Carlos Estévez has been about as long of a long-term project as possible in major league baseball. Since debuting in 2016, Estévez has appeared in 207 games as a Rockies reliever and thrown nearly 200 innings for the club. True to the heart of any reliever, he has been known for his big arm and bouts with volatility. But after a rough 24 innings in 2020 and a three week delay in the beginning of 2021 due to injury, Estévez is back in the bullpen and pitching superbly.
So far this season, Estévez has thrown 12.1 innings to the tune of a 2.92 ERA. He has struck out 13 hitters while surrendering ten hits and only walking four. Before hitting the injured list at the beginning of May, Estévez was riding a five game streak without allowing an earned run. Since returning from the IL, he’s picked up from where he left off, adding two more games to that tally. He has now allowed an earned run in only three of his 12 appearances and is pitching to the analytical tune of a 160 ERA+.
This is all fantastic. And, for a Rockies team that is so desperate to find trustworthy relievers it might as well post classified ads on the internet, the production is certainly coming at a welcomed time. But what makes us believe in the sustainability of this performance? Fool me once, shame you, and so on.
Well, the old Estévez we know is still there for the most part. He still puts some serious mustard on the ball, with an elite average fastball velocity of 96.2 mph this year. Throwing gas is a good starting point and is what has led Estévez to become such a tenured member of the organization in the first place. The walk rate isn’t too bad, either. He is currently sitting at a 8.2% walk rate, which is slightly up from his career average but not egregiously so. That walk rate is palatable, though, and indicative of his consistent strike throwing ability.
It’s a solid foundation, but Estévez is adding a new ingredient to the batter and it’s making a huge difference. His changeup.
Estévez has upped the overall usage of his changeup to 18.5%, bringing it on par with his main secondary offering to this point, the slider. On the surface, it indicates a building of trust in the pitch as a third offering, but there is more to it than that. It is now his key to setting up and putting away left-handed hitters.
Since 2019, the trust in Estévez’s changeup has continued to grow. He’s improved his usage of the offering against left-handed batters from 6.2% in 2019, to 20.1% in 2020 to 28% in 2021. Now, choosing to throw a pitch more often is all well and good, but what’s the context for this increase? When is he using this changeup specifically?
Against left-handed batters, Estévez is using his changeup a third of the time to start an at-bat, while using his fastball 56.7% of the time and sprinkling in a slider every now and then for good measure.
But on the second pitch of an at-bat, he blurs the line between the two pitches even more. In an 0-1 count, Estévez uses his fastball 54.5% of the time and drops the change 45.5%. Conversely, in 1-0 counts it’s much of the same as his fastball usage has dropped to 57.1% while the changeup in that same scenario has now shot up 42.9% (from 5.3% in 2020).
If the count gets even at 1-1? Well, as a lefty hitter it’s a coinflip as he is now at an even 50-50 split between the fastball and changeup at that point.
All of this is leading to Estévez becoming a more complete pitcher. Versus right-handed batters Estévez is still mostly the same pitcher he has always been, a flame throwing righty that can punch you out with the heater or a slider. But against lefties, Estévez has rewritten the scouting report on him. The changeup has become a dangerous weapon that teams have to recognize and, to this point, are lucky to have had the success against it that they have.
Carlos Estévez Changeup vs. LHB
This is how a pitcher evolves. The question has never been about Carlos Estévez’s talent, but rather when he was going to put it all together. Much like Scott Oberg before him, there have been many tribulations along the way that left us wondering if it would ever happen at all. But now that Estévez has figured a way to attack hitters from both sides of the plate, he seems to finally be reaching and performing at the high ceiling his talent has always screamed he’s capable of.
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Eric Rangus provides a wonderful piece about the life and career of Rockies senior director for major league operations, Paul Egins. After graduating from the University of Georgia, Egins was offered a chance to get into baseball by a more powerful figure than he would have ever imagined, Hank Aaron. Egins took up a role in the Atlanta Braves organization before moving on to the expansion Colorado Rockies in 1991, and has been with the organization ever since. Now the second longest tenured member of the organization, Egins talks about the special relationship he formed with Aaron, and how that shapes how he approaches his duties and interactions with every generation of players in the Rockies organization to this day. Special thanks to the organization Baseball in Denver for shedding light on this piece.
Rockies Insider: Early-season scouting report on notable prospects in Double-A Hartford, Triple-A Albuquerque | The Denver Post ($)
In a follow up to his watchlist piece regarding the Rockies Class-A affiliates last week, Kyle Newman provides an in-depth scouting report on the prospects Rockies fans should keep an eye on at Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque this season.
For the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes, Newman highlights left-handed pitcher Ryan Rolison and right-handed pitchers Antonio Santos, Ryan Castellani and Chad Smith. He also touches on outfielder Ryan Vilade and third baseman Colton Welker (who is currently serving an 80-game suspension).
On the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats roster, Newman points to right handed pitchers Karl Kauffmann and Jake Bird along with left-handed pitcher Yoan Aybar as who to watch for on the mound. He also discusses catcher Max George, corner infielder Elehuris Montero and outfielders Jameson Hannah and Casey Golden on the position player side.
On the farm
Ryan Rolison’s second Triple-A start went much smoother than his first. Over five innings pitched, Rolison surrendered a solo home run while striking out seven Skeeters without allowing a walk. Wynton Bernard did the majority of the damage offensively, driving in three runs in the ballgame. Justin Lawrence also pitched a clean ninth inning with two strikeouts to secure the save.
The Hartford Yard Goats offense erupted for 13 hits against Sea Dog pitching. The team put up seven runs in the fifth inning, with the biggest blow being a Willie Abreu grand slam. Garrett Schilling provided six solid innings in his start and the bullpen delivered three scoreless innings in relief.
The Spokane Indians beat the Eugene Emeralds decisively on the road, tallying seven runs on 14 hits. Niko Decolati hit a three-run homer in the sixth inning, his fourth bomb of the season. Michael Toglia notched his first triple while Will MacIver added a double and two singles of his own. Chris McMahon recorded his finest start of the season, striking out seven in six innings without allowing a walk. Riley Pint also had an impressive night, striking out five and walking only one without allowing a hit in the final two innings to close out the victory.
Finally, in Fresno the Grizzlies lost a tough one to Inland Empire. Isaac Collins continues to swing a hot bat from the lead-off position, collecting two of the teams five hits in the game. Zac Veen and Ezequiel Tovar each had one run batted in.
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