There was a lot of expectations on Jake McGee in 2016, and truth be told, he didn’t live up to many of them. He only lived up to the truism that relievers are weird.
The big lefty, who was an elite reliever in Tampa Bay, was acquired over the winter along with Germán Márquez for Corey Dickerson and Kevin Padlo (who you should never count out). The trade was contentious and controversial when it occurred, and those opinions only grew louder as McGee struggled. Personal opinions on the trade aside, Jake McGee had one of the worst first halves a Rockies reliever could be expected to have. He had a 6.12 ERA in 29 appearances, a K/9 that dropped to 6.8, and a complete inability to pitch at Coors Field.
McGee started the season as the Rockies closer, but he finished it as just another part of the frustrating bullpen that broke down in August and ruined everyone’s lives.
But McGee’s second half showed improvement. His ERA dropped to 3.05, his K/9 moved to 8.3, he was allowing fewer hits and more importantly fewer extra base hits. McGee showed some improvement as the season went along.
Beyond a second half improvement, McGee showed he may have just been another victim of Coors Field. He had a 2.91 ERA on the road in 21 2⁄3 innings, his OPS+ against dropped 13 points, he was able to avoid the big inning meltdowns on the road that plagued him in Coors.
It’s not crazy to think that McGee’s down season was just another example of the problems with relievers. Sometimes, they’re elite, sometimes they aren’t, and the difference is hard to pin down. There was some indication that he was slowing down, but it wasn’t crazy for the Rockies to take a chance that he was building back from knee injuries. McGee may bounce back, he may return with the velocity that made him elite in Tampa Bay, he may become a solid lefty in a bullpen that will need one.
Or, he won’t. He’ll continue to get hit in Coors Field, he’ll continue to struggle in high leverage situations and won’t be a reliable late inning reliever in any way.
The Rockies are in a tough spot with McGee, as they have to decide whether or not to tender him a contract for 2017. MLB Trade Rumors estimates that he’ll make $6.1 million through arbitration. The Rockies would probably be best served by taking the chance with him and hoping that 2016 was a down year and that he’ll find the stuff that made him extremely reliable in Tampa.
If the Rockies want to keep him, there’s enough evidence to think he’s starting to improve; if they want to move on, there’s enough evidence to say he’s never going to be what he was in Tampa again. The universe is crazy, everyone is right nobody is wrong.
Jake McGee was the victim of a terrible first half. The Rockies have to wonder if that’s who they’ll get if they decide to keep him around.