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Yency Almonte should be protected at all costs

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With an ERA in the twos, Almonte kept the Rockies bullpen from having the worst ERA in baseball

Welcome to the 2020 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2020. 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.

★ ★ ★

No. 9, Yency Almonte: 0.7 rWAR

If Daniel Bard‘s comeback story is the marquee bullpen tale for the 2020 Rockies, Yency Almonte tells an unsung storyline that did everything to keep the reliever ship from sinking. He deserves high praise for his work, and he currently holds immeasurable job security.

If Almonte’s 2020 stats are removed from the equation, the Rockies would have the highest reliever ERA in baseball this year.

His 2.93 ERA was the best among all Rockies pitchers that routinely appeared in 2020. With the second-best WHIP on the team, he helped Rockies fans everywhere take a collective sigh of relief each time he emerged from the bullpen. Almonte appeared in 24 games this year and held his opponents scoreless in 18 of them.

Bud Black has utilized Almonte strictly in short relief — he did not exceed two innings pitched in an outing this year. It is clear to suggest Almonte will remain in that role moving forward given his inherent successes in 2020. Rockies fans can instead ask themselves a joyous and optimistic question: What was it in 2020 that made Yency Almonte so good?

Almonte utilized his fastball at the lowest percentage of his MLB career — it was the first of his three seasons in which he threw it less than half the time. This year was also the first year in which Almonte had a positive FanGraphs pitch value on his fastball, which may suggest his other pitch(es) made his fastball better.

He called upon his slider at a near-equal clip to his four-seamer; he used it more in 2020 than any season prior. Also according to FanGraphs, his changeup percentage quadrupled. Such a jump may reason for increased confidence in a third pitch, as he only threw it three percent of the time in 2019.

In his 2018 debut season, he posted an exceptional 1.84 ERA over 14 23 innings. It wasn’t much of an indicator for his 2019 successes, however, as his ERA (5.56) inflated along with his inning total (34). Almonte made 28 MLB appearances in 2019. He was optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque on May 24, 2019, and he returned in mid-July as a different (worse) pitcher. His ERA quickly inflated to a four and eventual five.

Almonte’s appearances were more consistent in 2020, which is crazy to even fathom in such an abnormal year. He was not optioned to the alternate site at all, and aside from a few exceptions, Almonte pitched at least every third game for the Rockies.

Plenty of factors could have contributed to Almonte’s 2020 success, but a combination of consistent work and a revised pitch mix appear to have led him back on track after his 2019 campaign. As for the 2021 season to come: Almonte’s job is clearly safe, and the Rockies should protect him at all costs. Almonte isn’t arbitration eligible until 2022, so intense contractual measures won’t be needed. (Cue another big sigh of relief, Rockies fans.)

A Rockies reliever had an ERA in the twos. Such an arm should be treated like gold.