Evaluating the Colorado Rockies Jekyll and Hyde bullpen

Apr 23, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black (10) calls to the bullpen during the seventh inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rockies bullpen is many things.

It is a puzzle. It is a struggle. It can, at times, be a nightmare. And no matter which way it goes, it will take the rest of the team with it.

At times, they’ve been incredibly reliable, looking miles and miles better than they did the last three seasons. At others, they look like the same disaster we’ve become accustomed to.

So, is the Rockies bullpen any good? Tough question to answer at this moment.

A bullpen is, of course, a unit that must create a certain amount of collective production, but it is also, of course again, made up of individuals.

And right now, there is a clear distinction between the “minus side” guys and the “plus side” guys. Every bullpen has this separation but the one the Rockies are currently sporting is pretty extreme and also explains a few things.

Their current 4.71 ERA is third worst among all ‘pens in MLB yet their 11 converted saves in 14 opportunities is good for third best.

This is a big part of why the Rockies keep winning relatively close games but also have an inordinate number of blowout losses already on the ledger. 

When they don’t get length out of their starter and/or are already behind in the middle innings, it makes zero sense for Bud Black to hand the ball to Daniel Bard, Tyler Kinley, Carlos Estevez, Alex Colome, or now Justin Lawrence.

Those relievers have tossed 44.2 innings with an ERA of 2.60, they’ve only blown two saves, and the Rockies won one of those games anyway.

These five pitchers have done their job steadily throughout the season and have been vital to the club outplaying their run differential.

On the flip side, Jhoulys Chacin, Ty Blach, Ashton Goudeau, and Lucas Gilbreath have struggled mightily and are arguably the cause of that negative run differential. They’ve tossed 36.1 innings and allowed 30 runs. 

This is why the numbers for the ‘pen overall look pretty bad from a certain perspective and also why so many games have gotten so quickly out of hand. If the game situation doesn’t make sense for Black to go to one of his five relievers he can trust right now, things are likely to go south fast.

It’s certainly frustrating for the team as it limits their chances at making comebacks but it also makes it difficult to blame the relievers for losing games they might have otherwise won.

Still, Colorado could clearly use an upgrade in bullpen depth. 

There are reasons to believe that any of the guys currently struggling could turn it around. Chacin was pretty good last year, Blach had a nice start, Goudeau actually picked up a key save in Texas, and Gilbreath was easily the Rockies best lefty a year ago.

Furthermore, Robert Stephenson poses an intriguing option for a potential sixth “plus side” guy for the Rockies, easing back into the mix with just four innings pitched after his return from injury.

Trading for more relief help will become a popular topic as well if the team keeps winning these close games as we get closer to the deadline.

But either way, a look inside the details reveals that just because the Rockies bullpen sits near the bottom of the pack in bullpen ERA doesn’t mean they are experiencing anywhere near the level of troubles they have in their recent past.

Another way to think about this dynamic is to say that the bullpen hasn’t really blown any games on their own. The games that have been winnable have been overwhelmingly converted. The games that have been kicked away were done so, at least in part, by the starter before the relievers ever got involved.

So, like with just about everything in baseball, the big answer to the problem is just to get better starting pitching. 

Because so far, when the game is close, the Colorado Rockies are very good.

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