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Bullpen leadership vs. bullpen opportunity

Colorado Rockies news and links for Tuesday, August 9, 2022

At last week’s trade deadline, the Rockies bullpen saw an extension for Daniel Bard and some moves with Triple-A Albuquerque. There were no trade departures, no voids to fill, and no extra opportunities on the horizon for younger arms.

For the Rockies to retain extend Bard with a fifth-place divisional record, it may suggest the desire for a bullpen ‘captain’ is being fulfilled. (Bard was once a mental skills coach, after all.)

This idea presents a unique situation: Is it better for younger pitchers to have an advisor in their own shoes, or is it better for the advisor’s innings to be split up among younger pitchers themselves?

Colorado’s retention plan at the trade deadline meant even Alex Colomé, a reliever with more than seven years of service time, was not acquired by a team eyeing a playoff run. His ERA of 4.04 does not turn heads immediately, but his 0.81 ERA in 2020 was a key factor in his then-Chicago White Sox making the postseason. His one-year contract with the Rockies this year made him a prime trade candidate.

Colomé’s job is still the same, but it’s imaginably difficult showing up for it every day with the Rockies’ current placement in the NL West (and without a Bard-like extension). A deadline deal, now off the table, could have immediately gratified that void.

He’s still a veteran for the younger players to learn from, but those lessons come with innings that those younger players could instead receive.

As Bard holds a 1.99 ERA this year, it’s hard to view his work coming at the expense of someone else. Bullpen fatigue is a real thing, and the value of a dominant closer can prevent an already-thin bullpen from burning out even more. The comeback story of Bard alone makes it exciting to have him in uniform, and for those joining him on the pitching staff, his value is surely respected.

Is there a price to pay for prioritizing bullpen leadership?

Bard and Colomé are locked in through at least 2021. For arms like Justin Lawrence, Julian Fernández, Jake Bird and Chad Smith, their margin for error is now smaller for the rest of the year with even one bad outing. Perhaps it could be bigger — and perhaps confidence could naturally increase — if there weren’t as many tenured relievers in front of them.

By The Numbers: Rockies Relievers Since Trade Deadline

In the days following the August 2 trade deadline, the Rockies bullpen has fared beneath their pre-deadline performance in a lot of categories. One improved category, however, is FIP, a better-regarded predictor than ERA.

Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is often regarded as a measure of luck, so the extra .024 batting average points in a six-day span could have inflated ERA and WHIP beyond what could be expected. (Bonus fact: BABIP is entirely factored out of FIP.)

The data through August 2 also includes 24 dominant innings by Tyler Kinley (0.75 ERA), sidelined by injury since early June. With his work factored out, the Rockies would have posted an even 5.00 bullpen ERA before the trade deadline.

The sample size is extremely small when addressing this spread in just one week, but by accounting for Kinley’s absence and the variance in BABIP, there is not a significant shift in team pitching from before and after the trade deadline. (A 3.8% jump in walk percentage is not favorable, but the Padres do have Juan Soto after all.)

This alone may suggest business as usual for Rockies relievers — but maybe it’s not that simple either:

In-House Perspective

Deals for veterans like Bard, Colomé and Jhoulys Chacín have prevented the roster space for pitchers like Yency Almonte, a recently-departed Rockie that seems to be enjoying his new digs:

Almonte with the Dodgers this year: 31 13 IP, 1.15 ERA.

We cannot assume, but we can speculate: for Rockies pitchers fighting for consistent MLB action, is there ever a sense of feeling trapped within their own organization?

Rule Changes: How much relief opportunity exists in the second half?

Before 2020, MLB rosters in September would expand from 25 players to 40, allowing a load of Triple-A-caliber relievers to cut their teeth in a big league uniform. (You’re a diehard Rockies fan if you toughed out Bruce Bochy’s opposing pitching changes in those months.)

With the recent introduction of 26-man rosters, September now expands to only 28 players, keeping a lot of would-be relievers on the outside looking in. The total service time (or roster ‘days’) for both parameters are equal over a full season, but there is no longer backloaded opportunity for a crowd of players like there once was. Cups of coffee are now far more restricted.

For the Rockies bullpen, this could mean standard operating procedure through the end of the season, one where Triple-A arms are mainly kept in Albuquerque with a rotating Chad Smith, Jake Bird or Justin Lawrence filling in. It will take a serious roster shakeup, and an unpredicted one given the state of the current roster, for all three to develop in the big leagues together.

The guidance from Bard, Colomé and Chacín can be extremely beneficial for younger players, but the young guys have to stay in the league first to reap all of those resources.

While no fault of their own, veterans could be the ones keeping those younger players out.

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Gausman, Arenado named Players of the Week |

#28 returns to Denver today and he’s riding a serious hot streak. Nolan Arenado went 10-21 last week with a .476/.560/1.000 slash and his Cardinals have won seven straight.

3 numbers show second-half stumble | Rox Pile

Our guy Kevin Henry at Rox Pile presents the Colorado post-All-Star slide in numerical form, highlighting some key figures in a tough 5-13 stretch since the Midsummer Classic. With 106 runs allowed, the Rockies have the second-highest figure in baseball during that span, trailing only the Boston Red Sox.

Analysis: Rockies’ big bets on Kris Bryant, continuity fail to pay off in another lost season | The Denver Post

Patrick Saunders reflects back on Kris Bryant signing day for this one, covering the Rockies’ course of action in the months following his introduction. Included are plenty of quotes from Rockies GM Bill Schmidt over the course of the season, with Saunders analyzing the trend of action for where the club currently stands.

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On the Farm

Monday, August 8: League-wide off day for all minor league affiliates

New series starting today:

Triple-A: Reno Aces (ARI) at Albuquerque Isotopes (COL)

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

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

Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies (COL) at Inland Empire 66ers (LAA)

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