THE ZERO WAS AWESOME IN 2014, WELL AS LONG AS IT WASN’T JUNE
I mentioned in my report on the great Brandon Barnes that Rockies fans tend to find a reserve player and create a mini-cult aroudn the player, a cult that usually only ends when they finally play the player so much that we realize the reason the player is a back-up is because he simply isnt that good.
But while we fans do that with everyday players we also seem to find one guy in the bullpen that we put our hope in, with the belief that if all else fails he will get the key outs. Usually (almost always really) this reliever is not the closer. It is a guy who simply can be counted on to do his job. There was Curtis Leskanic. There was Matt Belisle. There was Rafeal Betencourt (who may go down as the best releiver in Rockeis history). Now the mantle has fallen on the man with the great number, the great nickname – Zero. Number 0, from the bullpen, Adam Ottavino.
Adam was a scrapheap pick. A former starter who simply wasn’t able to get enough guys out and who became with time and patience, a quality reliever, and maybe one day a closer. Adam for the past two years has generally been the one man that Walt Weiss knows he can call upon to get three or more outs and keep a lead, keep it close, give the team a chance to win. And given how bad this bullpen has been the past few years, that alone makes Adam one of the truly great Rockies of this era.
Ottavino has two very nasty pitches, instead of at least three average ones. His slider is one of the best in the National League, and his mix of a fourseam fastball and sinking fastball have been pretty good as well. The slider sat in 2014 around 82-83, with his fourseam fastball beginning the season at 91.77 and at the end of the season 97.03. Wow! The sinking fastball going from a 91.77 to a 97.04 as well. And none of those pitches are flat, although as we have seen sometimes they move too far out of the strikezone to be swung at and at other times they have moved all the way into the fat part of the zone. But those days are pretty rare.
When Adam came to the Rox in 2012 the Rox put him 53 games, with a lot of mutli-inning outings (resulting in 79.0 innings). In that weird year his ERA was elevated at 4.56 with a WHIP of 1.392, but he did strikeout 9.2/9 and maintained a 2.38 K/BB ratio (good, but not great, but a huge improvement over his 1.33 while he started for St. Louis in 2010. Ottavino had been the #1 pick (granted, 30th overall) in 2010 out of Northeastern. It took all the way til 2010 to get to the bigs, and then he was back in the minors for all of 2011. In all of his minor league years he started and to be honest, he never impressed, so when the roster game hit in 2012 he was put on waivers and the Rockies horrible 2011 made them the winners of the Ottavino lottery.
In 2013, despite the rotation issues, the team knew what they had seen was Ottavino at his best, and remained in the bullpen. He again threw far more innings that games (51 games, 78.1 innings with an outstanding 2.64 ERA and 1.328 WHIP), but towards the end of 2013, thanks in part due to the injury to Rafeal Betencourt, Ottavino began to get the opportunity to pitch the 7th and 8th inning more. With the addition of Hawkins and Logan to the backend of the bullpen and the expected continued growth of Rex Brothers, it looked like 2014 would be a challenge for Ottavino to remain in those key inning situations. But as we know, that is not how things worked out.
Ottavino began the season as the primary 8th inning right-handed reliever. Ottavino was unhittable for the first month, only allowing his first run on April 28th at Arizona (a night after humiliating the great Paul Goldschmidt, Goldschmidt got his revenge, singling to center to move the previous walk to 3rd, where another single would score him. The next night (a third straight appearance, showing the pen issues that appeared early in 2014), Goldschmidt took a very flat Ottavino pitch deep to right to tighten the score in a game the Rox would lose in the 10th on Montero homer.
Ottavino allowed another run in his next outing (3 days later vs the Mets) in the infamous Culberson walk-off game. He would then run off six more scoreless outings (5.2 innings) before going through another short funk of two 1 run allowed games (including a very bad game vs. the Giants where he allowed 3 hits while getting only 1 out), but then had another 4 straight scoreless games. As the calendar turned to June the Rox knew they had one solid bullpen arm.
And then early June happened. Ottavino in 75 outings only allowed multiple runs in 4 games, all in June, and three of them from June 1-12. Fatigue? Tipping pitches? Going to the slider too much (my theory)? Whatever it was, it was a bad stretch. It began June 1 in Cleveland when he allowed 2 ER on a homer and a hit while only getting 1 out. Then on June 5 at home vs. Arizona, in a game the Rox had fought back to take the lead after bad starting pitching, Ottavino had arguably his worst outing as a Rox – 1 inning, 5 hits, 3 ER, 0K (for those who like horror stories, it is on-line, the famous Cuddy at 3B game, so Ottavino needs a bit of a do-over on that). While he had a scoreless outing on the 4th between his first multi-run outing and the second, and one scoreless outing after this stinker (@ home vs the Dodgers), he gave up 1 ER on 2 H and a BB at home vs. the Braves and then 3 days later again at home vs. the Braves he gave up 2 H and a BB, all of whom scored, while only getting 2 outs. 2 days later he gave up another run in SF on 2 H. Hoping to get him right the team gave him four days off in LA vs. the Dodgers and he escaped in an inning he gave up a hit. But in three of the next four outings he would go:
|6-20||Vs. Mil||1.0 inning||2 Hits||1 ER||2K|
|6-22||Vs. Mil||1.0 inning||2 Hits (1HR)||1 ER||2K|
|6-24||Vs. StL||.1 innings||1 Hit||0 ER||1K|
|6-25||Vs. StL||1.0 innings||3 Hits||2 ER||0K|
|6-27||@ Mil||1.1 innings||1 Hit||0 ER||1K|
I stress this one stretch because he threw 5 times in a week, had some bad outing to finish a bad outing. But after that 3 hit performance he didn’t allow more than 2 the rest of the season. Even in that stretch he was still getting his strikeouts. So while this stretch was bad, it also seemed to signal the end of his struggles.
|April thru May||1 HR allowed|
|June 1-22||3 HR allowed|
|Jun 24-rest of the season||1 HR allowed|
So what happened in June? Was it over use? Was his arm dead (every reliever has dead arm periods and also bad luck periods – you will give up hits and runs, it happens (heck, Mariano Rivera got beat in Game 7 vs the Dbacks with garbage hits and errors). Was he pitching too much at home (note that last bad stretch all 3 poor outings – 1 hit in .1 innings isn’t great)? We don’t know. But if you leave out the three weeks in June and the Dbacks (amazingly both other homers were in Arizona the Dbacks Goldschmidt and Lamb, both in game that were lost when leading at the point he came into the game), this was arguable the best reliever in baseball.
Here is what I mean. Take out June and you have the following stats:
Season remove June:
|53.2 innings||52 hits||12 ER||13 BB||56K||2 HR||2.03 ERA||1.221 WHIP|
|11.2 innings||25 hits||14 ER||3BB||13K||3HR||11.25 ERA||2.500 WHIP|
Yes, you read that right. For 5 months of the season he was essentially a 2 ERA guy and for one short stretch he wasn’t good enough to pitch in High A. That folks tells you exactly how hard baseball is. A guy who is the best reliever on the team, arguably the best for 3 years (Rex was nails in 2013, but if you take a 3 year stretch), and he struggled in for 3+ weeks. Baseball is hard folks, that is why the studs I played with never got drafted despite being legit studs.
April-May, July-Sept – A+ – he was everything you want in a reliever, throwing lots of innings, lots of high leverage innings, lots of big Ks, lots of everything, and he was a stud. Heck, get rid of two games vs. Arizona and I say A++
June – D – I wont give him an F because that June 5 game if Nolan had played he would have gotten out of it with maybe 1 run. But still, 3 HR in 3 weeks?
Overall Grade: A
Adam Ottavino is my MVP for 2014 for the Rockies not least because he didn’t get put on the DL, he took the ball everyday, and while others who were counted on (Rex, Boone) were failing, he was the arguably your best pitcher, not just from the pen, but overall. Yes, he is a reliever. The Royals just showed us how important a few relievers can be towards nearly winning a World Series.
2015 Season Prediction:
Is the save over-rated? I still don’t think so because the last 3 outs are the hardest to get most of the time. I don’t think Adam will be in the closer spot full-time in 2015, but he might be, depending on ow the team evaluates the importance of the 9th. So my prediction:
|61 Games||58 inning||3-2||4.10 ERA||1.330 WHIP||0 Saves|
|65 Games||60 innings||2-1||2.85 ERA||1.250 WHIP||15 Saves|
Adam – we hope you are in the Rox bullpen and healthy and not dead armed for years to come. You are Curtis Leskanic, Rafeal Betencourt, Matt Belisle all rolled together… only better!
And for those who missed it, Adam was awesome on Baseball Tonight on 2-12.