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Carlos Estévez was good, but not great, in 2021

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Estévez finished the season as Colorado’s primary closer

Welcome to the 2021 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2021. 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. 23, Carlos Estévez: 0.4 rWAR

Carlos Estévez needed a strong 2021 season after a miserable campaign in 2020. In a pandemic-shortened schedule, Estévez posted a 7.50 ERA and 5.69 FIP in 24 innings. He allowed 12.4 hits/9, produced a ground ball rate under 30% while posting a home run rate over five percent.

Fortunately, the Carlos Estévez we saw in 2021 was far less like the one that pitched in 2020. Estévez finished the season with 4.38 ERA and 4.03 FIP over 61 ⅔ innings this past season, which resulted in an ERA+ of 109. His ground ball rate rebounded to a much healthier 44.9% while his home run percentage fell back to three percent.

He started the season strong, holding the opposition scoreless in ten of his first 13 appearances but landed on the injured list at the beginning of May due to a right middle finger strain. Estévez would miss almost three weeks due to the injury and encountered difficulties once the calendar rolled over into June.

From the beginning of June to the end of July, Estévez posted a 6.65 ERA with 17 earned runs allowed over 23 innings. He was touched up for 28 hits in that span and looked to be more like the pitcher we saw the season before. He was able to right the ship, however, posting a scoreless eleven innings in August.

As his stock was rising, closer Daniel Bard’s was falling and by the end of August it was Estévez who was getting the call from manager Bud Black in the ninth. Estévez mostly found success in the role, converting nine saves in eleven opportunities. He finished the season with eleven saves in all, tying the career mark he set in 2016.

His fastball velocity is still elite, sitting in the 95th percentile this season at an average of 97.1 MPH. He also made great strides with his changeup, so much so that it became his primary off-speed pitch at a usage rate of 19.3% compared to his slider at 14.9%.

On pure stuff, Estévez has always been one of the Rockies most enticing relievers. But the results haven’t always been what you’d expect with such a high-octane arsenal. His strikeout rate in 2021 was 22.2%, below his career average of 23.7%. His CSW% in 2021 was two points below his career average 26.7%, which is below the league average of around 28%.

What seemed to hold Estévez back the most in 2021 was his splits against right-handed hitters, especially at home.

Carlos Estévez 2021 Splits

Home/Away TBF K% BB% FIP
Home/Away TBF K% BB% FIP
Home vs L 68 25.0% 7.4% 3.60
Home vs R 72 15.3% 11.1% 5.73
Away vs L 65 23.1% 4.6% 3.50
Away vs R 65 26.2% 7.7% 3.17

Carlos Estévez has appeared in 259 games for the Colorado Rockies, tied with Scott Oberg for the 13th most in franchise history. He has long been viewed as having one of the highest ceilings of any pitcher in the organization, but after five years it’s evident that his peak is not much higher than an average big league reliever.

That provides value to a team, and his 2021 was a testament to that. Heading into his final season of team control in 2022, the Rockies could benefit from another season like this past one from Estévez.