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The Rockies arm barn is good, actually?

Colorado Rockies news and links for Thursday, April 14th, 2022

Through the first five games of the 2022 season the Colorado Rockies have a record of 4-1, sit atop their division in the National League West, and have even toppled the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers in their opening series. Perhaps most surprising in this admittedly-way-too-small sample size is the emergence of a league-leading bullpen. In a good way.

Like most other teams, the Rockies are keeping their starting pitchers on pitch counts as a result of the shortened spring training in order to help them stretch out and avoid injuries. The only Rockies pitcher to make it through five or more complete innings in their first run through the rotation was Germán Márquez. The ace’s efficiency helped him pitch through seven full innings: he only threw 74 total pitches. Chad Kuhl and Austin Gomber made it through four innings, while Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela made it through three.

Because the rotation is on a short leash, the Rockies have had to rely heavily on their bullpen. Their reliever core has pitched 23 innings through their first five games, the 12th-most in the league. (Tampa Bay leads at 30 23 innings.) In their 23 innings of work, the Rockies bullpen has been shockingly good. They boast a league-best bullpen ERA of 0.78, a league-most saves with four, and are in the top five when it comes to WHIP (third best with 0.91), batting average against (fourth best with .183), home runs allowed (multiple-way tie for second best with one) and BB% (fifth best with 6.7%). Of the eight relievers the Rockies have deployed thus far, only two are credited with earned runs.

It remains very early in the season, but the question of “is the Rockies bullpen actually good?” stands. An ERA of 0.78 just isn’t sustainable for the Rockies. We’ve already seen some pitchers get very lucky, such as Randal Grichuk saving Jhoulys Chacín from a three run home run against the Texas Rangers on April 12th.

The Rockies bullpen likely won’t finish the season as the best in baseball... but that’s OK. A dive into more advanced metrics project how good this bullpen is likely to be. In addition to pitcher WAR, statistics like FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, which focuses exclusively on things a pitcher has control over), xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, which adjusts the home runs a pitcher allows), and SIERA (Skill-Interactive ERA, a newer model that adjusts ERA to the “underlying skill” of the pitcher) allow stat-heads a more in-depth look projecting how good the bullpen is compared to basic statistics.

Rockies Bullpen Rankings: 2020-2021

Category Stat Number MLB Rank
Category Stat Number MLB Rank
Innings Pitched 771.0 4th least
fWAR 1.1 4th worst
ERA 5.40 Worst
FIP 4.84 4th worst
xFIP 4.83 2nd worst
SIERA 4.44 2nd worst
AVG .259 3rd worst
K/9 8.50 5th worst
BB/9 4.20 8th worst
HR/9 1.35 5th worst

There’s no beating around the bush here: the Rockies’ bullpen from 2020-21 was absolutely terrible. Scraping the bottom in most categories including advanced metrics, they were one of the worst units in the league. It was a bullpen severely lacking in both depth and talent. 2020 saw just 4 13 innings of Wade Davis with a 20.77 ERA, normalized to a 12.88 FIP and 7.44 xFIP. It was the end of the brutal failure that was the “Super Pen” era. The Rockies were forced to reinforce the bullpen with a multitude of unprepared prospects, rookies, and minor league arms like Phillip Diehl, José Mujica, and Antonio Santos. The lone bright spot that year was the resurgence of Daniel Bard.

2021 was still a bad year, but saw genuine improvement with the additions of Lucas Gilbreath, Robert Stephenson, the return of Jhoulys Chacín, and a strong campaign from Carlos Estévez after struggling with injuries in the previous season.

Rockies Bullpen Comparison: 2020-2022

Year IP fWAR ERA FIP xFIP SIERA AVG K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Year IP fWAR ERA FIP xFIP SIERA AVG K/9 BB/9 HR/9
2020 206.0 -0.7 6.77 5.56 5.38 4.80 .300 7.73 4.06 1.66
2021 565.0 1.7 4.91 4.58 4.63 4.36 .246 8.78 4.25 1.24
2022 23.0 0.7 0.78 2.70 3.86 3.07 .183 8.22 2.35 0.39

The Rockies’ bullpen is much better equipped than it was previously. Currently the Rockies have used eight of the nine relievers on the active roster. Jordan Sheffield has yet to make an appearance, while Lucas Gilbreath and Robert Stephenson — both of whom had excellent 2021 seasons — are on the COVID IL to start the year. Daniel Bard has two saves in three appearances and is feeling confident to start the season. Carlos Estévez, Tyler Kinley and Jhoulys Chacín both had very solid 2021 campaigns and simply need to build on that for this year to be a success. Ashton Goudeau has finally made an Opening Day roster after a very strong spring and is already paying dividends out of the pen. Justin Lawrence didn’t make the final 28-man roster to start the season, but he took advantage of the opportunity when Gilbreath and Stephenson went down and is pitching well. Ty Blach had an excellent four inning save, allowing only one hit and striking out four in his first appearance of the year. When Gilbreath and Stephenson return, the Rockies are spoiled enough that there are some tough roster decisions to make.

Rockies Bullpen Pitchers - First Five Games

Pitcher IP fWAR ERA FIP xFIP SIERA AVG K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Pitcher IP fWAR ERA FIP xFIP SIERA AVG K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Daniel Bard 3.0 -0.1 3.00 5.72 4.21 2.49 .182 12.00 0.00 3.00
Alex Colomé 1.2 0.1 5.40 1.85 4.39 3.94 .556 5.40 0.00 0.00
Jhoulys Chacín 4.1 0.3 0.00 1.90 3.85 3.00 .000 8.31 2.08 0.00
Tyler Kinley 2.0 0.0 0.00 3.05 3.76 4.03 .333 13.50 9.00 0.00
Justin Lawrence 2.1 0.0 0.00 2.62 2.62 2.96 1.25 7.71 3.86 0.00
Ashton Goudeau 3.1 0.1 0.00 2.15 3.85 2.98 .100 8.10 2.70 0.00
Carlos Estévez 2.1 0.1 0.00 3.05 5.47 5.55 .250 0.00 0.00 0.00
Ty Blach 4.0 0.1 0.00 1.80 3.21 2.53 .077 9.00 2.25 0.00

While the whole “league-best bullpen” thing is completely unsustainable, the advanced metrics help to project that this year’s bullpen could be something they have sorely needed them to be: good. Not league best, but certainly better than what fans have suffered through over the last two seasons.

★ ★ ★

C.J. Cron providing Rockies with power at a bargain price | Denver Post ($)

Patrick Saunders does the math. CJ Cron was paid just $1 million for his 28 home run 2021 season, breaking down to $35,714.29 per homer. San Diego’s Manny Machado earned over a million dollars per home run last season, while JD Martinez earned just under $692,000. Cron signed a two year contract for $14.5 million this offseason and is already proving himself a good deal as the Rockies’ cleanup hitter as both a first baseman and designated hitter. In five games he’s hit two towering home runs and a triple. Cron had improved home/road splits in the second half of the season and wants to keep improving.

“I don’t go up to the plate trying to hit home runs, but I always try to hit the ball hard when I get up there,” Cron said. “And it seems like when I get them, they go.”

★ ★ ★

On the Farm

Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes 7, Tacoma Rainiers 6

Isotopes starting pitcher Dillon Overton pitched well in his second start of the season, striking out nine batters over five innings while allowing three runs. Brandon Gold pitched two innings of relief while giving up two runs on three hits. Both Overton and Gold allowed a home run. Julian Fernández pitched 23 of an inning with an unearned run, a hit, a walk, and a strikeout. Logan Cozart pitched 13 of an inning, and Jake Bird earned his first save of the year with a scoreless ninth. Colton Welker, Ryan Vilade, and Taylor Snyder all had 2-for-4 games, while Wynton Bernard went 2-for-3 with three RBIs.

Double-A: Hartford Yard Goats 8, New Hampshire Fisher Cats 5

Everyone shared in the wealth for the Yard Goats’ eight run, eight hit evening. Six of the starting nine had at least one hit, and six of the starting nine had at least one RBI. Coco Montes had an excellent game at the plate with a 3-for-4 game. Willie MacIver hit a three run home run that we’re pretty sure never came back down. Starting pitcher Karl Kauffmann gave up a lot of contact with seven hits, but only allowed one run and walked one batter. He struck out eight in an impressive 4 23 inning start, his first of the season. Blair Calvo is credited with the win after pitching a scoreless 1 13 innings of relief. The rest of the bullpen struggled somewhat, with PJ Poulin giving up two unearned runs on three hits in 1 13 innings, while Gavin Hollowell gave up two earned runs on two hits in 1 23 innings to finish up the game.

High-A: Spokane Indians 5, Eugene Emeralds 2

Strong pitching performances headlined the Indians’ victory over the Emeralds. Austin Kitchen pitched five innings of two run baseball in his first start at the High-A level. He struck out five batters, but did allow six hits including a home run. Luke Taggart, signed as an undrafted free agent in 2021, pitched two near flawless innings in relief and was credited with the win. Taggart struck out four, walked none, and allowed just one hit. Fineas Del Bonta Smith earned a two inning save, striking out two, walking one, and giving up one hit. Offensively, three multi-hit outings made up the bulk of Spokane’s nine total hits. Top prospect Zac Veen was 2-for-4 with an RBI, Robby Martin Jr. was also 2-for-4, and Bladimir Restituyo had a strong 3-for-4 game.

Low-A: San Jose Giants 7, Fresno Grizzlies 3

Colorado product Case Williams struggled in his first start of the season, giving up five runs (four earned) on six hits and two home runs. He walked four batters and struck out just two through four innings of work. Tyler Ras pitched for two innings in relief, also giving up a home run with three hits and two runs. He did strike out three batters. Ever Moya and Joel Condreay both bitched scoreless innings. The Grizzlies had nine hits but only scored three runs, going 2-for-14 with RISP and striking out 12 times. Amael Amador, Warming Bernabel, and Braxton Fulford all had two hit games, while Braiden Ward was 1-for-2 with two walks and the Grizzlies’ lone RBI.

★ ★ ★

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