Colorado’s Rocky Bullpen
The Colorado Rockies have the most expensive bullpen in baseball. However, the Rockies bullpen has been one of the most confusing ‘pens in the Major Leagues in 2018, with results from proven veterans being both radically better and worse than their career norms. While the volatility of MLB bullpens is well documented, it seems as if the Rocky Mountain air has taken that volatility to a whole new level.
Some pitchers can survive the move to Coors and some cannot. Bryan Shaw, who had never had an ERA outside of 2.5-3.5 prior to his signing in Colorado, seems to be in the latter group. There is no beating around the bush: sporting a 6.98 ERA, Shaw has been bad. His .375 BABIP seems to give a small glimmer of hope that he has been unlucky, but then you look deeper and realize perhaps not. Shaw has been the victim of the very worst of Coors field, coupled with simply being not good. His hard-hit rate, which sits at 24.1% for his career, has ballooned to 36.7%. Shaw has also seen his historically decent control jump from a career 3.2 BB/9 to 4.9. When your two most common outcomes are a hard hit ball or a walk, you probably aren’t going to be a very successful pitcher.
If I were a conspiracy theory type, I could certainly get behind one that claimed Adam Ottavino stole all of Bryan Shaw’s talent through blood transfusions or vampire-like shenanigans. Having spent basically his entire career in Colorado, Ottavino has always been inconsistently good, never great. 2018, however, has been such a different story that it was notable he was snubbed for the All-Star Game. Ottavino has been the best Rockie pitcher and one of the most effective relievers in baseball. Having always relied on an elite slider, Ottavino has induced more swings and misses than ever before, lowering his contact% from 74 to 67.8. Besides his slight uptick in missing bats, Ottavino is basically the same pitcher he always has been, and besides a slightly low BABIP of .270, there is no real reason to think he will significantly regress.
Shaw and Ottavino slot in somewhere between Middle Relief and Setup men, but the most important Rockies reliever is undoubtedly Wade Davis. The Rockies closer has suffered some minor injuries but has held onto his role for the entire season. His velocities and strikeout/walk numbers remain largely consistent to his recent career and the 2018 free agent signee seems as if he has managed to survive the move to Coors Field. However, his In-Zone Contact% has risen to an incredible 92.5%, much higher than both the league average and his career norm. His main statistics have managed to remain consistent due to an incredible .231 BABIP, significantly lower than league average, and even more alarming considering what Coors should and has done to batted ball luck. If Davis continues to let up high contact numbers it is hard to believe a subpar Rockies defense will be able to prevent the normalization of his luck, and thus a declined effectiveness.
What to make of them?
The Rockies relievers have all parts good, bad and ugly, but they are certainly not the “do not buy under any circumstance” pitching market that Colorado once was. Ottavino has been elite, and there is a real chance Davis’ BABIP luck swings back and he has a Shaw-sian season in 2019. If Ottavino continues this season into the future and Davis goes the way of Shaw, there is no reason (besides perhaps the large quantities of money owed to Davis) to prevent Ottavino from stealing his job.