ROCKIES SNUFF OUT FIERS IN COLORADO
Right-handed phenomenon Mike Fiers imploded last night in Colorado, surrendering eight earned runs in just two innings of work. Those eight earned runs were more than the total earned runs allowed (7) in his previous ten starts combined. The start truly served as a rude awakening from the delightful dream that has been Fiers’ rookie campaign in 2012.
Nothing can diminish his start on Monday evening, but we can put Fiers’ struggles into context.
Coors Field could easily be mistaken for a pinball machine. Baseballs are caroming off walls left and right, with pitchers standing on the mound helplessly as their worst nightmares become stark realities right in front of their eyes. Coors Field owns the highest park factor in runs (1.502), hits (1.247), triples (1.569), and walks (1.148). Only Miller Park and Great American Ball Park have higher home run factors than Coors Field’s 1.470 on the season.
Sure, Fiers experienced some extraordinary struggles that cannot all be explained away by mere park factors. He also was unable to stay on the corners of the strike zone, pounding the heart of the plate.
That poor location simply gave Rockies hitters the opportunity to smash the baseball around the ballpark, which they did for eight runs before chasing Fiers from the game after only six outs logged.
When it comes down to it, Mike Fiers will not be the first or last rookie pitcher to implode in Colorado. The park yields an inordinate amount of runs, the high altitude affects breaking pitches in ways which rookie pitchers are unfamiliar, and the stigma that hangs over Coors Field for pitchers surely has some mental impact (even if minuscule) to young pitchers.
RICKIE WEEKS HAS RETURNED
Over his last 50 games, second baseman Rickie Weeks is hitting .286/.366/.516 with 16 doubles, one triple, and eight home runs. He has been rewarded with a move up in the batting order to the two-spot, and Monday evening marked his fourth multi-hit game this month. Weeks has also collected an extra-base hit in four of his last six starts.
At FanGraphs last week, I wrote an article on Weeks’ turnaround at the plate and discussed how it stems from retaking control of the inside portion of the plate and rediscovering left field:
Left field has traditionally been a strength for Weeks. He has a career .400 batting average to left field, and prior to June 16 this season, he was only hitting .204 to that sector of the diamond.
Since June 16, Weeks has once again found success to left field.
Weeks is hitting .383 to left field since June 16, which comes as a byproduct of his success on the inner portion of the plate. He has put 39 pitches on the inner third of the plate in play over that time frame and has collected 15 hits. That is good for a .385 batting average on those pitches.
BREWERS’ BULLPEN WOES: NO SOLUTION IN SIGHT
The most glaring problem for the ’12 Brewers has clearly been the bullpen. As a whole, the bullpen has blown 22 saves this season, including 19 from the trio of John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez, and Kameron Loe.
Taking it a step further, utilizing FanGraphs’ shutdown vs. meltdown categorization of success out of the bullpen, Milwaukee has gotten 81 “shutdown” performances from its relievers. The real issue has been the 70 “meltdowns”. Only the Colorado Rockies’ bullpen has melted down more this season, as they have 77 meltdowns.
The incredible magnitude of the struggles from the bullpen has left the fanbase clamoring for something different — anything different — especially late in games. The real problem is that Ron Roenicke doesn’t have a single pitcher who has thrown the baseball well this year, outside of Jim Henderson (minus his tenth inning in Houston).
Take a look at the performances from the Brewers’ relievers:
The only two pitchers with a sub-3.00 ERA out of the bullpen are currently in the starting rotation. Every other pitcher has been pedestrian, at best, with the vast majority of the relievers being downright bad. The current version of the bullpen has four pitchers with ERAs north of 5.00.
And it’s not as if Ron Roenicke and the Brewers have not tried new pitchers. Roenicke has trotted 16 different relievers to the mound this season. That’s enough relievers to staff two entire bullpens.
Roenicke has received plenty of grief from Brewers fans this season regarding his bullpen management. Perhaps some of it is rightly deserved. Criticizing him for sticking with John Axford too long or for trying Kameron Loe and Francisco Rodriguez in the closer role, though, is a bit ridiculous. After all, who exactly does Roenicke have that is a better option?
At this point, the organization cannot do much more than rely on the relievers they currently have to finally start pitching to their abilities. That’s uncomfortable, to be sure, but the organization has exhausted their options. It is simply time for the team’s relievers to start pitching like big league relievers, and I’m sure they would be the first to admit that fact.
It has been a perfect storm in the bullpen this year. The mental confidence has likely been shaken, and the bullpen has to be expecting blown saves on some level — and it certainly appeared that way in Houston over the weekend. Even Kameron Loe’s save with a two-run lead on Sunday almost slipped through the team’s fingers.