Reason for Hope at Coors? Rockies Looking for Relief From 2019 Bullpen Struggle
The Rockies have had a quiet off-season which has created a stir among members of the media and the fan base.
The team, however, remains optimistic about what lays ahead, to the point that owner Dick Monfort predicted last weekend that the Rockies will win a franchise-record 94 games in 2020, without any significant roster additions in the off-season.
In the days leading up to spring training, InsidetheSeams.com will take a look at why there can be reason for hope after a season of disappointment.
A bullpen that had been a foundation for success in the Rockies post-season trips in 2017 and 2018 faded into a major headache in 2019. The relievers had a losing record, converted only 55 percent of their save opportunities, but also found itself called upon to work 86 more innings in 2019 than it did in 2018.
As a high-priced free agent, signed prior to 2018, Wade Davis found himself in the spotlight in 2019 for all the wrong reasons. He went into the 2019 season with a 2.07 ERA in 374 career relief appearances. In 2019, however, he was 1-6 coming out of the bullpen, did convert 15 of 18 save opportunities, but suffered with an 8.65 ERA. How bad was it? He had seven appearances in which he allowed three or more runs, giving up 19 hits, 10 walks and 28 runs (27 earned) while retiring only six batters in the seven games.
Six of those seven appearances came at Coors Field, but it was more about location of pitches than location of the ballpark. Known during his time as a starting pitcher for his ability to command four pitches, Davis concluded at season's end that he would be better served to cut back on the variety if he is going to maintain a ninth-inning role.
The Rockies did go into July last season having recovered from a 3-12 start to the season and feeling good about their ability to make a push for a third consecutive post-season appearance. From July 1 on, however, the Rockies season fell apart. They had to win a Game 162 to avoid a last place finish in the NL West.
And the bullpen was a definite factor in the late-season slide. Their bullpen had the second worst winning percentage among the 15 NL teams in the final three months of the 2019 season, going 11017, a .393 winning percentage. Only the Mimi Marlins had a worst winning percentage (.387, going 12-19), and the Marlins finished with the worst record in the NL.
The Rockies had fewer save opportunities(22) than 12 of the NL teams during the second half of the season. The only two NL teams that did not have more than 22 opportunities in the second half were the Marins (8-for-22), who finished with the worst record in the NL (57-105) and the Pirates (10-for-8=18), who finished with the second worst record in the NL (69-93).
How bad of a season was it? So bad that the Rockies 54.9 percent ratio in save situations ranked as the fifth words in franchise history. Only twice in franchise history did the Rockies bullpen earn fewer than the 27 saves of 2019 -- 26 saves in 2001 and 24 in 2014.
Meanwhile, the Rockies set a franchise record in 2017, converted 77 percent of their opportunities. They converted 65.4 percent in 2018, which ranks sixth in franchise history. Three of the five seasons in which the Rockies had a better percentage resulted in post-season trips -- 2017, 2009 (73.8 percent) and 1995 (69.4 percent).
In the struggle of 2019, however, there were some promising moments. Scott Oberg was sidelined the final six weeks of the season after a blood clot developed in his right shoulder, but in 49 appearances prior to that he not only had a 2.25 ERA and a .196 batting average allowed but won six of seven decisions and converted five of eight save opportunities.
Jairo Diaz also stepped forward, making 56 appearances in which he converted five of eight save opportunities and compiled a 6-4 record.
The concerns, however, grew about veterans Bryan Shaw (1-for-6 in saves with a 5.38 ERA) and Jake McGee (4.35 ERA, two blown saves aand losses in his only two decisions). Both are signed for 2020, with Shaw having a clause that will guarantee him $9 million in 2011 if he makes 40 appearances in 2020.