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BSN Exclusive: The berg that steadied the Rockies' ship

Rich Allen Avatar
September 28, 2018

The adage is that hitting is contagious. But is relief pitching as well?

The Colorado Rockies’ early bullpen struggles are as well documented as they were stunning. Before June 27, the relief corps. allowed the fifth highest batting average in MLB — and the highest in the National League — the third highest OBP and the second highest wOBA, with their league-worst 5.56 ERA nearly .20 points behind No. 29. But in the three months since June 27, the team leads the NL in ERA, and is top five in baseball in OBP, AVG and Fielding Independent Pitching among other categories. The Rockies are one of three teams in baseball with 50 wins since that date, joining the Red Sox and Athletics, and lead the NL in win percentage over that period.

So what happened on June 27? The Rockies activated reliever Scott Oberg from the disabled list.

And he’s been a full-time rosteree since, save for a three-day paternity leave in August. He had bounced back to the minors for more than a month of the season before that, but quickly became a mainstay as other players dealt with injuries and he began to prove his worth. He had pitched solidly at times but was ultimately inconsistent before he was reinstated, working to a 3.79 ERA, but had trouble cementing himself in the veteran-laden bullpen until it became obvious his talent was needed.

He sharpened up his game and made himself indispensable.

“There’s always room for improvement, but from where I’m at right now versus where I was at, the year before when I got sent down and certainly times in the past, I think the quality of where my pitches are located, pitch selection, everything like that, it’s a little bit higher level than where it was at before,” Oberg told BSN Denver.

The adjustments the 28 year old has made have worked. By BSN Denver’s in-house statistic Dynamic Player Rating, Oberg has been the 17th best reliever in the NL, with a rating of 68.11. Only Adam Ottavino (whose 72.32 ranks fifth) has been better for the Rockies.

Traditional statistics have supported this as well. Oberg has posted a sub-1.00 WHIP, putting him just outside the top 20 in MLB in that metric, and is striking out more than four batters for every walk he’s issued. He got his ERA as low as 2.17 on Sept. 13, with a sub-2.00 ERA since that June 27 activation. His 3.03 FIP, while not topping any leaderboards, has been invaluable. But he’s also eaten up 56 innings, taking strain off Ottavino, Bryan Shaw and Wade Davis late in games.

When the Rockies recalled Oberg, a team that watched its biggest bullpen arms struggle suddenly had another arm manager Bud Black could lean on in high leverage situations. By having one more dependable arm, the dominoes started to fall and the group that had struggled mightily started outperforming practically everybody almost overnight.

“When you see other guys go out and do their jobs and get guys out, whatever the situation may be, it’s definitely one of those things where it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, let’s keep the train moving,'” Oberg said. “Let’s pick up where the last guy left off and win a ball game.”

For anecdotal evidence, look no further than Sept. 12’s game, which will be remembered for DJ LeMahieu’s walk-off home run. What that overshadows, however, is the five perfect innings thrown by the bullpen after Jon Gray lasted only four innings. They did so using only three pitchers: Chris Rusin in the fifth and sixth, Oberg in the seventh and eighth, and then Davis in the ninth. The Rockies avoided two of their biggest arms — Ottavino and SeungHwan Oh — in a game that didn’t see a lead greater than one run after the fifth. Every single one of those 15 outs was integral in producing a win, and they did it without their A-team.

That game was a polar extreme for this season, however. As Peter Gammons tweeted on Sept. 27, the Rockies lead the NL in games where the starter went at least six innings at 95. The rotation has kept the Rockies in games, and in turn has given the bullpen competitive games to control.

“I don’t really see it so much as pressure as it’s more like motivation. It’s like, ‘Hey, the starter gave us as much as he could, got through five. Now it’s on us to preserve the game.'”

Oberg’s steady arm has been integral in getting the Rockies into a position to contend for their first NL West title. He’s also making about 2 percent of what Davis is this season.

If you would have said this in April, I probably wouldn’t have believed you but if the Rockies make the playoffs, a large share of the credit has to go to Scott Oberg, for his personal work and the branching effects it had on the Rockies bullpen.


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