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Black, Rockies hope bullpen improves in one-run games

Colorado lost six games when leading after eight innings in '16
MLB.com

DENVER -- A small-ball strategy at Coors Field hasn't quite been conventional through the years, but new Rockies manager Bud Black isn't ruling out the approach heading into his first season.

Such strategic run manufacturing could hinge on the Rockies' pitching. In the midst of posting an MLB-high 5.13 ERA, Colorado's bullpen weathered injuries to Jake McGee, Chad Qualls, Jason Motte and Adam Ottavino.

DENVER -- A small-ball strategy at Coors Field hasn't quite been conventional through the years, but new Rockies manager Bud Black isn't ruling out the approach heading into his first season.

Such strategic run manufacturing could hinge on the Rockies' pitching. In the midst of posting an MLB-high 5.13 ERA, Colorado's bullpen weathered injuries to Jake McGee, Chad Qualls, Jason Motte and Adam Ottavino.

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The Rockies were also 12-20 in one-run games last year for a .375 win percentage, third worst in the Majors, and they lost six games when leading after eight innings, tied for third worst. Colorado hired Black in part because of his experience managing at Coors Field when he was the Padres' skipper from 2007 through early '15.

Yet, as Black alluded, the margin between best and worst in one-run games isn't nearly as imbalanced as one might assume. Twenty clubs finished within five games above or below .500 in one-run games in 2016.

"You'll find that most teams, it's pretty close," Black said. "The Rangers were, I won't say were an anomaly, but more than the standard. I thought there would be a greater difference of teams with winning records or teams with losing records, that gap."

The Rangers posted a .766 winning percentage in one-run games (36-11) -- a modern-era MLB record -- with a bullpen that posted a 4.40 ERA, second worst in the American League. Yet their relievers were 27-6 with a 1.69 ERA and 27 saves in their games decided by one run. Texas complemented this with a remarkable showing in high-leverage hitting situations, posting an 8.15 Clutch score, according to FanGraphs -- by far the Majors' best.

Clutch score measures how much better or worse a player does in high-leverage situations than he would have done in a context-neutral environment, where zero is average and 2.0 for a team is considered excellent.

The Rockies had MLB's third-highest offensive Clutch score at 3.58, but they also finished with the Majors' worst pitching Clutch score among relievers, minus-6.74.

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Clutch scores stem from the Win Probability Added (WPA) metric, which is context neutral and highlights the change in Win Expectancy from one plate appearance to the next, crediting or debiting a player by how much his actions increased his team's chances of winning.

"Not only is that a function of your offense executing, but it's also your bullpen," Black said. "For every time you don't score, your [relievers] had better put a zero up. And if you don't put a zero up, you know what that is? An 'L' -- a loss."

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Rockies relievers also allowed a .320 Batting Average on Balls in Play, MLB's second highest, and of those, 33.7 percent were classified as hard hit, according to Baseball Info Solutions, which determines the metric based on hang time, location and general trajectory, but not exit velocity. It puts even more of an onus on defense -- particularly at cavernous Coors Field, where the outfield gaps are the widest in the Majors.

Colorado believes it has an improved bullpen from a year ago after an offseason to get healthy and by bringing in free agents Mike Dunn and Greg Holland, who has been throwing with no limitations this spring but has yet to appear in a Cactus League game as he returns from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in October 2015.

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.

Colorado Rockies