The Most Dominant Rockies Pitcher

The Reds had the worst bullpen in baseball last year, right? They finished last in WAR, coming in at an unfathomable -3.6. And they finished last in RA9-WAR, coming in at a similarly unfathomable -3.1. By those measurements, last year’s Reds bullpen was historically awful. And yet! And yet, according to WPA, the Reds bullpen was only second-worst. I know that WPA is not the best evaluative tool, but in terms of what actually happened, given all the context and everything, the Reds bullpen had a WPA of -4.2. The Rockies bullpen had a WPA of -5.8.

Last year’s Rockies bullpen was one of the components that sunk the team. It hardly gave the Rockies a chance to contend, and it’s no coincidence the front office went out and signed Greg Holland. Holland, if he’s healthy, should make the situation an awful lot better. But he won’t be tasked with trying to do it alone. Adam Ottavino is also a part of the group, and while he missed most of 2015 and half of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery, he’s pitched some, and he’s probably been overlooked.

Because of his recent numbers, I can’t wait to see what Carter Capps does this year, post-surgery. Ottavino belongs in a similar boat. He’s already pitched a little bit post-surgery, but I doubt many were paying attention. You think this year’s Rockies will be more competitive. Ottavino could be a big part of that. Look what happens when you combine his 2015 and 2016 samples, and then compare that to his previous record.

Adam Ottavino vs. Himself
Years IP K-BB% GB% ERA- FIP- xFIP- Z – O-Swing% Sinker%
2012 – 2014 222.3 16% 47% 81 83 88 28% 5%
2015 – 2016 37.3 28% 62% 39 59 58 21% 26%

Very clearly, we’re not dealing with much. In 2015, Ottavino pitched in 10 games before he had surgery. Last year he came back and made 34 appearances after the calendar flipped to July. Combined, it’s a sample of just 142 plate appearances. But relative to what Ottavino used to be, this newer version has been far better in terms of strikeouts and grounders. He’s ranked in the top 3% of all pitchers in adjusted ERA, FIP, and xFIP, and it probably has something to do with a two-seamer he’s more aggressively folded in.

Since every such post needs a visual:

Ottavino’s putaway pitch remains his slider. It’s still a good slider! But more recently, he’s used two fastballs instead of one, and he’s worked different sides of the plate. Although he’s spent less time within the strike zone, he’s also generated fewer swings within the strike zone, which is a good outcome. Ottavino has been more difficult to read and predict, and the small-sample results have been outstanding.

We could still probably stand to see more, and strong lefty bats remain a vulnerability. Because of the way that he throws, Ottavino is forever likely to run a substantial platoon split. Yet when he’s been able to pitch of late, he’s done almost everything right. Strikeouts and grounders while limiting walks. As with any team, the Rockies could be in for some bad luck. With some good luck, however, their bullpen could present a dominant top two. From there, who’s to say what they could achieve?

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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7 years ago

Wouldn’t generating fewer swings within the strikezone be bad for Ottavino? Unless he’s getting a substantial increase in called strikeouts, I’d assume that means hitters are chasing his non-strikes fewer, thus forcing him to work the pound the zone and refrain from nibbling with his slider. I haven’t looked at his outcome statistics, but that’s the initial impression I get from hearing that.