The Colorado Rockies front office made it a point to improve their bullpen this past winter. It looks like that focus has paid off.
Understandably, people love to talk about how good the Colorado Rockies batting order is. Nolan Arenado, DJ LeMahieu, Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez, Ian Desmond and Mark Reynolds (yes, Mark Reynolds) among others would get any baseball fan giddy. This is in addition to offensive talents like David Dahl, Tom Murphy and Trevor Story, who are currently on the disabled list.
However, the real story of why the Rockies have been so successful early on lies with the elite performance of its bullpen.
Going into the winter, everyone knew that Colorado was stacked on the offensive side. It was the team’s pitching (both starting and relief) that was really holding the Rockies back from becoming a true playoff contender.
This being the case, the Rockies front office clearly made it a goal to beef up the team’s pitching staff, particularly in the bullpen.
After somewhat shockingly signing Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70 million contract, Colorado’s first step toward improving the pen was to bring aboard former Miami Marlins left-hander Mike Dunn.
Dunn, who turns 32 in a few days, has been a rather solid relief pitcher during his time in Major League Baseball. Granted, he hasn’t been spectacular, but his lifetime 10.0 K/9 rate and consistency throughout his career made the Rockies sure enough to give the veteran a guaranteed $15 million over two seasons, which also includes a $6 million team option for 2019.
He has been a welcomed addition thus far, pitching to a 2.92 ERA in 16 appearances, while increasing his strikeouts per game by over two. But Dunn has not been the story of the Rockies bullpen even with the solid numbers he’s putting up.
That honor belongs to former Kansas City Royals All-Star Greg Holland. Once one of the most dominant closers in baseball, the 31-year-old right hander was forced to sit out the entirety of the 2016 MLB season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery.
This allowed the Rockies to get him for a relative discount of $15 million for one year, plus a $15 million vesting option that looks like it will be triggered because Holland is on track to finish 30 games.
Holland’s not only finishing games though, he’s dominating in the late innings. So far, the Rockies closer has only allowed two runs in just under 18 innings of work. He’s also locked down 18 saves, which leads the entire league by a stunning six-save margin. Holland’s strikeout rate has also jived more with his career average, as he’s K’d over 12 batters per nine innings, while only walking 2.5 hitters per nine as well.
The former All-Star has looked like he did when he was a lockdown ninth-inning guy for the Royals during the 2012-2014 seasons.
However, the Rockies bullpen has not only been well served by its two notable additions, but also by some of their internal options that have turned into reliable late-inning pitchers.
The team’s 2016 closer Adam Ottavino has been solid over the early portion of this season, although he has not been as dominant as his 2016 self. Nevertheless, he’s still a better than average setup man.
Lefty Jake McGee has rebounded from a down year in 2016 by pitching to a 2.70 ERA and bumping up his strikeouts per nine by nearly four. This improvement clearly stems from his fastball ticking back up to what it was when he was a late-inning weapon for the Tampa Bay Rays. His pitches are tough to see and he has a fastball that makes hitters worry.
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Chris Rusin and Chad Qualls are veterans that have provided the Rockies with some scoreless frames out of the bullpen, with Rusin in particular taking on a somewhat more versatile role like many teams have (see Chris Devinski and Andrew Miller). Also, his earned run average of 2.28 was spiked up from one subpar appearance. So he’s pitched even better than his great statistics currently indicate.
Throw in a developing youngster like Carlos Estevez, whose fastball can reach the triple digits, and the Rockies have some more potential help if injuries were to arise.
The Rockies bullpen has been one of the more surprising stories given the fact that they pitch at Coors Field and they are led by a closer that is having a tremendous comeback season after recovering from injury.
Their bullpen’s effectiveness has been the key difference to why the Rockies have gone from a middling team looking to contend for a playoff spot to leading the NL West with Memorial Day fast approaching.
It remains to be seen how long the Rockies’ surging unit can keep up this type of performance, but it doesn’t seem like they are going to slow down anytime soon.
Do you think that the Rockies bullpen is built for success over a 162-game season? Let us know in the comments below.