Welcome to the 2017 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the in-season contributions of every player to don the purple this past season. The goal wasn’t and isn’t to quibble with order. Instead, it’s to get a snapshot of a player along with a look forward. For that reason, we simply sorted by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement (rWAR) and will start at the bottom and end up at the top.
No. 8, Chris Rusin (2.3 rWAR)
It’s hard to overstate just how valuable Chris Rusin was to the Colorado Rockies in 2017—but let’s try.
Rusin was the workhorse out of the bullpen. His 2016 made clear that Rusin’s a bad starter but an excellent reliever. But the badness of his starting does, at least, mean he has the endurance to go through an entire batting order. He’s no one and done reliever. Rusin made 60 appearances in 2017, and among those appearances he pitched at least two innings 17 times, and he got four or more outs 28 times.
Rusin’s stamina is almost a call back to a time past. Rusin threw the second most innings in relief in all of baseball, 85. Only Yusmeiro Petit had more. He was also just one of six relievers to throw more than 80 innings in 2017. He’s the fireman of a previous era in baseball.
Rusin was versatile. The only two innings he didn’t enter the game were the second and third. Otherwise, the Rockies could count on him to come in during the first inning in a pinch, the fourth to soak up some innings to save the bullpen in a blowout, the sixth to bridge the gap between the starter and the late inning relievers, or even to come in in the seventh for a nine-out save. I imagine it like this. Rusin waits, expressionless, in the bullpen. The phone rings. Darren Holmes answers it—”What’s that? Okay. Yup, I’ll tell him.” Holmes to Rusin: “They need five outs.” Then the warmup and then the outs in a run-of-the-mill fashion.
Rusin was the Rockies’ best reliever, and it wasn’t particularly close. Let’s set aside Pat Neshek and his partial season with the Rockies here. Among all Rockies relief pitchers, Rusin had the best ERA (2.65), the third best FIP (3.64), and the best ERA+ (189). Let’s take a moment to think wonder at that last figure. Remember, Rusin threw the most innings of anyone in the bullpen, with 85. The next closest was Scott Oberg’s 581⁄3. The next closest ERA+ 139, posted by both Greg Holland and Jake McGee. In other words, Rusin threw 262⁄3 more innings than the next most prolific reliever, nearly three full games’ worth, and had an ERA+ 50 points higher than the next best relievers.
Rusin had one of the best high-inning relief seasons in the past five years. Since 2013, there have been 36 reliever seasons of 80 innings or more. Of those, Rusin’s 189 ERA+ ranks third, behind Dellin Betances’s 2014 and 2015 seasons. The lie in this fun fact is that it excludes seasons with fewer innings, such as those from guys like Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel. But, to a certain degree, we’re talking apples and oranges. Rusin’s 2017 was one of the very best in his particular and uncommon in this era niche. Every single team in baseball would love to have someone like Rusin, but few of them do.
Rusin just turned 31 and will receive his first arbitration contract this offseason. Because his value isn’t in saves, he’s going to get paid way less than he’s really worth. His role in 2018 should remain unchanged, and there’s no reason besides unexpected injury to think that Rusin won’t be as effective next year. He’s not young, but he also doesn’t have a lot of milage on his arm. Relievers are well known to be effective in to their late 30s. He has never thrown particularly hard, with a fastball sitting around 91 mph, so any drop in speed should be manageable as long as it’s not dramatic.
Rusin’s the type of player that rarely receives the recognition he deserves. But he was one of the Rockies’ most valuable players in 2017. He will play a key role for the 2018 team as well.