine never rose above two in High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A.
In 2014, Bergman did what he was never supposed to do and debuted in the majors at age 26. In 54 innings pitched over 10 games started, Bergman posted a 5.93 ERA. He might have been miscast as a starter, but Bergman continued to display the skill that led him to the majors. He walked 1.6 batters per nine.
In 2015, Bergman improved by doing what he has always done: exhibit excellent command and avoid walking batters. Almost obviously, Bergman walked just two batters per nine innings. Only four of Bergman’s 30 appearances in 2015 came in starts, and those were due to injuries. He turned in a 4.74 ERA in about 68 innings pitched. According to adjusted measures, Bergman was a little bit below average in 2015. Depending on the metric, he was anywhere from one to six percent below average.
Classifying Bergman’s season in terms of distance from average does not sufficiently acknowledge that he provided a solid contribution in 2015. He holds a valuable skill that precious few other Rockies pitchers have. And, significantly, he has a role. Bergman’s never going to be a star, but he was never supposed to play in the majors in the first place.
Christian Bergman is what success looks like.