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Adam Ottavino’s remarkable 2018 was a comeback for the ages

Ottavino was the best relief pitcher for the Rockies in 2018

You’re reading the 2018 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the season had by every player to play for the Rockies in 2018. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the least amount of rWAR and end up with the player with the most.

★ ★ ★

No. 7, Adam Ottavino (2.6 rWAR)

Adam Ottavino entered this year on a mission to prove he was better than his terrible 2017 campaign — easily his worst year as a member of the Colorado Rockies. 2017 was a season of personal lows for Adam in COlorado, from his ugly walk rate and awful ERA, to a subpar 37.2 GB%, 40.9 FB%, and dreadful 1.63 WHIP. He was ultimately left off the Wild Card roster against the D-backs, but hungry for redemption.

In a quest to reinvent himself, Otto rented personal bullpen space in Harlem that offseason, used high-speed cameras with “flight analytics” to study his spin rates, designed a new pitch for his repertoire (a cutter), and got to work on what would eventually become a record-setting and Comeback Player of the Year caliber season in 2018.

And what a season it was. Despite a shaky end to the year, Ottavino was hands-down the best option coming out of the bullpen for the Rockies in 2018 and made a name for himself as one of the best relievers in baseball. He was more often than not throwing nasty, lights-out stuff and was frequently highlighted by pitching guru Rob Friedman on Twitter (@PitchingNinja) for making opposing hitters look downright silly—like he did to Dansby Swanson here:

In a traditional statistics outlook, Ottavino had the best season of his career and arguably one of the best ever for a Rockies reliever. He set the franchise record for strikeouts in a season by a relief pitcher (112) on his way to a 2.43 ERA in 77.2 IP, and kept base runners off the paths with a sparkling 0.99 WHIP.

Adam came into the game in the clutch, relied on by Bud Black to shut down opponents when the Rockies had a close lead, and was tied for first place in the majors with 34 holds (and he added 6 saves, too). He held all opponents to a measly .154 batting average, thanks to many moments like this:

Ottavino truly reinvented himself this year as an immensely valuable asset to any major league bullpen. He went from wildly erratic in 2017 to effectively wild in 2018, dropping from a disastrous 6.58 BB/9 to an improved 4.17 BB/9, and raised his K/9 from 10.63 to 12.98. All of this was done despite pitching half his season at altitude and calling Coors Field home. The only other pitcher on the entire staff who bested his 2.30 Win Probability Added was Kyle Freeland, a starter, who needed an impressive 202.1 IP to do so.

Yes, it was a memorable year for Ottavino, and it’s also the last one he’ll pitch for the Rockies before becoming a free-agent for the first time. If negotiations had come one year earlier, this might be a very different story for Adam, but thanks to an incredible season, he’s set to demand big-time money from a contender who needs help in the bullpen.

It’s likely the Rockies won’t be able to compete with the contracts Otto is about to be handed, as Jeff Bridich committed $106M over three years to Wade Davis, Jake McGee, and Bryan Shaw this past offseason, and has said he wants to address offensive needs. But if it is his last year wearing purple pinstripes, at least he’ll be going out on top and leaving us with memories like these:

Woof—I felt that breeze from here, Javy!