**Sorry this didn’t get posted mid-week. I will be posting two articles today**
This is part 2 of my 4 part analysis of what the Rox are going to need if they are to compete in the NL West for a title in the next few years (yes, giving up on 2016 other than as a developmental year for players). Today a look at the relievers.
Relievers are a weird bunch. They can go from being awful starters to great relievers (Adam Miller). They can be lights out in one year and awful the next…and then great again. Or they can be great for a number of years and then…their career essentially ends because of the mileage on their arms (Matt Belisle).
The Rox, especially if they follow the Royals path to success but also because of Coors Field are always going to rely on more than the normal number of relievers. In a give year. The Cubs last year had 9 relievers who pitched in at least 20 games out of the bullpen. Most teams fall in that 9-11 range of significant relievers (which I am defining as 20 or more appearences). The Rox simply need more because of the innings they throw and the injury factors at Coors. In 2007 the Rox got by with just 10 relievers making 20 or more apperences (including the essential Ramon Ramierez). In 2009, arguably their best year of pitching overall, where their starting 5 pitched over 90% of all starts, they used 13 relievers at least 20 times. By the way, that bullpen had some guys who ended up or were already great – Huston Street, Raffy, Joe Beimal, Joel Peralta, Allen Embree, Matt Belisle, and Jason Grili. The guy who had the 2nd most appearences that year and whose career basically disappeared soon after was Matt Daley, another favorite of mine.
A realistic approach to the bullpen of a competitive Rockies team would require 14 relievers. Here using ERA+ is a more difficult task given the volatility of ERAs for a reliever. So I will describe the position and what is needed.
#1 – The Closer – He must be able to get 30 saves or more in a year, no more than 20% blown saves (6 – its Coors, it will happen). He has to be a strikeout guy. Trying to get by on ground balls (LaTroy Hawkins) simply doesn’t work at Coors where balls find holes and holes make doubles and triples.
#2 – The lead set-up guy – Again, must be a strike thrower and get strikeouts. He needs to be confident enough to get saves on days the Closer in unavailable. Also, this has to be a guy you trust to get the three most important outs of the game, which can happen in the 6th or 7th, as well as the 8th or 9th. Bullpen management is also key but that falls to managers and that is another discussion.
#3 – The second set-up guy – He can be more of a ground-ball machine, so you can bring him in with men on the corners and 1 out and get those inning ending double-plays. Ideally this reliever is comfortable going more than 1 inning periodically.
#4 – A left hander who is more than a specialist but is primarily suited against lefties. The problem with Boone Logan is he is just a left-handed specialist (and not always that). The acquisition of Jake McGee, especially if they can sign him to an extension, is the type of guy you need here.
#5 – A middle reliever – a big time strikeout guy but who may have the highest BB/9 of the bullpen.
#6 – A middle reliever who is able to get more than 3 outs. This reliever has to be able to go 1.2 or even 2 innings every now and then to save wear and tear on the rest.
#7 – Here I think the Rox have to think outside of the box. They need to carry at minimum 8 relievers. Two of them need to be capable of being long-relief men able to go from time-to-time 2-3 innings if the starter bombs out early. This long reliever would be the one you want when it’s a 7-7 game in the top of 5th at Coors but your team is still in it.
#8 – Here is the second long-man. He is more of the mop-up guy, a pitcher you can throw out there when the Rox are down 8-3 in the top of the 4th, who won’t let the game get totally away, can give the offense its chance, and who devours innings and can go every few days. A true rubber-arm guy as they say.
That would be your starting 8. Down in the Farm you need
#9 – An up and coming reliever whose stuff is good enough that if an injury occurs to your #1, #2 or #3 guy can take over another man’s role as they slide-up but who can potentially after a baptism by fire, move into the 7th or 8th inning.
#10 – A veteran arm who can be a 7th inning guy, but has the ability to swing to different positions.
#11 – Another solid lefty arm. The National League simply has too many great left handed hitters and if your primary lefty goes down, you need to have a guy who can hold lefties to below a .250 BAA.
#12 – A young prospect who has transitioned from starter to reliever and who might benefit from a short-stint in the majors because he could be, with the transition, a future closer.
#13 – A replacement long-man. They will need one. Reality here.
#14 – See #13. At the very least a reliever who can go 2 innings every 3 days without hurting your club.
Ideally all of your 14 relievers are capable of having an ERA+ of at least 100, with your top 3 having ERA+ of 135 or above. A solid goal of a closer is Trevor Rosenthal, not the best but darn good, whose ERA+ was 189 last year but had been around 140 before that. For your #2 and #3 guys a comp might be Frankie Rodriguez who was a 125 in 2014 and 180 in 2015 after scuffling along for a few years prior to that. Guys like Colorado’s own Luke Hochever – former highly touted starter now a very good reliever, had an ERA+ of 112 last year his first back from Tommy John surgery. Franklin Morales even had an ERA+ of 131 in his 67 appearances. In other words, it isn’t like we are searching for 14 Mariano Riveras. Just solid pitchers who can do their role and who are willing to step-up when the inevitable groin strain or sore shoulder occurs.
Candidates for the 2017-2018 Rockies Relievers
Here things are so much more difficult because the Rox may resign Jake McGee, they may decide Motte and Qualls fit here and resign them as well. But here are some potential options
#1 – Closer – Miguel Castro – he was rushed at age 20 into Toronto’s closer spot. If he throws strikes, he’s perfect
#2 – Set-up – Adam Ottovino – assuming he is healthy you want him to be able to get those 3 outs whenever you need him. For my money, your #2 is more important than your #1.
#3 – Jake McGee – assuming he’s here. Or Motte. Or Qualls, assuming they are both here in 2017 and then in 2018
#4 – Sam Moll – a lefty who looks to have the stuff to get both sides out.
#5 – Matt Carisiti – a fast riser the team loves.
#6 – Carlos Estevez – the real rave of last year’s AFL. Another future #1-3 man.
#7 – Eddie Butler – if he fails as a starter again, time to see if his power stuff can play better in the bullpen.
#8 – Christian Bergman – he fits in the role, and a swing starter. Still cheap. Of course there is always Flande as well.
Can Swing between #2 and #5 – Scott Oberg and Justin Miller, with the #7 or #8 also being a place for a guy like David Hale.
On the Farm – Going beyond those top 8 gets hard because you are now looking at guys who may have ended last year in AA or High A. Hopefully Jairo Diaz will be back and healthy by then. A guy like Nelson Gonzalez may be ready. And over the next few years starters like Shane Carle might be given their shot at becoming the kind of throw they need when they have the injury buy hit their bullpen. I also left off guys like Scott Oberg.
2016 Rockies Relievers
Closer – Motte/McGee
Primary Set-up – Motte/McGee
#3 – Chad Qualls
#4 – Boone Logan
#5 – Justin Miller
#6 – Scott Oberg
#7 – Chris Russin (he’s out of options and they don’t want to lose him especially as a swing starter)
#8 – Either Flande or Bergman. Flande isn’t on the 40, Bergman has an option left, and Flande has been darn good this Spring.
Assuming that injuries don’t spread through the pitching staff as has happened since 2012, the Rox have a potential to have a solid bullpen. Not in the top 10, but not in the bottom 5 either. Once Zero comes back and lengthens the back-end of the bullpen and if Oberg and Miller can build on their 2015. That is a bullpen without overwork that can be in the 13-11 range of best bullpens in baseball. If Zero comes back healthy, Castro controls the strike zone and Estevez makes the next step, along with Sam Moll, the bullpen becomes even better, probably in the top 10. Though I would imagine that by the trading deadline if Logan is pitching well as a lefty-only and McGee seems unwilling to resign they both would be sent off on trades, but now that adds huge opportunities for the 2017-2018 team get their feet really wet.
What do you think? Do the Rox have the making of a top 8 bullpen by 2017? Will the 2016 bullpen make strides from dead-last to the middle of the pack?
*** Note – I know a lot of people have complained about the trade of Corey Dickerson, who I really liked, and Kevin Padlo, a pretty good looking 3B prospect for McGee and German Marquez. People think we should have gotten more than a two year rental of a reliever (who had a DL stint in 2015) and a #17 ranked prospect in the farm system. The fact is that in 2016 offseason the market for outfielders was strictly a buyers’ market. Too many good names, too many young guys even, without a lot of openings. Especially when the outfielder is best suited as a DH, which Corey was. Dickerson is going to hit, we know that. Will he hit more than Parra, Dahl, and Tapia over the next few years? In terms of power yes, in terms of overall contribution, including defense, no. The team spent some money to lock in Parra and allow them to send off Dickerson and make way for the upcoming group that also includes Jordan Patterson. McGee, assuming he is healthy and pitching well is going to fetch a substantial prospect come trade deadline, again, if not signed. Teams do stupid things at the trade deadline concerning relievers, and ones that get both sides out are particularly valued. The inclusion of Padlo, a position where the Rockies farm system is packed, allowed them to get Marquez who has impressed in camp, has good stuff and has a chance to be a #3 starter or a back-end bullpen piece going forward. We have to see what happens with McGee clearly (Marquez is like all prospects far more wait before we see), but this trade has the chance to deepen the team where it needs it (starters or back-end relievers in a trade-deadline deal) while offloading from their surplus in the outfield. Again, the Royals had the 12th best starter group by ERA…and they have a nice shiny trophy at their stadium.