Estévez hot stretch shows one of the Rox biggest issues of the last decade
Carlos Estévez pitched a scoreless eighth, striking out two, on Sunday night as he helped the Colorado Rockies pitching staff to their fifth-shoutout win of the season.
It was the 14th time Estévez had an outing without allowing an earned run in his 16 appearances since the All-Star Break. To be fair, two of the 14 were appearances with inherited runners who ended up scoring, but the Rockies’ right-handed reliever has been excellent since the mid-summer classic. His 0.59 ERA over his last 15.1 innings is tied for ninth best by a reliever in baseball since the break.
Estévez’s hot stretch couldn’t have come at a better time either. He’ll be entering free agency for the first time in his career this coming winter.
Estévez first debuted for Colorado in 2016 and is the second-longest tenured Rockie to play this season behind Charlie Blackmon. Of relievers to have played for the Rockies during the same time as Estévez—or even the last 10 years—he’s been the third best by fWAR. He trails Adam Ottavino and Scott Oberg, who both had a run as elite relievers.
The highs for Estévez have never been quite there. When a prospect, the projection was that Estévez would be the team’s future closer. He’s had a couple of chances at the job, recording 25 saves in his MLB career, but he’s never been as good as 100 mph fastball would have many hope he would be.
Still, he’s been solid, or at least as solid as they come for the Rockies.
Almost everybody has struggled among the 43 pitchers to have thrown over 40 innings for the Rockies coming out of the bullpen since 2013. Colorado has tried to convert homegrown starters, other team’s journeymen, work with their own prospects, and even thrown heaps of cash at trying to get a good bullpen. Nothing has worked with the last strategy blowing up in the Rockies faces’ in the form of Wade Davis, Greg Holland, Jake McGee, and Bryan Shaw.
But the real issue that required the Rockies to blow all of that money on the bullpen is that Colorado has not developed their own quality relievers.
By far, the best of the last decade was Ottavino, who was acquired by the Rockies off waivers from St. Louis when the Cardinals had deemed him a broken starter.
Oberg is the best homegrown player on the list, drafted and developed by the Rockies, but his career has been cut short just as he was hitting his peak.
Daniel Bard trails Estévez in fWAR over the past decade, and he could’ve been had by anyone a few years ago as his career petered out due to the yips.
Chris Rusin is also in the top five, but he was a failed starter, claimed off waivers from the Cubs, and eventually turned into a reliever by the Rockies.
Out of the top 20 Rockies relievers by fWAR over the past 10 years, only the aforementioned Oberg and Estévez and Lucas Gilbreath, Christian Friedrich, and Antonio Senzatela have been developed entirely by the Rockies. Gilbreath is in his second season, Friedrich would go back to being a starter, then flame out, and Senzatela is still a successful starter.
So looking at the last 10 years, there hasn’t been any recipe to cook up a good bullpen arm. The Rockies in-house development has failed, and pitchers trying to adjust to Coors Field have had inconsistent results. The Rockies successes in the bullpen are hard to chalk up to anything more than luck.
This has been as big an issue as anything else over the last decade. What’s even odder about it is that the struggles have come at a time when the Rockies have been chiefly led admirably by homegrown starters.
Colorado is 24th in Baseball over the last decade in fWAR by relievers. The group’s 4.83 ERA is the worst in baseball, and 1.34 earned runs per nine innings worse than the MLB-leading Dodgers at 3.49.
Estévez never wound up being as good as hoped, yet he’s one of the Rockies best bullpen arms of the last 10 years. Estévez is a fine player, but it’s another haunting issue that will always come back in the what-ifs of the 2017 and 2018 playoffs runs.