Signing Wade Davis Gives the Rockies the Most Expensive Bullpen in MLB History
Apparently the Colorado Rockies are going to sign all of the relievers.
After making the postseason a year ago with a bullpen that compiled the sixth-best fWAR in baseball, Colorado has decided that the way to win games in 2018 is to fill their roster with as many solid and versatile bullpen pieces as possible. That trend continued Friday with the reported addition of Wade Davis on a three-year, $52 million contract with a vesting option for a fourth season. The $17.3 million annual average salary is the richest ever paid to a reliever.
Last season with the Chicago Cubs, Davis was outstanding. The 32-year-old compiled 32 saves in 59 appearances (58.2 innings) with an ERA of 2.30, a fielding independent pitching (FIP) of 3.38 and a deserved run average (DRA) of 2.99. He put up an fWAR of 1.1 and a bWAR of 1.9, struck out 12.12 batters per nine innings and had a strikeout rate of 32.6% (both his highest figures since 2014).
Davis also has a ton of postseason experience with the Tampa Bay Rays, Kansas City Royals and Cubs, and he has performed extremely well in the playoffs -- something that was probably a big pull for Colorado. In 28 appearances (38.2 innings), he has a career October ERA of 1.40, and he notched a seven-out save in Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series last year against the Washington Nationals.
Of course, one can argue about the wisdom of paying Davis, or any relief pitcher, $17.3 million per season, especially when you look at how much he would earn per pitch as compared to Clayton Kershaw. But it's clear Davis is still a stud, and he is just the latest quality bullpen arm signed by the Rockies this off-season.
Not the Only Move
Back on December 15th, Colorado signed two relievers, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw, to three-year deals. The 31-year-old McGee had a very solid second season in Colorado last year, posting a 3.61 ERA, 2.93 FIP and DRA of 4.33. Those numbers followed up a subpar 2016, but his fWAR of 1.5 last year was actually better than Davis', although his bWAR of 1.4 was not quite as good. The left-hander signed a three-year, $27 million deal to be their primary lefty and setup man out of the 'pen, and he fanned 58 and walked just 16 in 57.1 innings last season.
Shaw, who is 30, had a decent season with the Cleveland Indians last year, recording a 3.52 ERA, 2.93 FIP and DRA of 4.47. He had an fWAR of 1.6, better than McGee's or Davis', and a bWAR of 0.6 with 73 strikeouts and 22 walks in 76.2 innings. McGee and Shaw will replace Pat Neshek, who signed a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, and Greg Holland, who remains a free agent.
Adding to What They've Got
Davis, McGee and Shaw join Mike Dunn, who appeared in 68 games for Colorado last season with an ERA of 4.47, FIP of 4.64 and DRA of 6.28, Adam Ottavino, who has spent the last six years with Colorado and pitched in 63 games last season for the Rockies with an ERA of 5.06, FIP of 5.18 and DRA of 4.84, and Chris Rusin, who appeared 60 games in 2017 and had an ERA of 2.65, FIP of 3.65 and DRA of 4.07.
It's a very deep relief corps, and Colorado is paying through the nose for it, with those six relievers eating up approximately $47 million in payroll in 2018. That makes some sense, given the historical difficulties the Rockies have had in keeping a starting rotation together. While their starters posted an fWAR of 11.8 last season, tied with the Cubs for 10th-best in baseball, the starting five checked in 16th in innings pitched, ERA and FIP. Pitchers simply aren't able to pitch as deep into games at Coors Field given its status as baseball's most favorable hitters' park.
Having six reliable relief pitchers who can all pitch multiple innings may be just the formula the Rockies need in order to pitch well enough to be a perennial playoff contender -- rather than throwing money at starting pitchers who may be able to last only five-to-six innings on average.
It's a tactic Colorado is willing to try, and they're paying a pretty penny to see if their hypothesis will work.