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Reliever of the Year: Estévez provides consistency for Rockies' Jekyll & Hyde bullpen

Patrick Lyons Avatar
November 1, 2021

During his successful career as a Colorado Rockies closer, Brian Fuentes was named to the National League All-Star Team three-times and saved 115 games, most amongst any pitcher in the history of the team.

Brian Fuentes Awards for Best Relief Pitcher

Carlos Estévez

Heading into the 2020 season, the Colorado Rockies featured the return of five solid arms in their relief corps: Daniel Bard, Carlos Estévez, Tyler Kinley, Yency Almonte and Mychal Givens

There would be veteran additions like Jhoulys Chacín and Robert Stephenson. Promising prospect Jordan Sheffield was taken in the Rule 5 Draft. Minor league promotions like Ben Bowden, Lucas Gilbreath and Justin Lawrence also provided some potential for a bullpen that could become better than anticipated. 

As it were, the success of Colorado’s relievers was a tale of two halves. 

During the first 91 games of the season, the Rockies featured the 3rd-worst bullpen in MLB, according to FanGraphs WAR (-0.2), thanks to the 2nd-worst strikeout-to-walk ratio and 3rd-worst hard hit percentage. At 11 games under .500 and about to lose their best asset in Givens at the trade deadline, it seemed like it couldn’t possibly get any worse.

And it didn’t. It actually got a lot better. 

Something improbable happened after the baseball world packed up and went in 29 other directions following the events held within the city of Denver for those several days of All-Star Game celebration.

In the second-half, the Rockies were a lot more competitive, as were their inexperienced relievers. From July 27th to the end of the season, the club went 31-30 with a ‘pen sporting the 10-best fWAR (2.0). Nine different firemen sported an ERA south of 4.00 during this final stretch of the year, and seven had at least 10 innings pitched with a large majority over the 20-inning mark.

The one name missing from that group was the one who possessed the most important role of the night shift: closer Daniel Bard. He had his moments all season with eight blown saves, one shy of tying the franchise record for most in a season. It all came to a head in August when he gave up 11 earned runs in 9.2 innings pitched (10.24 ERA).

In stepped Estévez, the most reliable reliever in the organization over the last few seasons. Since making his debut in 2016, Colorado has called upon Estévez more than any other reliever: 259 games and 245.0 innings pitched.

The 28-year-old had six blown saves himself over the course of the year with only two closing out the game when he was needed most during the second half. Estévez was a solidifying source for the bullpen all season long, first as the setup man during the eighth-inning and then as the closer where he was able to rack up eight saves during the final month.

His success came in part to a low walk rate (3.06 BB/9) and the trust of manager Bud Black, who looked to the veteran as a steadying presence. Estévez finished third on the team for innings pitched and games, all in spite of a three-week stint on the IL that cost him additional playing time. 

Between the big three often seen in the latest parts of the game, Estévez made more appearances (38) on zero or one-days rest than either Kinley (36) or Bard (32). He also had 43 outings of at least 0.2 innings pitched and no earned runs allowed to give him 158 such games during his career, 13th-most in team history.

As much success as he’s had during five big-league seasons, there’s still more potential for Estévez to become even more than he’s been for Colorado.


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