2014 Rockies Player Season Review – Rex Brothers

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YEP, THAT IS REX BROTHERS IN THOSE PICTURES. BUT ARE WE SURE HE WASN’T REPLACED BY THE POD PEOPLE IN 2014?

In a season where the two World Series participants got there without great starting pitching (aside from Baugarner and Shields), but rather through great bullpens from top to bottom, the large-scale failure of the Rockies pen looks even worse. Yes, a number of relievers struggled for the Rockies in 2014 – Masset, Martin, Logan, Morales, and of course Belisle. But the poster boy for the Rockies bullpen failure is sadly Rex Brothers. I originally wrote Rex’s season review first of all the Rockies players, during the World Series. I didn’t post it then, hoping time would help the season look better. It didn’t. Nothing could make it look better, except for an awesome 2015! When the season began some commentators, and certainly myself, thought the Rockies had the potential to have a strong bullpen. Maybe not Giants strong, but on the level of the all-closer Dodgers pen (which as it turned out, was true, but only because the Dodgers bullpen stunk). Going into 2014, on paper, they had three power lefties with the ability to get out  both lefties and righties with power stuff. Boone Logan and Franklin Morales were solid parts to the pen group, but Rex Brothers was the prize of the Rockies lefty core.

In 2013 he began to look like the future closer the team thought they had when they drafted him 4 years earlier. Yes, he had some rough patches in late 2013, but still it looked like he had finally broken the frustrating pattern that had him always getting close to his potential and then sliding back down the dam too far.  As fans it looked like we had our closer. But maybe the Rox management knew something, as they went out and signed the ancient one, LaTroy Hawkins to be the closer (or at least right-handed closing partner) but I don’t think anyone could have foreseen what was to occur in 2014.

Rex came to the Rox in 2009 as a sup #1 pick (making it an all-lefty first round with Brothers joining Matzek). Rex was the prize the Rox got when Brian Fuentes went to LA Angels, which was a bonus indeed since Fuentes only rated such a supp pick because Manny Corpas stunk so bad in 2008 the team had to give the meaningless saves in that down season to someone, and in the end they bumped up Fuentes value. Rex has had a strange career already. At times showing great ability, and then having to go back to AAA to re-learn lessons. But after 2013 the team had to believe that was over. His ERA from 2011 to 2013 had gone from 2.88 to 3.86 (again a short stint in AAA) to just 1.74. Likewise his WHIP went from 1.303 to 1.478 to 1.292. 2014 was to be his All-Star season, the year he joined the like of Kimbral and Holland among the elite closers.

I listened to as many Spring Training games in 2014 as I could, and while the announcers didn’t speficically mention Rex’s velocity, it was clear he wasn’t great in March, but who cares. The assumption was when the bell rang, he would be ready. But even in those first two series in Miami and at home vs. Arizona, he didn’t seem right. Instead of 93-95, he was 89-91. The slider didn’t have the same bite, either being flat or too clearly a ball. But he managed to get through April and May, through granted with losing his role in key innings, without getting too damaged. He was 4.26 ERA and 1.263 WHIP in April and 3.09 and 1.543 in May (the rise in baserunners heralded a huge issue, but his ability to keep runners from scoring meant he was still valuable to the team’s bullpen). No, he wasn’t getting save opportunities, but as it has been pointed out, getting Adrian Gonzalez in the 6th is almost as important as getting him in the 9th. So, Rex was still important.

June was a weird month. He had a complete disaster of a game – June 4th, vs DBacks, facing 5 batters, allowing 4 hits and a walk, and all 5 runners scoring (and all were legit hits). Incidently the next day Adam Ottavino would have a similar day, through due more to bad luck. That one outings skews June’s numbers (6.52 ERA and a 1.552 WHIP) because in fact he only allowed runs in 3 of those outings, with 1 run in the other two instances. Throw out that one game and in 13 outings he allowed only 5 hits and 5 walks while getting 12 Ks in 9.2 innings. And in all of June none of the 6 inherited runners scored.  Rex was better than we realized looking back. Indeed Rex pitched a lot of 8th innings during that month. Could Rex finally be turning things around?  It looked like it. His first half stats of 4.38 ERA and 1.564 WHIP on a BABIP of .306 wasn’t great (again, one bad outings can skew things badly for a reliever, and indeed Rex had just two such, the other on May 26 vs. Phili, going .2 inn allowing 3 hits, 3ER no walks and a homer).  The numbers weren’t great, but not bad. Take out those two outings and his numbers were an ERA of 2.60 and a 1.391 WHIP. Yes, he didn’t look right but those are good numbers. So, perhaps the 2nd half would be a break-out and return of 2013 Rex.

Instead, the 2nd half of 2014 made Rex look like a struggling AA pitcher just trying to make it to the show. His last three months of the season would be:

July      9.1 innings  4.82 ERA   2.250  WHIP 2.00 K/BB   .406 BABIP

August 7.1 innings 13.50ERA   3.000 WHIP    .68 K/BB    .391 BABIP

Sept      5.2 innings  3.18 ERA   2.118 WHIP   4.00 K/BB   .478 BABIP

July really did mark things coming apart for Rex. His large numbers of base runners meant he didn’t finish many innings, had high pitch counts, and stretched the bullpen depth significantly. Instead of quick innings you have to have in Rockieland, there were runners everywhere. I had to go back and do the calculation and indeed, he had a WHIP of 2.250, thanks to 16 hits. Additionally 2 of the 3 inherited runners scored. His ERA was okay, and that matters, but it was clear he wasn’t trusted and with issues elsewhere in the rotation and the bullpen, his failures were hurting the team. Yes, a .406 BABIP is a sign of bad luck, but it appeared in July he just wasn’t fooling anyone. In 12 outings he only had two clean outings, and one of those was a one batter outing leading off the 8th in Pittsburg to get a lefty, but wasn’t trusted enough to get the right-handed batters next (sadly, Adam Ottavino failed as well in a game the team lost in 11).

At this point the team and fans, with the season lost, just wanted to see signs of hope from Rex, so that going into 2015 the team could count on him. Rex worked hard, but kept pressing and his confidence kept sliding. August saw an explosion of not only his ERA (13.50 – a huge jump) and his WHIP (3.000, which I had to re-calculate 3 X to make sure). In 11 games he  was scored upon in 5 of them. He did have 3 clean outings, but 2 of the 3 were one batter situations. He did strand 3 of the 6 inherited runners. But mostly it wwas bad news. He allowed a homer for a run in one game, had two walks while getting just one out in his next outing without giving up a run. Then after his lone perfect inning of the month, he allowed two hits and a walk in one inning and two earned runs while getting two Ks. Next it was another two walks and a hit in .2 innings of scoreless ball followed by an inning of one hit ball. In each outing he seemed to just be staying out of trouble. Then in back-to-back outings he gave up 3 hits and 2 walks which turned into 2 earned runs in 1.0 innings and then 2 hits and 2 walks resulting in 3 earned runs  in just .2 of an inning. Once again he was moved further back in the bullpen pecking order, but did okay in two 1 batter situations before ending August with a 3 walk, 1 WP outing where he got no one out and took the loss (he opened the 8th) when Adam Ottavino gave up a home run to bring the runs home. To say the least, Rex in the interviews just looked totally humbled. He is a great guy, a stand-up guy. But he didn’t know what was going on, and he certainly didn’t have any confidence left. Weiss kept giving him the chance to figure it out. It juts wasn’t happening.

Rex was okay in September. He only threw 11 games covering just 5.2 innings. Yes, only one was clean – a one batter outing 3 days after that 3 walk game. But he only allowed 1 walk all month. He did allow 11 hits, showing he still wasn’t fooling hitters. But he got around those hits for the most par. He did allow 6 of 11 inherited runners to score. And his one outing where he was scored on, it was bad – coming in with the bases loaded and 0 outs for Christian Bergman in a 3-3 game and gave up a double and single to make it 6-3, and both of his runners also scored. It wasn’t how Rex wanted to support his starter. But it summed up the season.

When Brothers got the last 3 outs in the 8th inning in L.A. in game 162, the final 3 outs the pitching staff got all season, I am sure he wanted to walk off into the sunset and forget 2014 ever existed (even in that game after getting a nice strikeout he gave up a long double).  Did it? Oh, yea. But why was it so bad for Rex?

Yes, his average velocity on his fastball,  slider and changeup were all down around 1 mph. It doesn’t sound big, but maybe that was enough to impact outcomes. A far greater number of his pitches were out of the zone, resulting in more balls, and more bad counts. So yes, velocity was an issue, and control was as well, but the issues of what happens when you are either ahead , even or behind in the count is where his season was determined.

 

Total Plate Appearances in 2013 = 281

Total Plate Appearances in 2014 = 273

Category 2013 Plate App 2013 BA/OBP/OPS 2014 Plate App 2014 BA/OBP/OPS
Pitcher ahead 91 .110/.110/.264 73 .225/.233/.472
Even count 85 .250/.250/.619 85 .317/.310/.773
Batter ahead 105 .290/.533/.968 115 .315/.553/1.142
Total Ks 76 55
Total BB 36 39
Vs. RHB 194 .229/.321/.686 154 .271/.366/.761
Vs. LHB 87 .162/.287/.463 119 .309/.424/.908
Home 153 .230/.320/.654 144 .336/.424/.911
Road 128 .183/.299/.574 129 .234/.354/.728

 

Control is sometimes overlooked. It isn’t just more walks and fewer strikeouts. It is far more important when pitchers miss their spots. Year-over-year Rex didn’t have a lot more walks. But he did miss his spots far more in 2014, and that left the ball over the heart of the plate, higher in the strike zone, and the like. Add this to the small reduction in velocity and you have a slightly slower ball in the heart of the strike zone, and it gets killed. And it seems, based on these numbers that even when he was in control of the count he threw too many bad pitches, and paid for it. Additionally, you have a pitcher who was very flat with his slider at home where in prior years he had good tilt on the pitch, driving his home batting against numbers up significantly. While his road numbers are still good, he used to dominate on the road, instead of being merely pretty good.

 

The left/right splits are even harder to understand. 2013 is what you expect, especially from a power lefty. In 2014 Rex was absolutely hammered by lefties, and even allowed far more walks and singles to them. His numbers against righties in 2014 would have been sustainable had he been able to at least hold him own with his numbers against righties, but those against lefties doomed him time and time again.

Was Rex hurt? Probably not. What his mechanics a mess? It appears so. Are these correctable? Absolutely. Can his confidence be rebuilt? That will be a hugely important thing to watch in March and April. Can he regain his position as an elite reliever? He has to for the Rox to have any chance of winning in the next 2-3 years.

2014 Grade:

1st Half – C: While Rex was expected to be the first or second main option from the bullpen, and wasn’t able to meet that level from basically day 1, he hurt the team a lot. But in fact this numbers were not as bad as we think they were. He was hurt by a few bad outings but was “okay” most of the rest. He took the ball every time he was asked. He just wasn’t good enough.

2nd Half – F: I don’t think Rex would argue with this grade. Only 6 clean outings in 33 outings from July to end of the season and 4  of them were 1 batter only settings.

Overall grade – D: The Rox have had worse seasons from relievers, but rarely from anyone as good as Rex or as important as him. So many thing went wrong in 2014 it is hard to decide were pivotal to the team’s failure. Rex’s  implosion was, and it impacts the grade.

 

2015 Prediction:

Relief pitchers are easily the hardest to predict with the most variance between year-to-year outcomes. Rex has been particularly prone to wild swings, but I think 2015 sees the return of “Good Rex”:

 

60 games   58.2 innings    5-1    2.77 ERA  1.187 WHIP

 

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rockymountainhigh
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rockymountainhigh
5 years ago

I’m hoping Steve foster and Darren Holmes are the answer to Rex problems. First and foremost, I’ll be watching velocity and command in spring training.

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