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Justin Lawrence is making the adjustments necessary of a big league reliever

Colorado Rockies news and links for Thursday, November 3rd, 2022

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Justin Lawrence—the Lion of Panama—cemented his big league status in 2022 with a career high 42 23 innings with the Colorado Rockies over 38 appearances. Most of those appearances came between late August and the end of the season, but Lawrence also leveraged a solid April and several months with Triple-A Albuquerque into an overall strong extended rookie campaign.

Lawrence was able to capitalize on some key adjustments he made over the offseason and at the start of the 2022 season to great success. These are the kind of adjustments a true big league reliever makes in order to establish and maintain their place in a team’s bullpen.

The key adjustment Justin Lawrence made between 2021 and 2022 was easing off the gas when it came to his pitches, and it might have paid dividends for his future success as a major-league reliever. Lawrence’s high-spin fastball averaged 97.4 MPH and could top out as high as 102 MPH during the 2021 season, but the tradeoff was that he couldn’t place it well. He also had trouble consistently locating his slider, and subsequently gave up a lot of hits and a lot of walks.

Justin Lawrence 2021 Pitch Usage
Image courtesy of Baseball Savant

The velocity on Lawrence’s sinker this season averaged 95.1 MPH and his spin rate dropped from 2350 RPM to 2281 RPM. In taking a tick off his sinker he began to command the pitch much better.

Justin Lawrence 2022 Pitch Usage
Image courtesy of Baseball Savant

Thanks to his improved command, Lawrence saw huge improvements in his H/9, BB/9, and SO/9 across both Triple-A and on the Rockies roster. His BB/9 in Albuquerque was in line with his performance last season, but his MLB BB/9 plummeted from 10.3 to 4.6 in just one season. He also took at least two points off his H/9 at both levels while his SO/9 also increased. He also didn’t particularly struggle with giving up home runs despite mechanical changes. Lawrence also saw increased movement on both of his pitches. His slider lost some vertical break (-2.4 inches compared to average) but gained more horizontal break (4.4 inches compared to average). His sinker gained both vertical (1.7 inches compared to average) and horizontal (0.3 inches compared to average) break per MLB Statcast.

Justin Lawrence Hits, Walks, and Strikeouts

Year Team G IP ERA HR BB SO H/9 BB/9 SO/9 HR/9
Year Team G IP ERA HR BB SO H/9 BB/9 SO/9 HR/9
2021 Triple-A Albuquerque 31 32.1 4.73 3 12 30 8.9 3.3 8.4 0.8
2021 MLB Rockies 19 16.2 8.64 0 19 17 11.3 10.3 9.2 0.0
2022 Triple-A Albuquerque 28 29.1 3.07 2 13 49 5.2 4.0 15.0 0.6
2022 MLB Rockies 38 42.2 5.70 3 22 48 9.3 4.6 10.1 0.6

These are all excellent changes, but Lawrence does still have room for improvement. Where Lawrence sees the most adversity is in his situational pitching. In low and medium leverage situations he pitches quite well, with batting averages against of .248 and .240 respectively. Unfortunately in high-leverage situations that average jumps, and he strikes out fewer batters and walks more. He also needs to improve when it comes to finishing innings. He pitches well with zero or one out, but trying to get that final out can be a challenge. With two outs his strikeouts per walk declines while the opposing batter’s stats again jump upwards. The same is true in close ballgames.

Justin Lawrence Situational Pitching 2022

Low Leverage 124 14 27 14 37 2.64 .248 .399 .349
Medium Leverage 28 5 6 2 7 3.50 .240 .286 .400
High Leverage 39 11 11 6 4 0.67 .344 .436 .500
Late and Close 42 9 12 5 5 1.00 .324 .405 .595
Tie Game 8 6 4 2 0 0.00 .667 .750 1.167
Within One Run 55 15 16 8 8 1.00 .356 .436 .622
Zero Outs 47 2 9 2 14 7.00 .205 .234 .296
One Out 61 7 13 6 16 2.67 .241 .312 .296
Two Outs 83 21 22 14 18 1.29 .324 .446 .515

When Lawrence started the 2022 season on the 26-man roster, he did extremely well over 11 appearances. Unfortunately he spent the better part of the season getting scattered appearances while being called up and down between the Rockies and Triple-A Albuquerque. However, Lawrence was so strong in Albuquerque that he has very little left to prove outside of the major league level.

While his ERA did balloon due to several difficult outings late in September, I firmly believe that a large contributor to that was his heavy usage late in the season. Lawrence went from limited big league innings to the Rockies’ most commonly turned-to reliever. He had just six appearances in August and then a whopping sixteen through September and October. His 22 total appearances over those two months and change were tied for the most out of the Rockies bullpen alongside veteran workhorse Carlos Estévez.

Justin Lawrence Pitching 2022

April 8 - May 6 11 12.1 2.19 3.19 9 3 3 10 16 0
May 17 - July 28 5 5.1 13.50 5.18 10 8 8 4 7 1
August 17 - October 3 22 25.0 5.76 3.11 25 16 16 8 25 2
Season 38 42.2 5.70 3.39 44 27 27 22 48 3

Lawrence must continue to make adjustments and improvements in order to thrive as a big league reliever. However, he has already clearly shown he can make those adjustments and find increased success. If Lawrence improved this much over just one offseason, I’m excited to see what he will do before 2023. The Lion of Panama—with his fierce mane of long curly hair and fascinating arm action—has the potential to establish himself as a steadfast major league reliever for years to come.

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What is each MLB team’s biggest need? One priority for all 30 teams entering offseason | The Athletic ($)

In this collaborative piece from The Athletic, baseball writers for all 30 MLB teams explore what their team needs the most this offseason. Nick Groke, Rockies beat writer, states that the Rockies need to figure out center field. Could an expensive contract for Brandon Nimmo be the answer?

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Arizona Fall League

Peoria Javelinas 7, Salt River Rafters 1

Zac Veen was once again the star of the Rafter’s offense, drawing three walks in five plate appearances with a hit and came home as their only run in the game. Grant Lavigne drew a walk but was otherwise held off the bases, while Warming Bernabel continues to struggle in the desert. Bernabel was again hitless in four at-bats and has an OPS of only .328 so far this fall. The only Rockies pitcher who took the mound was reliever Blair Calvo. Calvo pitched a scoreless eighth inning while giving up just one hit and striking out two batters.

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