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Crafting a Gameplan for the Rockies Bullpen, Pt. 6: Recap

Welcome back the “Crafting a gameplan” series, a in-depth and data-based look at the Colorado Rockies pitching staff. In this edition, we’ll be taking a look at the Rockies bullpen.

This is Pt. 6 of a six-part mini-series about the Rockies bullpen integrated within the ‘Crafting a Gameplan’ series. I will discuss the Rockies bullpen as entity, and I will be covering each pitcher in the ‘pen (as of the time of writing) individually at one point or another, but will group athletes who share similarities in pieces so each one has a particular theme. I will eventually dedicate a full piece of the series to take a look at possible free agent options, and the final article will be a recap. The intended structure of this mini-series is as follows:

Each new entry will feature links to the previous parts, displayed up above. You can find the previous entries of the ‘Crafting a Gameplan’ series here:

Thank you very much for reading.

Well, we’re here. After a lot of pitchers and five different entries, we’ve reached the end of our work on the current version of the Rockies bullpen. We’ve talked about each pitcher individually, explained the general composition of the ‘pen and suggested some free agent and trade targets, but I want this final entry to be a general outlook and a way to encourage some discourse. This edition won’t have a detailed structure per se, just a reminder of what we’ve looked at and a stream of my thoughts about relievers and the bullpen as I was putting this piece of work together.

The Rockies bullpen has quite a bit of talent

Being a pitcher in purple pinstripes is a challenge, and one that often goes overlooked by the average fan. It’s not just that your pitches move differently in Coors Field, it’s also the transition from altitude to sea level. Often times, I don’t feel as if Rockies fans even appreciate the guys who are able to succeed at any level, much less with consistency (I’m including my past self in that). When paired with the inherent volatility of the reliever role, it’s easy to lose sight of the talent level present in our current bullpen. All nine hurlers we evaluated in detail have legitimate major league stuff; all are capable of getting outs consistently.

Good bullpens are a sure sign of a modern development team

As I’ve said many times, the modern pitching development philosophy is to find out what a guy is good at and A) boost it and have him do more of it, and B) build the rest of his arsenal to complement it. Because of the simplified repertoires, short-burst outings and ability to (somewhat) dictate opponents, no group of pitchers exemplify this more than single-inning relievers. All the organizations across the majors who excel at reliever development are well known for being deep into the world of data: Dodgers, Brewers, Guardians, Rays, Yankees, Astros, and so on.

Bullpen variety is incredibly important

This doesn’t necessarily mean righties and lefties in equal amounts, but rather a variety of release points and fastball and breaking ball shapes, among other things. The 2020 Rays bullpen, which almost pitched them to a World Series, was infamous for having a wide array of arm slots. In the Rockies’ case, their current bullpen (and really, their pitching staff as a whole) has a significant bias towards hurlers with sinkers, as well as an almost total lack of dominant power four-seamers. I’m one of the biggest supporters of groundball pitchers you will ever find, but when a pitching staff reaches this level of homogeneity, it’s not unfair to think that opponents will have an easy time adjusting from pitcher to pitcher. The more looks you give, the better, which is why I mainly suggested four-seam guys in Pt. 5 of the series.

The Rockies don’t have many pitchers with great extension

Extension can be a nice cheat code to make your pitches play up, and the Rockies don’t have many athletes who really get down the mound well. In fact (I just looked this up), in 2022 Colorado pitchers were tied for the lowest average extension in the majors at 6.1 feet. Of course, this doesn’t neccesarily mean anything: one of the three teams they tied with for dead last were the world champions, 2.90 team ERA Astros. But it was a curious takeaway nonetheless, and something I wanted to point out.

Both Rockies lefties have relatively neutral platoon splits

As I was writing the piece on Lucas Gilbreath and Brent Suter, something that never stopped being amusing to me is the fact that both guys are uniquely well positioned to face righties, with Gilbreath’s cut-and-rise fastball and vertical slider and Suter’s cutter/changeup combination being excellent weapons against the opposite hand. And in fact, it’s very easy to see a scenario where they’re maybe a bit more vulnerable to lefties at certain times. Not what you typically expect from a southpaw reliever, but a really good strength to have with the three-batter minimum here to stay.

Daniel Bard aside, most of the bullpen is pretty young and/or inexperienced

This is especially noticeable for the Bird/Lawrence/Hollowell/Gilbreath group — none are older than 28 and none have more than two years of big league experience. While Lamet and Suter will be free agents after 2023, there’s a talented core of relievers to build around for the future. Riley Pint, Blair Calvo and a few others, most notably one of the young minor league starters (Noah Davis, Peter Lambert, etc), can all enter that mix in the very near future as well.

The “too many fastballs” advice applies to the bullpen as well

It’s not just a starting pitcher thing; all Rockies pitchers throw too many fastballs and can get predictable as far as sequencing goes. If you noticed, I mostly skipped over that advice for the sake of brevity (save for the very first entry), focusing instead on the pitch mix, but it also goes without saying. There’s a good amount of quality breaking balls in the Rockies bullpen, in contrast to a lack of truly dominant fastballs; Bard’s sinker is the only truly overwhelming heater in the bullpen right now as far as I’m concerned, so let’s get that gap down a bit from where it’s a now (In 2022, Rockies relievers threw 62.8% fastballs, fourth-highest in the majors).

Dinelson Lamet should give master classes on how to throw a gyro slider

It’s a wonderful pitch, and I have no issues saying that some of the guys I suggested could throw a gyro slider as a change (Gilbreath, mainly, but this also applies to Antonio Senzatela) could probably take advice from him in that regard. Lamet creates some of the purest bullet spin you’ll see across the majors.

Justin Lawrence is one adjustment away from being Ottavino-esque

A truly unique release point, a fantastic sweeper, outlier mid-upper 90’s velo, and a sinker with tons of movement. Arsenal coherence is the name of the game for Justin, but he’s that one change away, tantalizingly close to his potential. A cutter or manipulating the slider a bit more, please.

Jake Bird’s continued development and versatility is crucial for this unit

Bird is probably the most versatile reliever in the bullpen, used to working in just about every leverage spot there is. He has a bright future as a middle-to-late inning stopper who puts out fires with men on base, bridges the gap to the closer and maybe even gets some multi-inning saves of his own at some point. He has real talent for high-velocity spin and his sinker is incredible. The Rockies should be creative with how they deploy him, because I believe he’s skilled enough to handle it.

Gavin Hollowell might surprise a few people next year

When I watched him pitch I came away impressed with his stuff, especially in that final outing when he started throwing cutters. When I looked at his pitch data in detailed, I came away convinced that he’s going to be an excellent reliever for a very long time. His slider is nasty, he has excellent fastball utility, and he even has a good changeup. If I were the Rockies I’d look to get him used to multi-inning outings, because this kind of repertoire depth is not common in a reliever. I’d bet on him making the Opening Day roster with ease.

There are a ton of talented relievers out there, both in free agency and the trade market

I landed on six names (Sean Reid-Foley, Julian Merryweather, Luis Perdomo, Tanner Scott, Touki Toussaint and Gregory Soto) but there are a lot of talented bullpen arms available and I had a difficult time narrowing the list down. I almost added Alex Lange, Andrew Chafin and a few others, for example. Finding guys who are positive outliers in one way or another is always a priority, and this offseason is a good moment to do so.

What did you think of this series?

This is a question for you, the reader. I always want to hear critique about what I’m doing, because I intend for these Gameplan pieces to be just as much about explaining concepts in a simple-ish way as they are about actual analysis and opinion. Thank you very much for every bit of feedback I get, it truly makes it all worth it for me.

This is a study made through my own research and conclusions. In order for it to be truly complete, it would require things such a biomechanical breakdown and some feedback from the pitcher himself, among others, which is data I don’t have access to. Please take what I present more as a suggestion than a stone-cold fact.

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