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Yency Almonte is the latest chapter in departed, rebranded relievers

Colorado Rockies news and links for Tuesday, June 21, 2022

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The Dodgers did what with Yency Almonte?

Since being called up on May 12, Almonte has posted a big-league ERA of 1.13. He’s allowed just two runs in 16 innings.

Nick Groke and Fabian Ardaya talked about Almonte earlier this month, and it’s no surprise that something is being done in L.A. just by looking at pitch data alone.

Groke and Ardaya’s piece documents Almonte’s changes with far more detail; in respect of their hard work, this article is meant to serve as a follow-up on other arms with similar departures from Colorado within the past five years. Check out Groke and Ardaya’s article for all further details on Almonte.

Here’s Where We’re At:

The Rockies are working with a challenged bullpen for the rest of the season, given the following:

1. Tyler Kinley is likely out for the year.

2. Colorado has used the fewest relievers out of any team. (Burnout could be real.)

3. The Albuquerque Isotopes have the highest ERA out of any Triple-A team (6.82).

4. Coors.

Daniel Bard (1.98 ERA) and Alex Colomé (2.13) have continued to serve as late-inning anchors, but a single reliever like present-day Almonte could do wonders for a staff that has little margin for error.

There is a cast of recently-departed Rockies that have suited up in new uniforms within the past five years. With a depleted core of relievers for 2022, which of those departed arms would best serve the current bullpen in its depleted state?

Perhaps more pressing: How have they developed since leaving Colorado?

Case Study: Adam Ottavino

Ottavino rebuilt himself in an empty New York City storefront after the 2017 season, so it’s tough to credit an organization with his resurgence without directing a lot of the credit to Ottavino himself.

The Rockies saw the fruits of his rebranding labor, much to the tune of increased sinkers, plummeting fastball use and an ERA that was cut in half from 2017 to 2018.

Ottavino currently holds a 2.92 ERA for the Mets, which is his lowest since his first year as a Yankee (1.90, 2019). His fastball use returned to pre-2018 levels after the shortened 2020 season, and he’s settling in well this year after a 4.21 ERA with the Red Sox in 2021.

He’s put on three different uniforms in the past three years. For an arm that pretty much brought his career back to life on his own, we would be remiss to suggest he’s seen an Almonte-like breakthrough courtesy of any one organization.

Case Study: Jake McGee

Groke and Ardaya talk about McGee’s story alongside Almonte; this case study is likely the most similar, but it isn’t as clear as one might think.

McGee’s pitch profiles didn’t change much from his time with the Rockies to the Dodgers. His fastball axis and velocity was nearly identical. The Dodgers did have him working a career-high rate of heaters, which was seemingly enough to provide huge value while the Rockies paid him to play against them. (If only it were always that simple: when in doubt, 95% fastballs.)

A World Series championship in 2020 was a huge breakthrough for an arm that was released by the Rockies just days before the 2020 season even began. McGee went on to record 31 saves for the Giants last year, but the now-35-year-old has a 5.60 ERA this year (17 23 IP) and has been suffering some back issues.

Case Study: Bryan Shaw

Another member of the 2017-born “Super Bullpen” is Cleveland’s Bryan Shaw, an arm the Rockies welcomed back to Coors Field last week in harsh fashion.

A 12-year sample size above has a big change in 2020, but Shaw only threw six innings that year (one year with Seattle, 18.00 ERA).

His return to Cleveland was a return to his old identity, of sorts. Shaw led MLB with 81 pitching appearances, something he had also done in his final season before coming to Colorado (2017, 79).

This career rebirth could be more along the lines of finding his old comforts — a la Jhoulys Chacín in 2021 — and with an ERA in the threes for both 2021 and 2022, Shaw is performing in the same territory as his initial five-year stint in Cleveland. Pitch data is unavailable on Baseball Savant from before 2020, but Shaw’s career mix alone might suggest he’s been pretty consistent with how he throws his pitches.

Case Study: Wade Davis

A streak of three consecutive All-Star appearances came to a close when Wade Davis first arrived in Colorado; one look at his Baseball Reference page will show you Davis’ Colorado downfall ending in 2020.

Davis signed a minor-league deal with the Royals in 2021, the club he found raving success and World Series accomplishment with. He did pitch 42 23 innings with the big league club in 2021, but his 6.75 ERA wasn’t enough to keep him around. Davis has not thrown a big league pitch since then.

Davis has also not found an Almonte-like rebirth since leaving Kansas City, but at 36 years old, it’s more difficult for a club to take a chance on somebody without minor league options remaining.

Case Study: Greg Holland

Here is a reliever that has been gone for five years; Greg Holland led the NL in saves during his lone season with the Rockies (2017; 41, 57.1 IP), and the last of his three All-Star appearances came in a Colorado uniform.

Holland has a 7.71 ERA with the Rangers this year (4 23 IP) and the small sample is enough to disregard the final data inputs on the above graph. The steady increase of sliders and decrease of fastballs could be a product of declining velocity with age, but there aren’t any glaring instances to his pitch selection that would suggest he found a post-Colorado, Almonte-like breakthrough.

In Review

It’s fairly clear to see the Dodgers developed Almonte in ways the Rockies did not. This doesn’t mean a similar story has presented itself for other recently-departed arms, but it also doesn’t mean one instance should be disregarded.

The art of pitching for a long career requires adjustments. This is a given, of course, but the art of reinventing is what allows pitchers to be a different animal if they need to revive their careers. One player’s adjustments is enough to start a conversation, and while other arms aren’t as noticeably changed, it doesn’t diminish adjustments that are successfully implemented.

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Baseball phenom Jackson Holliday honors his father, Matt, on and off the diamond | The Denver Post ($)

We are less than one month away from the 2022 MLB Draft and a familiar last name will be called as a projected top-five pick. Jackson Holliday, the son of Rockies legend Matt Holliday, has turned heads with a projectable frame and breakout performance at Oklahoma’s Stillwater High School. The school itself is just blocks away from Oklahoma State University, where Matt Holliday coaches alongside his brother Josh, the head coach.

The Rockies pick 10th in the draft this year, which could be out of Jackson’s projection, but Zac Veen was also out of projection range in 2020. For the second-consecutive season, the MLB Draft will be held during All-Star Week.

Colorado Rockies podcast: The keys between now and the All-Star break | Rox Pile

Our friend Kevin Henry of Rox Pile addresses what it will take to get the Rockies back to .500, along with the tough road ahead with competitive opponents in late June. He points out how the Rockies have never fared particularly well at Marlins Park, and how the upcoming series against the first-place Twins and Dodgers can further suggest what the Rockies have in store as the trade deadline looms.

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On the Farm

Monday, May 30: League-wide off day for all minor league affiliates

New series starting today:

Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes (COL) at Las Vegas Aviators (OAK)

Double-A: Hartford Yard Goats (COL) at Somerset Patriots (NYY)

High-A: Everett Aquasox (SEA) at Spokane Indians (COL)

Low-A: Modesto Nuts (SEA) at Fresno Grizzlies (COL)

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