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Much maligned Rockies relievers primed to rebound in 2019

Drew Creasman Avatar
December 13, 2018

Las Vegas – The big news heading into the 2018 Colorado Rockies season was the eye-popping amount of money they spent (over $100 million in contracts) in their bullpen that was expected by many, myself absolutely included, to be one of the best collections of relievers in the game.

Wade Davis and Bryan Shaw brought with them exemplary resumes and Jake McGee was coming off a season in Colorado where he was one of the best set-up men in baseball, rebounding after a tough, injury-plagued first year with the Rox.

None of those pitchers lived up to expectations, though Davis did manage to temper his poor ERA with an exceptional save/blown save ratio. But it was still the case that for the first three-to-four months of the season, the Rockies had one of the worst bullpens in baseball after spending so much time, energy, and money trying to have one of the best.

By the end of the year, the acquisition of Seunghwan Oh and the emergence of Scott Oberg, plus the insane rebound of Adam Ottavino, meant that the Rockies entered the postseason with far more confidence in their relievers than they had in April, May, and June.

But with Otto almost certainly on the way out, the question arises about whether Colorado must replace him with someone from outside the organization or if they can absorb that loss with the right combination of in-house options righting themselves.

I asked GM Jeff Bridich that exact question, and while he didn’t rule out the possibility of adding a veteran at just the right price, he made it clear that they had played their big cards for this part of the team.

“I don’t see us doing anything to the degree that I chose to do last year at this time,” he said. “We need last year’s decisions to pitch better. It’s not a lack of talent or an inability to perform. They need to do a better job, flat out. “The bottom line with the bullpen is that if Bryan and Jake and Chris pitch to their abilities, we are most likely a very different sort of a bullpen. Adam did a wonderful job in helping to keep our pen together and getting us into the playoffs. In a lot of ways, he helped to carry us through some significant struggles of some of his teammates.”

That naturally begged a follow-up question that I proposed to Bridich: What is the team doing to make sure that their relievers can address their problems and come back in 2019 with renewed vigor?

“There were conversations had and plans set forth even before the season was done with some of those guys,” he replied. “This is what it is for 2018, but let’s honestly self-evaluate. Let’s put our guard down and figure out together how does this get better for the future? We certainly still believe in those guys but they have a job to do and, ultimately, it’s on them, right?”

It unequivocally is.

Bud Black agrees. “We have a number of guys that we think can bounce back from off years, Shaw, McGee, to name those guys right up front. I think their performance will be key. They’ve done it before. Oberg pitched very well. Seunghwan Oh pitched very well when we got him and a couple of others guys, Estevez, D.J. Johnson who we saw. So we have some guys that we think, if we do not have Otto, that these guys can step in and perform.”

And, his years in the game of baseball, a little bit of personal experience throwing off the mound as a member of a bullpen, have led Black to an understanding that this is a part of the game.

“You look at a lot of relief pitchers in general,” he said. “Their career path, you’ve seen some variability. That was sort of the surprising thing with Shaw was the consistency that he had in Cleveland for five years. So to have an off year, you know, lends me to believe that he’ll bounce back. But that’s not uncommon for a lot of relief pitchers. And that’s been documented by a lot of front offices.”

Getting into the specifics of his own players, he remarked, “That’s what we’re hoping for from those two guys. But we feel pretty good obviously about Wade, where he is. I think Oberg made great strides, but whether we stand pat with those guys that we have, you know, we feel pretty good about it. Dunn has a chance to come back after his surgery, to make an impact. Chris Rusin pitched probably not to the level of expectation. But I thought found his way a little bit at the end of the year.”

He capped it all off with a reminder that the outgoing star, Ottavino, is the perfect example of a reliever recovering from an awful season to put up a career year. There’s no reason to believe that Shaw, in particular, would be incapable of such a feat.

With so much attention and focus on improving the offense (rightfully so) and little more than praise coming the way of the starting pitching staff whose depth runs 13 players deep at this point, the headline-grabbing bullpen of just a few months ago feels like a bit of an afterthought at this point.

But at the risk of making the exact same mistake two years in a row, I submit that Bridich is absolutely correct in that the talent exists on the current roster for the club to once again see images of a “super ‘pen” in their near future. The best-laid plans of Bridich and Black went awry in 2018 but their dream may, in fact, be realized… just a year later than most of us thought it would be.

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