A bullpen is the most unpredictable and difficult unit to construct in baseball. This is a fact that all teams face. For the Rockies, it’s doubly so considering the different factors they have to address compared to the rest of the league. In 2015, John Axford looked like a great signing by the Rockies front office after taking control of the closer’s role in the stead of the injured Adam Ottavino. In late July, almost inexplicably, Axford had a horrible stretch where he just couldn’t get through an inning and ended up losing the closing job and just wasn’t the same the rest of the season.
Carlos Estevez had a similar season in 2016 compared to Axford’s 2015. Estevez came in as a flamethrower who needed to find his control and, for a few months, looked as though he might have found it. From May 1 through August 4, Estevez put up a 3.24 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP and 40 strikeouts in 33.1 innings, making us all believe that he was a future star in the bullpen. Plus, who isn’t going to get excited about a 6’4 reliever that throws fireballs?
Sadly, the wheels fell off in early August and we saw a whole new version of Estevez. From August 5 until the end of the season, Estevez posted a 9.19 ERA with a 2.18 WHIP and 14 strikeouts in 15.2 innings, walking nearly a batter per inning over that span.
The big question the Rockies and Estevez have to answer is what caused such a discrepancy in success? Usually, when someone with Estevez’s size and power struggles with command, it’s a repeatable motion issue and that passes the eye test. There were plenty of times where one motion’s fastball looked nothing like the next one. His arm slot was changing at times, at others he was flying open and causing the ball to tail off target.
Now that’s all conjecture and the overnight change in performance could have been caused by something else. A lack in confidence, an injury, or something that I’m just not thinking of could have the same effect, but it’s so easy for one slight mechanical tweak to cause a problem like this. It’s the most likely cause, and is fixable. It’s just a matter of identifying the problem.
Overall, Estevez showed enough promise to be a part of the future of the Rockies. He’s the ideal pitcher for the front office’s vision for the bullpen; a big, flame-throwing pitcher that strikes batters out. Estevez’s chances aren’t over, not by a long shot. He will, however, be on a much shorter leash as there will be higher expectations surrounding the 2017 team.
I think we’ll see more of mid-season Estevez than we will of late-season Estevez. Keep in mind, he’s only 23 years old and has ample room to grow. Plenty of relief pitchers take a few years to figure it out. He’s going to be a part of this young group of Rockies, but it’s up to him to define his role within that group.
Estevez needs to reel in his fastball and gain a better command of the strike zone if he wants to help the Rockies and improve off of a tantalizing 2016. He better, because they’ll need Carlos Estevez to not be a Wild Thing in order to have a competent bullpen in 2017.
(Sorry, had to.)