How Good or Bad is This Bullpen?
Of the group that went North with the Rockies from Arizona, we have already seen two changes. First Wilton Lopez was sent to Colorado Springs after a dreadful start with the team. As I discussed back at the 10% mark, Lopez never got his confidence from Day 1 in Milwaukee last year and while he would have short periods in low-pressure situations, he never found his sinker that made his a very good bullpen piece that the Rockies went after dealing Alex White. Wilton Lopez, 30, was 2.96/2.79/2.17 before last year’s 4.06 (or if you prefer WHIP – 1.060/1.268/1.040/1.407. His 4 games, 11.37 ERA 2.842 WHIP forced the move even while paying him $2.2 million. They have had him working hard in Colorado Springs on mechanics rather than game situations, and he has had just 3 apperences since the 22nd, throwing 2.1, 2 hits, 0BB, and getting ground-balls again. I am guessing Wilton will be back soon, hopefully ready to make a big contribution. The fact is, at Coors, they need him. If not him, then a trade that sends Wilton some place that will give him a new start and send us someone who needs a fresh start as well. But Wilton can do this….and a good Wilton will make this team even better.
The other pen shift has been Chad Bettis, who has been bouncing up and down, and in his last two outings has given up a grand slam and 4 runs in two innings including another big homer. Bettis’s arm is still highly prized (now that he is a reliever and not going to be a starter at all) but right now he is not fooling people. Still highly touted in prospect pools (rated as high as #7 in some list of top 10 Rockies Prospects). So those two arms who were counted on going North have simply been awful. There is no other word for Bettis and Lopez’s actual performance. Baseball is hard, and good pitchers go through bad stretches. We can hope that this is the case.
The team has had 6 pen losses that go directly against the pen, not the starters. Sadly, they have not gotten to another team’s pen to steal a win back. That will happen.
But of the 6 bullpen loses that have hurt this team, Bettis has only 1 (Game 23 vs Giants) and Lopez has none of those losses. Instead the bullpen loses are 1) Belisle against Miami (Game 4) and Phillies (Game 20), 2) Brothers vs SF game (Game 13), San Diego (Game 14 – last time the team lost back-to-back games), DBacks (along with Tommy Kahnle – Game 29). Aside from those 6 games, the pen has been everything you want. Tommy Kahnle’s raw stats are interesting. He has already seen 12 games and 15 innings. His ERA is 1.80 and WHIP 1.000. He has still walked a few too many – 6, but with 14Ks the ratio is everything you could hope for from the guy who came North as the last man in the pen.
The last man in the pen is now Chris Martin, part of the deal that brought Franklin Morales to the club, has a great story of being out of baseball, throwing in a warehouse, and then through the minors to the Rox. The 27 year-old undrafted FA has been a huge surprise. His first outing he was touching 97, but has been more in the 94-95 range with a nice curve and slider as well and a cutter that has bored in on the righties. His minor league career WHIP is just 1.136 but his performance in Colorado Springs in 8 appearances didn’t make me think this was what we would see – but again its COS and the PCL. They don’t need Chris to be Mariano Rivera, they need him to be a good last man in the pen, and so far 4IP, 4 hits, 4:1 K/BB.
Hawkins remains perfect in save situations, though it seems if he is given any spare room he likes to use it – with a lot of nights a lot of hard hit balls. He remains calm, which is the first rule of a closer, but he throws a lot of pitches as well. In 11 IP he has an ERA of 2.38 and only a 1.059 WHIP…but still it never seems easy. Boone Logan has been as advertised – aside from the big fly in Arizona to make the game a tie on Tuesday night (won on Stubbs homer and great catch in the 9th). Adam “Zero 0” Ontovino has been nothing short of fantastic, with the nastiest slider among relievers perhaps (he and Sergio Romo in SF), with only his blow-up in Arizona which was in part due to issues finding a good launch and landing spot on the mound playing a role.
But the big issue for the next 10% of the games when it comes to the pen is the other 2/3 of the Killer Bs – Belisle and Brothers. Rex started the season, coming off of what should have been an All-Star apearence, in a funk. Did the vote of no-confidence in him as a closer with the signing of Hawkins get to him? One thing for certain is that the 94-95 mph velocity he has had the past few years was gone for most of the first month. That would not have been a problem but his issues with command re-appeared. His current ratio 10:9, K/BB. That is what has killed him – against the Giants at Coors a walk preceded a homer to give the Giants a lead. In San Diego it was 3 walks. It is okay to be “effectively wild” – making that slider even nastier, but he has just been wild and it seems from night to night they do not know what they are getting in terms of velocity. So right now what is Rex? Walt gave him the chance to close against the DBacks on Wednesday night and he gave up the 2 runs to tie the game. Earlier they gave him the 6th to get things worked out. They need Rex, but how best to get things worked out? Assuming its not injury, what explains the mess he has been this year?
Matt Belisle has been a problem for longer. We know that this team rode Matt like a warhorse, especially during the Jim Tracy years. Look at 2010 to 2012 – 91 IP, 72IP, 80IP. Even last year as his effectiveness diminished he still saw 73 IP (even as his ERA went from 3.71 to 4.32 but his WHIP went down…though 2012 was just a weird year with which to compare). 2014 started off awfully as already said above. He appeared in 4 straight losses for the Rox, giving up runs (2,1,1) in the first 3 of those, but starting on Wednesday night (30th) Matt starting throwing differently. His velocity went up from 90-91 to 93-94 and even 95! His curve became sharp. And every pitch was right on the black. Even the hits against him the past two appearances were simply good hitting, not bad pitching. To be fair, some of the games Belisle has lost have included some bad luck. It might be…and with relievers you never know…it might be that Matt has become Matt again. They can no longer throw him back-to-back days, but if his past two outings are to be believed, this pen just got deeper again. And depth is as important at Coors as individual greatness.
BullPen Grade So Far: B (as an average grade, as they are either an A+ or a D). The depth is an issue, as they need to see Bettis get better, Lopez continue to improve, Masset continue his rehab in COS, and Rob Scahill grow (he is on the 40). There is also a chance that Morales might end up in the pen again at some point this year. There is no other obvious pen help (save for a future trade, which is always a possibility). Two names to watch. Nick Masset has been great so far in Colorado Springs, but is not on the 40 right now. And yes, they did sign Rafeal Betencourt, and he continues to say he will be able to throw by August – that is his word, not the teams, but if he can come back and be the old Rafeal (TJ surgery usually impacts control for the first year after rehab, and control was always his game, so just to consider).