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Justin Lawrence is on the brink of big league stability

Colorado Rockies news and links for Tuesday, May 10, 2022

PHOENIX — Justin Lawrence has a big league ERA of 2.19. That figure is well beneath the average in the Rockies bullpen and across relievers league-wide, and it’s far from the only category he’s excelled in.

“The whole thought of finally being in the big leagues or being a rookie or anything like that — mentally, you just have to make a decision to get over that hump,” Lawrence said.

He was optioned to Triple-A before Sunday’s game in Arizona, despite posting some of the best figures of his pro career.

WHIP is important — especially to be a shut-down reliever — but WHIP alone is far from the full body of work Lawrence has assembled as he pushes toward MLB tenure. He’s displayed a big-league ability to execute pitches at the early signs of damage, and even that WHIP has seen a 0.86 improvement from just a year ago.

“I didn’t make the team out of camp, but I got that opportunity and kind of showed them, ‘Hey, this guy is getting the job done when we need him to,’” Lawrence added.

He might have been slightly lucky based on his FIP and xFIP, but he’s still had great results even without the luck. Perhaps most notable is his ability to simply post zeros this year: eight of his 11 appearances have been scoreless, while he’s allowed a single run in the other three.

A clear takeaway from his performance can be his excellent strikeout percentage, well above the Rockies’ reliever average, and a fly ball percentage that screams Coors Field favorable:

Lawrence maintains a degree of humility through it all, despite standing out in the Colorado bullpen. “[I’ve been] a little more consistent, but there’s still work to be done,” he said.

Fighting for a Spot

Lawrence on how long that big league ‘hump’ can take players to get past after they debut: “For some guys it might last three years; for some it might last a week.”

Five of the nine relievers currently on the Rockies’ big league roster cannot be optioned; of the four remaining, Tyler Kinley (31 years old) Ty Blach (31) and Ashton Goudeau (29) are well beyond the age to be considered prospects. This leaves Lawrence (27) and Lucas Gilbreath (26) covering the potential for a revolving door with Triple-A — and helps to explain why the Rockies have used fewer relievers than any other team in the big leagues this year.

The game has changed. The modern era of big league relief pitching features harder velocity than ever before, but the amount of games have remained consistent while the average length of a big league start has declined for years. Teams have been forced to view their Triple-A bullpen as an extension of the big league bullpen for this reason, exercising call-ups and demotions as a means to keep arms fresh. (Colorado put this on display in 2021 with guys like Lawrence, Gilbreath, Ben Bowden, Jordan Sheffield and Julian Fernández.)

This is part of the modern hump that prevents relievers from truly reaching big league status on the day they debut: yes, you have ‘arrived’, but the game isn’t structured to keep you there if options are available. A fresh big league bullpen takes serious priority.

“If I want to play here for a long time at this level, I’ve got to get over that hump as soon as possible,” Lawrence added.

Lawrence’s Slider: Same Animal, Different Beast

“I kind of completely switched up the grip on my slider,” Lawrence said. In his words: “My goal is to have kind of like the flat part of the ball on top, and kind of have this spot of air kind of pushing it down as it makes its way to the plate.”

This spot of air is suggestive of laminar flow on Lawrence’s slider, given some increased deviation between his observed and spin-based axis. Simply put: it makes it nastier and appears to have made him more consistent at the same time.

Data courtesy of Baseball Savant

Lawrence has maintained relatively stable velocity, revolutions and spin efficiency on this pitch, suggesting there hasn’t been a complete overhaul in terms of how the slider moves off his fingers. The re-grip has altered some vertical and horizontal movement, and a simple reposition appears to have built some versatility. “I feel more confident being able to go in the zone or out of the zone in whatever count,” he said.

It isn’t every day that you get to see a nasty, low-3/4 arm-slot touching 100 with a wipeout breaking ball. It isn’t every season that you see an arm like that make a huge jump, but we’re seeing it before our very eyes. His body of work has temporarily joined the Pacific Coast League, ready for promotion now more than ever.

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Rockies’ shortstop José Iglesias, who replaced Trevor Story, has been a bargain pickup | The Denver Post

Expectation has been set in Boston, where Trevor Story looks to prove $140 million in value over six years. Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post covers how things are a little different in Denver right now, but how $5 million for José Iglesias has paid dividends unlike some may have first projected.

Giants’ Evan Longoria says he’s ready to make 2022 debut | The San Francisco Chronicle

The Rockies suffered an 8-5 loss at the hands of the Giants on Monday night, and the San Francisco lineup could be getting even tougher within a matter of days. It has yet to be announced if Evan Longoria will be activated in time for the current series, but his return is set to bring more presumed challenge to the NL West.

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On the Farm

Monday, May 2: League-wide off day for all minor league affiliates

New series starting today:

Triple-A: Sugar Land Skeeters (HOU) at Albuquerque Isotopes (COL)

Double-A: Portland Sea Dogs (BOS) at Hartford Yard Goats (COL)

High-A: Spokane Indians (COL) at Hillsboro Hops (ARI)

Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies (COL) at Visalia Rawhide (ARI)

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