Rockies Acquire Pat Neshek, Want to Kill You with Sliders

The Colorado Rockies bullpen has seen better days. Dominant at the start of the season, we’ve long passed the point where it could call itself that. In order to help rectify this problem, the team acquired reliever Pat Neshek from the Philadelphia Phillies tonight:

In a subsequent tweet, the full scope of the deal came together. It is as follows:

Colorado Receives
Player Position Age 2017 WAR Rest of Season WAR Contract
Pat Neshek RP 36 1.5 0.4 Free Agent After 2017
ROS WAR is based on ZIPS/Steamer projection and assumes 22 IP.
Philadelphia Receives
Prospect Position Age Level Prospect Rank
Jose Gomez SS 20 Low-A Honorable Mention
J.D. Hammer RHP 22 High-A N/A
Alejandro Requena RHP 20 Low-A N/A
Prospect Rank is based on Eric Longenhagen’s preseason team write-ups.

Let’s go back to the Rockies bullpen for a second, so we can see the impetus for this trade (July numbers are as of Wednesday morning):

Colorado Rockies 2017 Bullpen, by Month
# IP K% BB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP SD MD WAR WAR Rank
April 90.1 24.9% 8.5% 9.1% 4.28 3.23 3.74 37 6 2.0 1
May 89.2 24.9% 9.2% 13.4% 3.81 3.86 3.89 18 8 1.0 11
June 92.0 24.2% 9.7% 15.6% 5.18 4.56 4.30 18 13 0.4 19
July 65.2 18.3% 10.2% 21.0% 4.93 5.58 4.69 12 9 -0.4 30

Fright. Night. Comparisons to the Titanic’s maiden voyage and the Rockies bullpen are welcome. Except with the acquisition of Neshek, the Rockies are aiming to steer around those icebergs. Neshek has been a top-10 reliever this season, and automatically becomes one of the Rockies two-best relievers, if not their best reliever.

Always a pretty efficient pitcher in terms of walks and strikeouts, Neshek has really maxed out this season, particularly with his strikeout rate, which is at a career-best 30.4%. He is simultaneously getting batters to swing at more pitches than ever and making them miss more than ever, which is a particularly nasty combination.

Neshek is a fly-ball pitcher, which generally you would think of as a bad thing at Coors Field, but Jeff Zimmerman introduced research last week that shows that fly-ball pitchers have been able to handle the home run surge better than ground-ball pitchers. And indeed Neshek has been. His HR/FB is at the second-lowest mark for his career.

Neshek works in a sinker-slider fashion almost exclusively — Pitch Info has his pitch mix as 49.3% sinkers, 47.8% sliders and 2.7% change-ups. If those first two percentages seem high, it’s because they are. His sinker percentage ranks 20th among qualified relievers, and his slider percentage ranks 10th. The only other two qualified relievers who are throwing both their sinker and slider both 40 percent of the time are Peter Moylan and Luke Gregerson.

Looking at that slider usage leaderboard, we find that the two relievers just ahead of Neshek are also Rockies’ pitchers — Adam Ottavino and Greg Holland. Heading into today, Rockies relievers were tied for fourth in the majors and first in the National League in slider usage with … the Phillies. With Neshek heading west to Colorado, the Rockies’ slider usage is only going to increase. If there’s a fly in this ointment, it’s that the Dodgers and Nationals have been crushing sliders this season, but should the Rockies make it that far, it will be fascinating to watch that strength vs. strength matchup.

With this trade, the Rockies should be able to achieve the simultaneous goals of dumping Jordan Lyles at the nearest dumpster fire (they’d want him to feel right at home, after all) and relying a lot less on Ottavino. Ottavino has been striking out hitters at a level better than his career average, but his control and home runs allowed have taken a significant turn for the worse, and it will help Colorado a bunch that they will be able to throttle back his high-leverage usage. At least until he figures out how to get his control back under, uh, control.

Moreover, this is a clear signal from the Rockies front office that the team is interested in competing for the NL pennant right now. As former Purple Row writer Andrew Fisher pointed out on Twitter after the trade was announced, this may very well be the first time the Rockies have acquired an All-Star at the trade deadline in the same season in which said player was an All-Star. While relievers are not usually the most exciting All-Stars, this is still a pretty big deal for Colorado.

Pat Neshek is likely all smiles now that he is heading to a contending team. (Photo: Ian D’Andrea)

Since Neshek is a free agent at the end of the season, it didn’t cost them a ton either. All three players acquired by Philly have interesting things about them, but none of them make you sit up in your chair and say wow. The one who got any prospect heat this spring was Jose Gomez. Here’s what Eric Longenhagen had to say about him last November:

Jose Gomez, SS, 2.8 KATOH+ – A stocky 5-foot-11, Gomez is an average runner with an average arm and could be a 45 or 50 at shortstop at maturity. He has mature bat-to-ball skills and hit well for his age in the Pioneer League this year but lacks power projection because the body is already pretty maxed out. He’s got a long-term utility profile.

Gomez posted a 132 wRC+ in rookie ball last year, and has replicated that this year in Low-A Asheville with a 136 wRC+. This is notable in the sense that Asheville’s ballpark is generally better for left-handed hitters, and Gomez is a right-handed hitter. He has notched 18 steals, but he’s also been caught 11 times, so we’ll charitably classify his baserunning as “raw.” Still, a .324/.374/.437 is a line you’d love to see from a middle infielder. While Gomez has played mainly shortstop this year, he has also started 10+ games at second- and third base, so his prep for that future utility role is already well underway.

The internet, as it is wont to do, briefly became obsessed with J.D. Hammer’s looks this evening. His 38.9% strikeout rate also may be worthy of future obsession, but since he’s compiled it at Low-A and High-A, we’ll hold off on salivating for another few months. Also tamping down expectations is his high walk rate since being promoted to High-A. It is a little disappointing to see him traded away though, as he is a Colorado native, and it would have been a great story had he ascended to the majors in a Rockies uniform.

After three seasons in rookie ball, Alejandro Requena is pitching well for Asheville this season. His 2.85 ERA is tops among Tourists starters, and it ranks 10th among South Atlantic League pitchers with at least 70 innings pitched this season.

The Rockies bullpen started the season flying high, but has since come crashing back to earth. By acquiring Pat Neshek, they have put themselves on much firmer ground as the pennant race starts to heat up. He won’t win them the World Series all by himself. But his acquisition — which cost them three interesting but likely low-ceiling players — signals that Colorado has designs on getting there, and that they will try to get there on the wings of so many sliders.





Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

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Richard Bergstrom
5 years ago

If it turns out the Rockies have a one game playoff for the WC, a guy like Neshek may have an outsized impact.