There’s no nice way to say it: The Rockies’ bullpen is terrible.
This no surprise, nor is it a one-year trend. Losing Scott Oberg (blood clots) for the season didn’t help.
It’s a serious problem. We’ve all watched the late-inning collapses and felt that pain of a quality start wasted or a comeback erased, all while the ineffectiveness reaches historic proportions.
Including Thursday’s 5-4 extra-inning win over San Francisco, in which the Rockies bullpen blew a lead in the eighth inning, the Rockies are currently No. 4 on the worst bullpens in MLB history list when it comes to ERA. The 2020 bullpen has a 6.82 ERA in 191 1/3 innings.
...and after COL's pen gave up just 1 run in 5.2 innings to hold off SF:— schmenkman (@tgpschmenk) September 25, 2020
1) 1930 Phillies (383.1 IP), 8.01
2) 2020 #Phillies (177.0), 7.17 (3 games left)
3) 1936 Browns (412.0), 7.01
4) 2020 #Rockies (191.1), 6.82 (4 left)
5) 1950 Browns (358.1), 6.81@TheGoodPhight @PurpleRow https://t.co/PBBg6CdAsW
Only the Phillies are worse this season with a 7.17 ERA in 177 innings, which is currently runner-up for the worst ever. It’s a bad category in which to be rivaling the Phillies bullpen. In comparison to the bullpen ERA of 6.82, the Rockies starters have combined for a 4.58 ERA, which ranks No. 17 in the MLB. The Rockies have had some lousy bullpens in their history, but the worst before this year was the 2004 bullpen, which had a 5.53 ERA.
On the bright side, entering Thursday’s win, the Rockies bullpen ERA was 6.98. Despite the one run given up by Mychal Givens, the bullpen did post 4 2/3 scoreless innings, including two from Daniel Bard and one from Jairo Díaz. That performance lowered the bullpen’s ERA by 0.16.
The worst inning for the Rockies in 2020 is the seventh. Maybe they miss the crowd singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” When it comes up to given up runs in late innings, the Rockies bullpen is dead last in the seventh inning (1.04), the eighth inning (.80), and ninth inning (.56), according to Team Rankings. The Rockies also rank 24th in the sixth inning (.64) and 23rd for the fifth inning (.67).
Compounding the seventh-inning surrendering of runs, the offense is ranked No. 20 in scoring in the seventh inning (.45). However, the Rockies are better in the eighth inning, averaging .67, which is fourth best in the league, and are averaging .40 runs in the ninth inning, which is fifth best.
The seventh-inning sadness is representative of the Rockies overall run differential this season: -68, which is third worst in baseball behind only Texas and Pittsburgh. When the offense is stagnant and the pitching is struggling, that’s what happens. It’s even more brutal to compare the Rockies number to their NL West rivals: The top-ranked Dodgers (+122), second place Padres (+79), the 11th-place Giants (+8), and the 23rd-place Diamondbacks (-37). Even in a season when the playoffs are expanded, these kinds of numbers make it nearly impossible for the Rockies to contend, and that’s why they are barely clinging to hope and looking for a September miracle.
The starting pitching has been there in 2020, despite not having a solid five-man rotation. Gérman Márquez, Antonio Senzatela, and Kyle Freeland have pitched well enough to give the Rockies a chance this season. The Rockies are third overall in the MLB with 27 quality starts (when a starter goes at least six innings while giving up three runs or fewer). Márquez has lost three quality starts. The bullpen has cost starters who were set to win four games. The bullpen has blown seven saves (three for Carlos Estévez, two for Yency Almonte, one for Wade Davis, and one for Givens). Colorado has 11 losses in relief (three for Estévez, two apiece for Bard, Díaz, and Tyler Kinely, and one each for Hoffman and Davis). Collectively, the bullpen has a save percentage of 68 and ranks No. 28 in strikeouts per nine innings at 7.95.
The bullpen has been a weak link for the Rockies for a while and that’s why Jeff Bridich spent $106 million on Bryan Shaw, Jake McGee, and Wade Davis before the 2018 season. Now, after disappointing performances all around, all have now been released. So now the question becomes, how do the Rockies make this better?
One idea is to get acquire better bullpen arms. However, when GM Jeff Bridich was asked about if he learned any lessons after cutting Shaw and McGee, he said, “I don’t think there are any huge lessons that we’re going to take and drastically move in one direction.”
So Bridich isn’t going to do anything different, despite millions of dollars for free agents that haven’t paid off when you look at numbers for Ian Desmond and Daniel Murphy, especially in light of letting DJ LeMahieu become a Yankee.
He did add Givens at the trade deadline and will have him in 2021, so that’s something I guess.
Another idea is letting starters pitch longer, especially when it’s Márquez, Senzatela, and Freeland. This is a short season. Starters could have gone longer for a shorter period of time, considering they are playing 100 fewer games than usual. The starters are averaging 5.5 innings per start and 87 pitches. A Rockie starter has only thrown over 100 pitches in a game nine times this season (four times for Márquez and Senzatela, one for Freeland). Bud Black seems more inclined to make the call to Estévez and Díaz in the late innings of close games in a “Groundhog Day” remix of all the different ways the Rockies can lose games.
When things aren’t working, it’s time to try something else. This season may be lost, but there is always next year, right?
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In the beginning of the season, Charlie Blackmon was the best hitter in baseball. From July 24 to Aug. 23, he was drawing national attention and was hitting .405/.442/.568.
Just like the Rockies, over the last month, Blackmon has nosedived, hitting .185/.271/.337.
The biggest difference when Chuck was Nazty, he was making contact on the sweet spot, roping singles and line drives. Recently, the contact is resulting in more groundouts and fly outs. That being said, Blackmon went 2-for-5 on Thursday, raising his average to .308, helping his odds in finishing above .300 with four games remaining.
So, it’s 2020. The year nothing is normal. Since that’s the case, we should probably start getting used to the idea that the oddities and unusual times will bleed into 2021.
Ending on a high note, at least we don’t have to play the Dodgers or Walker Buehler again this season. Unless, a miracle happens and then that will be the reward. So much for the high note.
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