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Jake Bird set a foundation in 2022

There were ups and downs, but Jake Bird showcased many tools in 2022 that could lead to future success.

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.

★ ★ ★

No. 19, Jake Bird: 0.3 rWAR

One of many Rockies to make their debut in 2022, Jake Bird was also one of the most common fixtures on the team. Bird was called up to the majors on June 11th and he stayed there for good, doing a little bit of everything. Of his 38 appearances, 17 were multi-inning outings. He came in with runners on 12 times, pitched in every inning but the 1st and 2nd, put out fires, pitched a few crucial 7th and 8th innings, finished 11 games, and generally did everything a reliever can do outside of recording a save. All in all, Bird pitched 47 23 frames of 4.91 ERA ball in 2022, with a 4.96 FIP to match it (although his 3.97 SIERA and 4.11 xFIP paint a shinier picture). The run prevention numbers are just a tick below average, but for a rookie reliever it’s not bad at all, especially considering the tools and versatility he showed, as well as some of the peripherals under the hood.

His versatility is a plus, of course, and it’s something the right-hander has been doing ever since college. Unlike most modern relievers, Bird is used to multi-inning appearances, something you might be able to tell by the fact that he pitches out of the full windup, a relative rarity for a reliever and something that makes me like him right away. He pitched both as a starter and reliever in college, and the Rockies have developed him as a MIRP since he entered their system; Bird pitched 208 13 minor league innings in 118 outings, including four saves, 18 games finished and ten short starts. Based on how they deployed him during his rookie season, he’s likely to be a multi-inning fireman for the foreseeable future. Does he have the tools to excel?

You bet he does. For a pitching nerd such as myself, Jake Bird is one of the most interesting hurlers on the team. He’s a low-slot righty who sits in the mid 90’s (unusual velo for the arm slot) and has a nasty bowling ball seam-shifted sinker that moves as much as some changeups, except that it’s 94-96 MPH on average. This is a nasty pitch one can build an arsenal around. Keeping with the multi-inning look, Bird isn’t a two-pitch reliever either, and instead has two different armside weapons: a 90-93 MPH cutter with relatively average movement and a sharp 80-83 MPH curveball with some nasty horizontal movement. Interestingly, he also throws an upper 80’s changeup here and there to lefties that has excellent movement and performed very well in limited action in 2022. It’s a really balanced arsenal that gives him weapons to attack almost every type of hitter with, and a far deeper repertoire than the average reliever. You can see his delivery below (yes, I’m aware the pitch was hit on a line, but thanks to Twitter suspending @RoxGifVids, I have no other options to show you his mechanics!):

Bird’s main issues in 2022 were multi-faceted: his two fastballs were hit quite hard, he had some issues with homers (when he got hit hard and in the air, it was really hard and really far) and, most importantly, he had big problems with getting batters to chase pitches out of the zone. While one might look at his poor walk rate (10.9%, far worse than MLB average) and decide that he needs to throw more strikes, Bird threw pitches in the zone at a higher rate than average. His first pitch strike rate was poor, but it was the lack of swings on out of zone pitches that generated so many walks. The average batter against 2022 Jake Bird chased just 16.7% of pitches out of the zone (for reference, Juan Soto chased 17.2% of pitches out of the zone this season). That’s the main thing Bird and the Rockies will need to figure out moving forward: what changes can we make to our pitch mix, approach, etc., to get batters to chase a bit more often (I might write about that myself in the near future)?

In my opinion, Bird is an extremely talented arm with the tools to have a long and successful MLB career as a multi-inning fireman if he can get batters to chase a bit more often. Bird has an unusual release point, a nasty sinker, a good curveball, a cutter that acts as a bridge pitch, a developing changeup and good velocity. For the Rockies, it’s a matter of helping Bird put these excellent pieces together. He could very well be a permanent fixture in high leverage for the Rockies for years moving forward, and I’m excited to see him develop.

★ ★ ★

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