Welcome to the 2022 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2022. 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.
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No. 34, Gavin Hollowell: -0.2 WAR
Gavin Hollowell was one of many rookies who got their first taste of the major leagues for the Rockies late in the 2022 season, and while his ERA of 7.71 in just seven MLB frames doesn’t look too impactful, there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface. In fact, Hollowell showcased some tools that could earn him a permanent role as one of the team’s best and most reliable relievers moving forward.
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2019 MLB Draft, Hollowell’s natural low-slot delivery always pushed him to the bullpen even prior to entering pro ball, as he’s pitched exclusively in relief ever since his freshman year of college. He’s been a consistently great performer throughout MiLB, with a 2.86 ERA and 12.5 strikeouts per nine across three different levels. Hollowell began 2022, his age-24 season, in Double-A Hartford and became the semi-regular closer for a very good Yard Goats team before jumping straight to the majors on September 18th, 2022.
His first MLB outing, facing the Giants, didn’t go brilliantly in the end. He was thrust into a Coors Field extra-innings game right away and struck out the first two batters he faced, but he then walked Lamonte Wade Jr. and gave up a three-run homer to Thairo Estrada. He also had some great outings, however, including a stellar 1 2⁄3-inning outing at Dodger Stadium in which he sat down all five Dodgers he faced. Ultimately, however, the sample size is just too small either way (32 batters faced) to make a judgement on Hollowell based on his raw run prevention numbers. When talking about young relievers like him, it’s far better to look at their approach and pitch mix to get a good idea of what they could be in the near future.
At 6’7” 215 pounds, Hollowell is one of the tallest players in the Rockies organization. He’s quite athletic and well coordinated for his frame, gets elite extension down the mound on his delivery, and his low release point gives him a fairly unique look that creates interesting angles on his pitches.
Gavin Hollowell slams the door on the Sea Dogs! pic.twitter.com/41A5HSyTe2— Hartford Yard Goats (@GoYardGoats) July 31, 2022
His trademark pitch is a big frisbee slider around 80-83 MPH which gets incredible sweeping action, on average around 14-15 inches of glove-side movement. He threw it just about 40% of the time in the majors, and opponents went 0-for-12 with five strikeouts against it. Small sample size and all, but like most sweeping sliders, it was extraordinary at generating soft contact as well: the average exit velocity against was 71.7 MPH and it generated lots of lazy pop-ups and flyballs.
Hollowell mainly threw two different fastballs to complement his slider -a sinker and a four-seamer, both between 92-95 MPH. As you might expect from a side-armer, his sinker has great action, but while his four-seamer is a bit flatter and you might dismiss it because of that, think twice: Hollowell’s lower-than-usual release point and elite extension give that four-seam fastball a pretty flat Vertical Approach Angle, and thus a ton of utility up in the zone. As I covered in my Germán Márquez piece, having two different fastballs allows you to attack all sorts of hitters, and Hollowell has that tool.
Perhaps most interesting is that Hollowell also threw a few changeups with pretty good action, and in his final outing in L.A. he also threw six cutters (88-90 MPH). As Daniel Bard’s multi-faceted slider proves, developing a bridge pitch between your fastball and your big, slow breaking ball is a great technique to make all your pitches play up. Cutters are gaining popularity across MLB for this very reason. All in all, if the change and cutter keep being deployed, they would make Hollowell a quite unique reliever: an extremely tall, lanky side-armer with a five-pitch mix. This opens up all sorts of possibilities for him. Does he become more sinker-slider dominant against righties? Does he exchange the sinkers (and some of the sliders) for four-seamers, changeups and cutters against lefties? He's still only 24 years old, so he's still ironing things out, but there are good materials to work with here.
With some level of bullpen turnover expected this offseason, Hollowell figures to be a regular in the relief corps moving forward, and he has the tools to have a long, successful career as a big league reliever. We'll see how things go for him in his first full season in The Show.
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