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Jairo Díaz regresses in 2020 after promising start

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Díaz was given the closer role and lost it in a short span

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. 35, Jairo Díaz: -0.6 rWAR

Coming on the heels of No. 38 Jeff Hoffmann, No. 37 Carlos Estévez and No. 36 Wade Davis, Jairo Díaz is a continuation of the collapse of a bullpen that had been promising in 2018, still decent in 2019, and completely fell apart in 2020.

When Scott Oberg (blood clots) and Wade Davis (injury and ineffectiveness) were sidelined in August of 2019, Díaz stepped up to fill a void in the bullpen. In the 19 innings he pitched from August 17 to the end of the season, he recorded 18 strikeouts with five saves (out of seven chances) and a 3.79 ERA.

Díaz and Estévez made last September fun and gave Rockies fans hope when it was in short supply. Not only were they bright spots heading into 2020, but they were also kind on the wallet compared to the costly and ineffective trio of Davis, Bryan Shaw, and Jake McGee. This was especially true when the Rockies learned Oberg was going to miss the entire 2020 season because of blood clots.

In his first five scoreless appearances of 2020, Díaz lived up to that hope, even if it was nerve-wracking at times. He was the eighth-inning man, regardless of if the Rockies were up or down, and he didn’t give up a run while totaling seven strikeouts. When August hit, the righty stepped into the closer role and went 3-for-3 in saves, despite giving up two runs to the Giants on August 3. Through August 6, Díaz — thanks to the solid trio of his four-seam fastball, sinker, and slider — had a 1.35 ERA and the Rockies were 9-3.

If only it could have all kept going like that. Instead, Díaz finished the season with just four saves, a 7.65 ERA, and the ability to give Rockies fans a collective “oh no” feeling whenever he was called upon to enter the game.

Just when Bud Black was settling in on making Díaz the primary closer, the stressful pitching situations continued, with runners reaching base by hits and walks, and the luck was starting to wear thin. Starting on August 11 and through his next eight appearances, which filled the month of August, Díaz’s ERA exploded to 9.00 in six innings. Opposing batters went from hitting .269/.355/.346 to hitting .429/.556/.679 against him.

The true downfall started when Díaz gave up a walk-off single to Myles Straw in the 11th inning of a 2-1 loss to the Astros on August 18. The performance erased an Antonio Senzatela gem and earned Díaz his first recorded loss of the season. Díaz then pitched middle relief the next two games, giving up one run in two innings and even getting one win. The next three games sealed Díaz’s doomed season as he gave up 11 earned runs in 2 13 innings on 11 hits, three of which were homers. Díaz’s confidence and effectiveness were gone.

He earned his second and final loss of the year after coming into a 2-2 game against the Giants, giving up a homer to Alex Dickerson, a double to Joey Bart, and a single to Austin Slater, who both came in to score when AJ Ramos came in and immediately surrendered a double.

Díaz struggled with command in 2020, either walking batters (14 walks in 20 innings) or leaving the ball to be pounded in the middle of the strike zone. According to Baseball Savant, in 2019, his sweet spot (batted balls with a launch angle between eight and 32 percent) was 32.3 percent and it rose to 44.4 percent in 2020. His fastball average dropped from 97 mph to 95.2 mph. In 2019, he had a 46.9 percent whiff rate with his slider, but it dropped to 31.4 percent in 2020.

In 2020, Díaz was in the first percentile in xSLG (which is formulated using exit velocity, launch angle and, on certain types of batted balls, Sprint Speed), seventh in barrel percentage, 10th percentile in strikeout percentage, but still 81st in fastball velocity. Compare that to 2019 when he was in the 73rd percentile in xSLG, 77th in barrel percentage, 67th in strikeout percentage, and 95th in fastball velocity. Díaz was especially hit hard by lefties, recording a 10.80 ERA and giving up all four of his homers to them.

In 2019, Díaz ranked No. 11 in our Ranking the Rockies and had a 0.7 rWAR. While Díaz is out of options, he is entering his first year of arbitration in 2021. This season marks a pretty big regression for the 29-year-old Venezuelan, but hopefully it will just be a one-year anomaly and he can blame 2020 for being 2020.