If the rest of the Colorado Rockies roster is a bit better than the national, and sometimes even local perception of them, why were they still so comfortably out of contention for a decent record in 2021?

The bullpen.

Yes, it’s finally time to dive into whatever is going on here for this ballclub.

There is no way to spin much of a silver lining for this element of the team over the last two years. Any potential chance to go on a run or outperform expectations to a great extent was halted by a bullpen that simply fell apart given any opportunity.

In 2021, the Rockies bullpen ERA was 4.91, the fifth worst in baseball, and that’s after having a much better final month. They recorded only 33 saves as a team, again the fifth worst mark in MLB and the blew 30 saves opportunities, placing them fourth from the bottom in that category.

The teams who fared worse in terms of recording saves all had at least nine fewer chances than the Rox ‘pen, as Bud Black would often opt to stick with starters a little longer rather than risk handing his relievers the baseball.

The fact is, that despite plenty of other issues with the roster, had Colorado boasted an average bullpen in 2021, they would have made a push for a .500 record or better.

But it takes every part of the team contributing in order to compete in MLB and the Rockies will once again need to address this crippling issue if they want to surprise the pundits in 2022.

And it doesn’t look especially likely as constituted.

Let’s grade ‘em out:

Bullpen: F

Now, let’s understand that there are few things in sports more volatile than a major league bullpen. What is down one year can be up the next and vice versa with staggering speed.

That said, all we have to go on is what we have seen. And what we have seen isn’t good.

Daniel Bard had a remarkably inspiring return to baseball after more than six years off the field and dominated in the shortened 2020 campaign but was simply dreadful in his follow up.

He posted a 5.21 ERA, a 92 ERA+, and blew eight saves before losing his job as the closer, leaving the Rockies scrambling for someone to finish games. He got hit about as hard as anyone in the league and despite still carrying quality stuff could not count on his location and went from an anchor in the bullpen to a liability.

Jhoulys Chacin was the most consistent pitcher of the group, managing excellent outings whenever he just needed to pick up a single set-up inning but having constant struggles if asked to toss a second.

His 110 ERA+ is solid but certainly not elite for someone they will almost certainly be expecting to play an important role in late innings again this year.

After that, you’ve got a slew of players who are all intriguing but not especially comforting.

Carlos Estevez ended the year as the team’s defacto closer and was OK. Estevez has long possessed closer stuff but has been extremely inconsistent throughout his career as spots of dominance are followed by tremendously frustrating bouts of being incredibly hittable, hence his 7.50 ERA in 2020.

Tyler Kinley has a ridiculous combination of velocity and movement but has struggled mightily to find consistent location, making him a similar conundrum to Estevez. Yency Almonte, Julian Fernandez, and Justin Lawrnce now exist in this category as well, showcasing plenty of promise that is dwarfed by brutal numbers in small sample sizes.

On the left side of the ledger, Lucas Gilbreath actually emerged as the biggest bright spot in the Rox ‘pen down the stretch, putting together a 3.38 ERA and 142 ERA+ in 42.2 innings pitched. If he can repeat that but pick up a few more innings? Great! But who knows how the league might respond in his second year of work.

The exact opposite is true of Ben Bowden who never managed to make it click in his injury-riddled rookie campaign. After those two, your guess is as good as mine for who the Rockies would turn to if they need a southpaw.

The final player to keep your eyes on could actually be a bit of a difference maker for this club: Robert Stephenson.

Brought in from the Reds in exchange for Jeff Hoffman, Stephenson immediately became the best all-around reliever for Colorado in 2021. Injuries limited him to 46 innings but he made the most of it with a 3.13 ERA and a 153 ERA+.

His fastball velocity is in the 90th percentile, meaning that only 10 percent of MLB pitchers are throwing harder than him. His fastball spin is in the 96th percentile and his curve spin (he really throws more of a slurve) is in the 98th percentile.

He was a former first round pick and top prospect before stalling out with the Reds a bit and being converted to relief but since then has displayed top-of-the-line peripherals.

If anyone on the current roster is going to emerge as a new anchor and potential savior of this ragtag group, it’s Stephenson.

Either way, though, the Rockies clearly need more arms in the ‘pen and while it is almost never a good idea to spend too many resources on this part of your team, they’ve shown in the last two seasons that you can only go so far without them.

The good news is that you simply never know when a reliever or an entire bullpen will randomly have that good year but as it stands right now, the bullpen is still the biggest thing holding this team back.