Rockies Revamp Rotation, Bolstered by Bergman

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Christian Bergman was not the guy I was planning on profiling this soon in my illustrious time with Rockies Zingers, but I am probably not the only one feeling that way. I’m sure Dan O’Dowd and Walt Weiss weren’t planning on relying on him right now either, and while he would never share it or not be prepared for it, you could convince me Bergman didn’t think he’d be starting Monday’s game against the Braves either. But here we are, in the midst of the roller coaster season, with injuries and poor performances leading us to a literal rotation of arms in the starting rotation.

The Rockies announced Bergman would start Monday’s game, and every Rockies fan immediately ran to their 2014 Baseball America handbook looking for any information they could find on the young hurler. The only issue was he was nowhere to be found in those pages. One looking for a scouting report on Bergman were as successful as those mid-century explorers looking for the fountain of youth. That is to say, not overly successful. That has been the thing with Bergman thus far in his career, oft-overlooked, rather unheralded. He doesn’t have a flashy arm, great size, or a dominating pitches. He wasn’t a top pick, a bonus baby, or a heralded Latin prospect with raw skills. He was drafted in the 24th round of the 2010 draft out of UC-Irvine. Bergman has steadily risen up the minor league food chain, spending full seasons at Rookie ball, Low A, High A, and AA.  Prior to this season, he was always playing above league average age, which can temper expectations as the older players are expected to put up better numbers.

He entered professional ball in 2010, with Casper (prior to the move to Grand Junction) and pitched mostly as a reliever there. In 14 games, and 5 starts leading to 48.1 innings, Bergman struggled. He gave up 62 hits with 11 walks, in what very well could have been an exhausting transition after having pitched 101 innings of the collegiate variety. His 2009 total had only been 97.2, marking a significant jump. From Casper, Bergman spent all of 2011 with Tri-City. Playing at nearly 2 years above league average age, Bergman made 15 starts and essentially dominated hitters, allowing less than one base runner per inning and posting a SO/BB ratio of 6.18. That said, Bergman is by no means a strikeout pitcher, posting average or worse strikeout numbers at every stop in his journey.

From Tri-City to Modesto, Bergman hardly missed a beat. Playing full-season ball for the first time, Bergman‘s BB/9 ratio doubled, all the way to a still other-worldly 2.0.  He also gave up more hits, but saw his strikeout peripherals climb to a more average rate. All said, Bergman still had a great year, but wasn’t getting any prospect love as the 2013 season began. Still above league average age, but only by half a year, Bergman made 27 starts with the Tulsa Drillers. Striking out a near-awful 5.8 hitters per nine innings, Bergman walked only 1.2 batters per nine innings and allowed 162 hits in 171 innings.

The same story would continue in 2014 with Colorado Springs. Playing younger than league average for the first time, (thanks to the AAAA type guys), posted the same K/9 ratio as 2013 and walked a few more guys, but gave up fewer hits. Never mind the small detail that he gave up fewer hits while pitching at the bandbox of Security Service Field. What’s the moral of the story here? Bergman doesn’t let people on base nor does he strike them out.  He doesn’t have a power fastball or a punch-out off-speed pitch.  What he does feature is a fastball and change-up that complement each other nicely, keeping hitters a little off-balance at the plate. He throws both with great control, putting the ball in places to generate outs. He relies on that command of those pitches, and lacks the tools to project as more than a back-end starter or long reliever. Prior to his MLB debut on Monday, Weiss described him to Nick Groke of the Denver Post as being “intelligent with good command, one that can go out and execute a game plan.” On the surface level, that reads along the lines of saying a quarterback is a good game manager, or a guy plays with a lot of heart, but in pitching in a place like Coors Field for the Rockies, where the emphasis is on ground ball pitching, it can’t be emphasized enough. As long as he is up pitching in the big leagues, Bergman is going to have to rely on that command and intelligence to continue getting batters out and not letting them catch up to his less than overpowering stuff.

So where does that leave us now that Bergman is pitching every fifth day for the Rockies? Well, let’s take a look at examining his affair on Monday evening, against the Atlanta Braves:

Colorado

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

HR

ERA

Bergman(L, 0-1)

6.0

6

2

2

2

4

0

3.00

Not surprisingly, Bergman threw 89 efficient pitches and limited the Braves to eight base runners, struck out four and held the Braves to two runs in six innings.  The man is nothing if not consistent. While we may have expected slightly more regression in the jump to the majors, we also have to remember this was one start, and probably shouldn’t consider it as representative of the future. That said, we have little to be thankful for the past few weeks, so ladies and gentleman, Christian Bergman!

strike-zone

A look at the heat maps courtesy of our friends at ESPN Stats and Info. from Bergman’s start shows us that he worked mostly the middle of the strike zone against the Braves, and clearly had success doing so.

strike-zone (1)

Looking at how he treated lefties, you can see he stayed mid-strike zone, veered to throwing outside more and some down low.

strike-zone (2)

Against right handed hitters, he pounded the mid-inside portions of the strike zone. Staying in the strike zone as much as Bergman did was a showcase for his command.  The only issue with what we saw from Bergman was his fly ball ratio at 50% and ground ball at 25%, but again, this is a somewhat futile exercise in putting a lot of weight in one start. As Bergman continues to make appearances in Jordan Lyles‘ absence, he’ll need those ratios to work themselves towards one another and eventually, the goal would be a close flip. We’re all too familiar with the results of a fly ball pitcher in Coors Field.

Bergman will likely get every opportunity to showcase his command in Denver, as the injuries continue stacking up. He’ll need to continue pounding the strike zone as he did against the Braves, but with the intent of throwing lower and inducing the ground ball swings. Looking further down the road, Bergman is the pitcher the Rockies could depend on to go out and keep them in ball games, get outs, and work in an efficient manner. He’ll need to, as any variance from that plan and Bergman may not see the same successes that have been the story line of his career. A few troubling starts would lead to further question marks, as there hasn’t been much adversity or adjustments needed to this point.

About scottfults

Born and raised in Grand Rapids, MI, 1993 brought me a full on Rockies outfit with matching socks to usher in the latest expansion era. Having some family in Colorado, I have made it to Coors Field a couple of times and look to add to that. I find minor league baseball fascinating, and when I am not delving further into the farm system, you can find me playing rec league sports or spending time with my fiance and dog, Buster.

One thought on “Rockies Revamp Rotation, Bolstered by Bergman

  1. This is the best baseball article I have read all year! Very informative. It’s nice to see the Rockies getting some press on ESPN! Nice job, Mr. Fults, whoever you are, on giving us a well written, thoughtful piece on a guy that even die-hard Rockies fans like myself knew little or nothing about.


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