Rockies' Top 5 relief pitchers: Harding's take

June 8th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only. If you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Rockies' all-time team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | Bench | RH SP | LH SP

Here is Thomas Harding's ranking of the top five relief pitchers in Rockies history:

1. Brian Fuentes, 2002-08
Key stat: Fuentes’ .223 batting average against is lowest in club history among relievers who have thrown at least 390 innings.

The only pitcher to represent the team in three All-Star Games (2005-07 -- and he represented the Angels in 2009), the left-handed Fuentes spent much of his time as a closer and did it with aplomb -- 115 saves in 138 opportunities. He truly showed his mettle in 2007, when Clint Hurdle switched to Manny Corpas as closer midseason. After the All-Sar break, Fuentes went 3-1 with a 1.52 ERA and a .159 batting average against as a setup man.

2. Rafael Betancourt, 2009-13, 2015
Key fact: FanGraphs credits Betancourt with a 7.0 WAR in a Rockies uniform -- second only to Fuentes’ 7.7.

Betancourt arrived in a trade with the Indians during the Rockies' successful 2009 postseason push, and he had a strong year in '10 helping set up closer Huston Street, going 5-1 with a 3.61 ERA in 72 games. With the Rockies, Betancourt fanned 10.3 batters per nine innings, and his 2.77 FIP was best in club history.

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3. Adam Ottavino, 2012-18
Key stat: Among Rockies pitchers with at least 200 relief innings, Ottavino’s 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings top the list.

The top three on the list were visually striking -- Fuentes because of his odd short-arm delivery that led some to call him “T-Rex,” Betancourt because of the way he let tension build while taking forever between pitches and Ottavino (now with the Yankees) because of the flight path of his signature slider, one that made batters look silly and challenged his catchers. After being limited to 10 games in 2015 and 34 in '16 because of Tommy John surgery, Ottavino was durable in his bounce-back seasons, with 63 games pitched in 2017 and 75 in '18.

4. Huston Street, 2009-11
Key fact: Street’s 84 saves rank third in club history, but his 167 1/3 innings are the fewest among this top five.

While it was difficult for Rockies fans to say goodbye to outfielder Matt Holliday after the 2008 season, it brought from the A's two of the most effective players in club history -- outfielder Carlos González and Street, who had been American League Rookie of the Year in 2005. Street’s key to success was staying in the strike zone. He struck out a respectable 9.1 per nine innings, but his 1.8 walks per nine are best in club history.

5. Steve Reed, 1993-97, 2003-04
Key fact: His 461 games and 499 relief innings are by far club records.

From the team’s beginnings in 1993, through some strong early years and then during some tough years during his second term, there was a good chance Reed would end up pitching. His fewest appearances for the Rockies was 61, and that was during the strike-shortened '94 season. There was a steadiness to Reed. During his first term, before the Rockies began storing baseballs in a humidor, he managed a 139 ERA+. During his second term, at ages 38 and 39 but with the ball somewhat normalized, he improved his ERA+ to 143.