Over the course of 161 games, the Colorado Rockies’ bullpen made 543 appearances and threw 565 innings during the 2021 season. That number of appearances was the 12th lowest in baseball and the group threw the fourth fewest amount of innings during the season. So, the starting rotation picked up the slack and mostly kept the bullpen from getting over-taxed. Unfortunately, that couldn’t stop the bullpen from putting together a rough campaign.
Rockies 2021 bullpen totals
In measured performance, the Rockies bullpen easily earned a bottom five ranking in all of baseball. The teams ERA, FIP and WHIP all sat exactly 25th in the league, which could be explained by a strikeout rate, walk rate and ground ball percentage that placed exactly the same. The team deviated slightly in line drive rate, posting the worst figure in the league in that category.
It was an ugly season all around and there figures to be some heads that will roll as a result. Of all relievers to appear this season, Tyler Kinley, Daniel Bard, Carlos Estévez, Jhoulys Chacin and Yency Almonte accumulated the five highest total innings. Jhoulys Chacín had moments of effectiveness in his role and is a free agent this off-season, so it remains to be seen if Chacín will return. But for the rest, there’s a case to be made that all could - or should - be gone next season.
Tyler Kinley finished the season with the most appearances and innings pitched while posting respectable final figures. However, the threat of a mirage still exists with Kinley as his final two months were far superior to the rest of his season up to that point. His ERA dropped nearly a point and a half to it’s final 4.73 figure because of his strong finish and could ultimately be what saved his spot on the roster for another season.
Kinley has been durable - which is a valuable trait for a bullpen arm in today’s game - and finished the season strong enough to probably have a spot on the roster next season. That said, you can’t ignore the pitcher who struggled to get outs consistently while putting up an ERA over six for the first four months of the season.
Daniel Bard was one of the few bright spots for the Rockies in 2020, earning NL Comeback Player of the Year after being out of the league for seven years. It was a character arc worthy of a Disney film and quickly established Bard as a key cog in the Rockies bullpen plans moving forward. One year later, there are legitimate questions about the merits of placing Bard on the roster in 2022.
On the surface, he did suffer from some bad luck. Opponents put up a .353 BABIP against Bard and his 5.21 ERA was nearly a full run higher than his expected ERA (xERA) of 4.24. But that sense of misfortune starts to erode when you dig into the some underlying figures that can help explain those numbers.
Bard’s walk rate increased over two percent from 9.4% in 2020 to 11.8% in 2021 and his line drive percentage spiked almost ten percent from 16.7% in 2020 to 26.3% in 2021. Add in a six percent drop in ground ball rate to 42.5% in 2021 and it all equates to the question of whether the pitcher we saw over 24 ⅔ innings in 2020 can be the one we get over a full season.
Carlos Estévez’s 2021 season was not bad, overall. Despite surrendering a walk-off homer in the final pitch of the season, Estévez was a fairly reliable member of the bullpen that the team leaned on more in late situations as the season progressed, including closing duties in the last month of the year. His 4.38 ERA and 4.03 WHIP were in line with his expected figures and he still boasts a fastball that sits in the 95th percentile at an average velocity of 97.2 MPH. Outside of that heat, however, the rest of Estévez’s performance has been underwhelming.
He did show increased usage and effectiveness of his changeup during the season, which has now supplanted his slider as his primary secondary offering. However, as the changeup took a step forward, the fastball took a step back. His heater’s total strike percentage of 62.7%, called strike percentage of 12.4%, whiff rate of 11.6% and CSW (called strikes + whiffs divided by IP) of 24.0% were all the lowest totals of his career.
Estévez is tied with Scott Oberg for 13th all-time in games pitched for the Rockies, with 259. I don’t bring that up as a good or bad thing, but rather to explain how long he has been a staple of the Colorado Rockies organization. He has inherited an elder statements role with the club, along with Daniel Bard. However both have had their issues and keeping both on board feels redundant.
No Rockies reliever had as tough of a season as Yency Almonte. After an effective 2020 season where he posted a sub-3.00 ERA in 27 ⅔ innings, Almonte completely fell apart in 2021 and finished with a 7.55 ERA over 47 ⅔ innings (the second highest mark in baseball with 30+ IP). His walk rate soared from 5.3% in 2020 to 14.3% in 2021 while his ground ball rate nose-dived from 56.3% to 41.9% and his line drive rate jumped nearly eight percent to 22.1%.
Almonte’s struggles resembled that of Bard’s, except to a more extreme degree. However, the pedigree that may keep Bard around is not there in Almonte’s case. Add in the fact that his final minor league option was used this past season, and it’s easy to see how Almonte’s days with the Rockies could be numbered.
Ultimately, there is a wave of talented bullpen arms behind these four relievers and there may be some additions to the bullpen this off-season, as well. Jordan Sheffield, Justin Lawerence, Lucas Gilbreath, Julian Fernández and Ben Bowden all made their big league debuts this season to varying degrees of success. Robert Stephenson, who was acquired from Cincinnati prior to the season, also had a strong showing in his first season with Colorado.
Regardless, the Rockies are in a position where they need to start handing over more responsibilities to these younger relievers if they are going to develop. In order to do so, they will need to free up some space from their current bullpen core.
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Trevor Story won’t rule out return to Colorado Rockies, but says ‘winning is at the top of the list’ among priorities as free agent | ESPN
Trevor Story’s impending free agency has been a much discussed topic this season, and the reality is we may have seen him play his last game in a Rockies uniform now that the off-season has arrived. When discussing his future, Story didn’t rule out a return to Colorado but did have some words that could foreshadow his departure.
“Winning is at the top of the list and that’s something that has always meant the most to me,” Story said. “I think this is a chance for me to kind of see where that’s at.”
The Rockies 2021 home attendance came in at nearly 2 million fans. This figure came in nearly a third below 2019’s 3 million fan total. One reason for the decline is the restriction in crowd-size to 43% of maximum occupancy to begin the season. This restriction was increased to 70% during the season before being allowed to go back to 100% in June. The decline in attendance in Colorado is indicative in the industry as a whole, as many organizations saw a decline in fans this season, largely due to occupancy restrictions for most - if not all - of the season.
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