There’s only a select few players in sports who have the ability to make you say “Oh no,” when you see them coming into the game. Think opposing fans when Barry Bonds came up to the plate, or when Mariano Rivera jogged to the mound in the ninth. You just know your chances of a good inning have been drastically lowered.
Well, so far this spring, I’ve found myself saying “Oh no” for all the wrong reasons every time one of three relievers have taken the mound: Phillip Diehl, Carlos Estévez and Jairo Díaz.
Is that too mean? Maybe, but the point is they haven’t pitched well at all this spring and there’s only one more week’s worth of games to turn it around before it’s the real deal for nine innings straight. Diehl has given up eight runs in 5 ⅔ innings, Estévez ten in six innings and Díaz eight in 6 ⅔ . Like everything else in spring training it’s not career defining, but it’s also not encouraging when all of them are coming off some rough 2020 seasons.
Phillip Diehl still has a minor league option and likely won’t make the Opening Day roster, so for now, let’s not worry about him. The other two, on the other hand, will most likely have key middle inning relief roles to begin the year. They will need to be in peak form if the Rockies want to give themselves a chance this season.
So how worried should Rockies fans be about them?
Well each player has their own set of issues. Jairo Díaz finished 2020 with the highest ERA (7.65) and lowest fWAR (-0.3) of his career. This was partly due to a big dip in his strikeout percentage of only 16% compared to his 2019’s 25.7%. Combined with a rise in his walk percentage, 13.2% compared to his 2019’s 7.8%, and you nearly get a pitcher who walks batters more than he strikes them out. That’s not usually a good strategy.
In his small spring sample size of 6 ⅔ innings, his strikeout rate is at an identical 16% (5 out of 32 batters faced) but the walks are lower at 9% (3 out of 32 batters faced).
What might have been causing that lower K% last year was his overall decrease in velocity. In 2019, Díaz’s average fastball was at 97.2 mph and his highest usage pitch, the slider, was at 88.2 mph. In 2020, Díaz’s fastball was averaged at 95.2 mph and his slider was at 85.2 mph.
It’s not exactly clear where Díaz’s velocity is at this spring since not every spring ballpark tracks pitches but in his six appearances, Díaz has given up eleven hits which suggests he’s still not able to locate his pitches.
Carlos Estévez’s spring has been all about the home run ball. He’s given up one home run in all but one of his six appearances. That’s five home runs out of his total eight hits given up. This isn’t a huge shock since Estévez is a hard-throwing fly ball pitcher who had the same struggle last year with a 2.25 HR/9.
Estévez had a solid 2019 and as Justin Wick noted a few days ago, he held a 3.48 ERA with one home run in his first 10 ⅓ innings of 2020 before a comebacker drilled his throwing hand on August 16th. After the injury he pitched for a 9.82 ERA with five home runs in 14 ⅔ innings. Estévez blamed the struggles on the lingering injury and the before and after numbers support his claim but now he says his hand is “good to go” and the long balls are still an issue thus far.
Both these players have a lot to prove this season after they contributed a combined 7.56 ERA to an unstable bullpen last year. Time is running out for them to reel it in before they begin a potentially career-defining year. Both will be arbitration-eligible but another poor 5+ ERA season from either could have them packing their bags at season’s end.
What do you make of Díaz and Estévez’s spring? Do you expect them to turn it around or give up a bunch of runs again? Let your thoughts be known below.
★ ★ ★
Antonio Senzatela made his first start of the spring against the Kansas City Royals on Sunday. He faced a lot of traffic on the base paths as he allowed eight hits and two runs in 3 2⁄3 innings. Offensively the team was led by Josh Fuentes and Alan Trejo, who collected two hits each.
Patrick Saunders shares notes and quotes from Bud Black on the official addition of C.J. Cron to the 40-man roster. He also briefly includes how Antonio Senzatela felt physically after his first start and what the coaching staff is looking to see from Rule 5 pick Jordan Sheffield.
Nick Groke breaks down what the Rockies do now that we know projected starting second baseman Brendan Rodgers will miss a few weeks.
★ ★ ★
Please keep in mind our Purple Row Community Guidelines when you’re commenting. Thanks!