So far this year, the Colorado Rockies bullpen has experienced quite a bit of success. Through 41 innings, they’ve had an ERA of 2.20 and a WHIP of 0.98 while striking out 11.1 batters per nine innings. A significant portion of the bullpen was a part of last year’s squad, which was last in major league baseball with a ERA of 5.13, third to last in the league in WHIP at 1.47 and 24th in K/9 percentage.
This topic came up during Thursday’s game, when ROOT Sports had a pretty informative graphic. Through ten games in 2016, the Rockies bullpen had an ERA of 7.20, whereas in this year through the same number of games, the bullpen’s ERA is 2.31. Though Rockies fans have seen improvements so far, they naturally feel a little tentative about how well the bullpen can keep it up.
New Rockies manager Bud Black was asked if he was worried about the bullpen’s heavy early workload, “Here’s the deal. Am I concerned and worried about our players? All the time! Yes! That’s what coaches do, they worry about players. But I also have a great deal of confidence in these guys. I don’t worry about performance though, I just worry that they’re ok and they’re having fun.“
Perhaps having that confidence in their pitching is also making a difference at the performance level. Scott Oberg, who has seen some of the ups and downs of the Colorado Rockies bullpen since his 2015 debut, believes it has. He likes the perspective that Black has brought to the club. “He brings an appreciation for being a major league pitcher. When the manager has confidence in you, it gives you confidence. The more times that you are successful, it gives you more confidence and more confidence hopefully leads to more success.“
Carlos Estevez, who made his debut last year and, like Oberg, went through the trials and tribulations of being a Rockies closer, also spoke a bit about the mentality that Black brings:
“We’ve always been told to throw strikes and attack the strike zone and get outs but now you can see it more. [Now] we’re more focused on making the pitch when we have to. I think that’s the biggest difference we have. When [Black] got to spring training, he said, ‘What gets outs is just throwing strikes. If you pound the zone, you’re going to get outs because they’re going to have to swing the bat. Even when they don’t like the pitch, they’ll have to swing or they’ll get struck out.’”
Estevez continued, “It’s a great way to do it. It’s logic. If you attack the strike zone, they have to swing. [Black] was a pitcher, he knows how we’re feeling. He pitched for a long time, and that’s the difference I see.”
“I think it’s the maturation of the process itself,” Oberg said. “The more times you fail, the more times you have an opportunity to learn what doesn’t work. You take those experiences and those lessons and keep applying them to your next outing. Once you start executing the things you want to execute then those failures start limiting themselves.”
Another reason the bullpen may do better this year is because of the increased depth in personnel. Black felt that there were two factors for that, “On balance I think we got healthy, and we made some additions to the bullpen.”
Oberg also believes that the offseason additions the Rockies made have helped tremendously. “I think it’s great to be able to learn from guys who have been very successful at a high level and have pitched in the playoffs. I always look forward to picking the brains of guys like Mike Dunn and Greg Holland.”
“The depth in the bullpen is different.” Estevez observed, “On the days guys are down, we’ve got more guys who can do the same job, which I find is really good because last year we didn’t have that confidence with the bullpen. We’ve got like what, four guys with closing experience, which is really good I think.”
Black echoed Estevez’s thoughts while laying out his bullpen philosophy.
“Today in baseball and how bullpens are structured and how they are used, it’s imperative that all seven or eight guys perform to a level, where the other guys aren’t being used when they shouldn’t be used. They’re all relying on each other in a way from game to game. They’re not going to be able to pitch every day. They’re asked to do certain jobs on a team during the course of that game. We need these guys to do it more often than not and when they do, it sets things up for tomorrow, and the day after that and the day after that. Each game that’s played today is set up by what’s gone on in the last three or four days.”
“I think the guys are going to do a real good job with that,” Estevez indicated. “The [starting pitching] showed already in the first week that they can do it. If they get us deep in the game all the time, it’ll be real good for us. It’ll keep fresh our arms and we’ll be ready to go every day.”
It’s still early in the 2017 season. Yet, with Black at the helm of this group of returning and new Rockies pitchers, this may just be a bullpen that Rockies fans will also gain confidence in.