Coming off of an outstanding campaign in 2013, Rex Brothers was going to be lights out in 2014. Or so was the plan. Instead, the southpaw finished the year with an unfortunate 5.59 ERA, going 0-6 in save opportunities. In a season where a lot went wrong for many of the Rockies, It doesn’t seem to be any one issue that broke Rex Brothers, but there’s plenty of reason to believe it’s not too late to fix him.
Brothers may have been trying to do too much in 2014. In addition to his bread-and-butter four seam fastball and hard slider, we saw more of his change-up and sinker than he had thrown in years passed. This change to his arsenal might be responsible for many of the differences over the past two seasons. The pitches appear to work to each other's detriment, with the change-up offering little in compensation for the heavily depleted fastball and slider.
Four seam fastball
The sinker project has been marginal to this point; poor results over low exposure suggest that it won't hold a permanent place in Brothers' repertoire. He reintroduced the pitch in the final two months of last season, so we may still see it again this spring.
Brothers increased the use of his third and fourth pitches in the final months of the season. In the 11 games he appeared in August, Brothers posted an unsightly 13.40 ERA.
Given his role as a high leverage reliever, Brothers doesn’t need much beyond the fastball-slider combination. His changeup’s relative success in a small sample size could be something to build on eventually, but he has yet to put together a season showing the three work well together. Rehabilitation of his slider is key moving forward. His fastball is strong, but a good season from his slider is a good season for Rex. The pitch has accounted for 160 strikeouts, only two home runs, and a career batting average against of just .185. This is the pitch that kept left handed batters quiet in the past--they see it about 40% of the time--while he currently only for uses his change-up against righties. If adding other pitches to his arsenal is going to detract from the dominance of his original stock, Brothers might see more success by keeping things simple from here on out.
A down year from Brothers may have come at an inconvenient time for an already struggling bullpen, but that's not to say it came as a total surprise. To say the least, the Rockies have made things interesting for Rex Brothers over the course of his career. A first round pick in the 2009 draft, Brothers made his first major league appearance less than two years after signing. He never spent more than 33 games at any one minor league level, bypassing any opportunity to really settle in and experience the highs and lows of a season.
Since they profile similarly, consider Yankees reliever David Carpenter’s time in the minor leagues. Carpenter spent the better part of seven seasons in the minors, bouncing between four organizations by the time he broke onto the big stage. What you'd see from Carpenter is a lot of the same ERAs in the mid-threes that Brothers demonstrated, but with seasons that reach up into the 4.20 range, with walks sometimes totaling near 40 on the year in not that many more innings.
Rockies fans have seen minor league trials lead to positive results. The case of rookie Tyler Matzek is the most recent example. His bumpy years in Asheville and Modesto eventually smoothed into consistency.
The trial by fire approach that was supposed to deliver an unbeatable late-inning talent to the Rockies’ bullpen instead may have catalyzed the lefty’s stumble. In time and with patience, Rex Brothers will work through the same examination others have faced, but unfortunately he will do so under much more scrutiny and many more eyes than most.
Projections for Brothers in 2015 expect a better performance this season, though still not back up to par with his 2013 numbers. PECOTA placed him with a 3.83 ERA over 65 innings (If you haven’t already checked out Eric Garcia McKinley’s PECOTA projections article, do so.) and the same kind of high strikeout numbers we expect from the 27-year old. The Rockies front office isn’t showing much in terms of skepticism either, agreeing to a one year, $1.4 million contract, in Brothers’s first year of arbitration eligibility. The club has added most heavily this offseason to their bullpen depth, but a re-adapted Rex Brothers is still among the organization's best relievers.
The problems that surfaced for Rex Brothers don’t appear to be anything deeply rooted. He’s not overthrowing, putting himself at risk of injury, he’s not lost all command or total control of his game. He’s just working things out. Even if it takes another season to establish his strength and return to his comfort zone, the lefty should be primed and ready for some high-heat baseball into the club's expected window of contention.There’s certainly room to improve and decisions to be made, but if Brothers can settle in for the long haul, the Rockies have in him potential for late-inning greatness.