Welcome to the 2019 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2019. 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 lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.
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No. 5, Scott Oberg: 2.4 rWAR
When Adam Ottavino (2.2 rWAR) left the Rockies for free agency in 2018, the team had been preparing Scott Oberg to take his spot as a much cheaper if less flashy eighth-inning bridge man.
For Oberg, it was a natural progression. As he told Patrick Saunders, “Get to the seventh-inning spot, where I got to last year. Get to the eighth-inning spot, which I got to this year. Those were steps. Hopefully, I can continue down that road where I can get the opportunity to be a closer on a consistent basis.”
As it turned out, he not only filled Ottavino’s spikes but also surpassed the Rockies’ expectations and met his own baseball goal as he proved a more able closer than Wade Davis, assuming that role on August 1.
In 2019, Oberg earned five saves with a 2.25 ERA (an improvement on his 2018 ERA of 2.45). At Coors Field, he had a 1.71 ERA in 28 appearances — and he did not allow a home run. His ERA+ was 236, easily the best of any Rockies relief pitcher. He did all of that in the launchpad of Coors Field. (Go here to see his StatCast Pitcher Visualization Report.) Projections indicate that his $1.3 million salary will approach $2 million after arbitration.
Oberg’s very good season ended on August 18 when he developed an auxiliary artery thrombosis (blood clot) in his right arm, the same ailment he suffered in 2016. (Nick Groke has provided the best insight into the procedures that removed the clot in Oberg’s arm and his thoughts on these events.) Oberg is confident it will not affect his offseason work and that he will be ready for spring training. Whether he will return to the closer spot is unknown.
Meanwhile, the Rockies’ former eighth-inning guy was burning up the Bronx. Adam Ottavino signed a three-year, $27 million contract with the Yankees. Marc Carig referred to Ottavino as a “linchpin of a high-octane [Yankees] bullpen” given that he had a 1.90 ERA in 73 regular-season appearances.
In the postseason, Ottavino struggled. He retired only nine of 21 hitters, earning an 8.10 ERA and a 3.00 WHIP over eight appearances. In two games, Ottavino was pulled to a chorus of boos. (For Rockies fans, it was a flashback to 2017 and the 2018 postseason when Ottavino gave up three runs in two outings.)
Ottavino ended his year on a positive note, pitching a scoreless seventh inning the the Yankees’ elimination game against the Astros. He owned his struggles: “It felt good to throw well in that game, but I wanted us to win . . . . It doesn’t take anything away from the tough times I had in October. It made me feel a little better, but ultimately, I know I have a lot to work on.’’ So it’s back to The Lab in the off-season.
In addition to his pitching, Oberg emerged from Ottavino’s shadow in other ways. An enthusiastic amateur photographer, he began posting to Instagram ballpark pics with a decidedly Ottavinian style. (Witness his trek to catwalk of Tropicana Field with Ryan Spilborghs.) Then there was his The Club interview with UConn roommate George Springer when Oberg emerged as the responsible adult of his college team, up early every morning to drink coffee and read the New York Times while reminding Springer to take a pen and notebook to class. A local publication, Tewksbury Today, keeps up with Tewksbury’s favorite son, reporting on his 2019 salary arbitration (“Colorado Rockies Make Tewksbury’s Oberg a Millionaire”) and even predicting that Oberg was positioned to take Davis’s closer spot. And there was his adorable photo session with all those kittens for the “Rockies with Pets Calendar.”
The 2019 season found both Oberg and Ottavino ending successful seasons in on familiar but uncertain notes. In 2020, their returns will be key to their teams’ performances.