Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Rockies pitcher Matt Reynolds reacts against the St. Louis Cardinals at Coors Field. Credit: Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE
Matt Reynolds is having a decent season, but he's also having one of the worst seasons in recent memory at the same time.
The Rockies are on pace to lose 104 games. I'm not sure if they fancied themselves contenders before the season started, but I'm pretty sure they weren't thinking they had a chance to be one of the worst teams of the decade. After getting swept at home by the Giants over the weekend, things aren't exactly trending upward.
But don't look at the Rockies' bullpen as a reason. FanGraphs says the Rockies have the seventh-best bullpen in the game, with three relievers with ERAs under 3.00, and five relievers with an above-average ERA+.
One of those above-average relievers is left-hander Matt Reynolds. He has a 4.37 ERA, but after you account for Coors Field, that's actually not bad -- his ERA+ is 108. He's allowed 10 home runs, but, again, Coors Field has to be accounted for. From a ratio standpoint, he's doing quite well, striking out 44 and walking 13 in 47 innings. He's having a somewhat-ordinary season. Until you look at how he's been used:
Team Record in Appearances: 6-45
That's amazing already. Even though the Rockies are only winning about 36 percent of their games, Reynolds only appears in a winning game in 12 percent of his appearances. But it gets worse. The Rockies lost the last April game in which Reynolds appeared, which meant they were 5-5 in games with a Reynolds appearance to that point.
Which means the Rockies have lost 41 of the last 42 games Reynolds has appeared in. It's probably more helpful to have this represented visually:
He is the opposite of the human victory cigar. He is the human salting of the earth, the drunken punch thrown as the party was starting to break up anyway. And, again, he's not pitching poorly. In those last 42 games, he's been unscored upon in 30 of them.
Pick a 100-loss team in the modern, specialized-bullpen era. Look for the worst reliever. None of them had it as bad as Reynolds, even though they were aggressively trying to make the situation worse. Stephen Randolph pitched 45 games for the wretched 2004 Diamondbacks, and he combined durability and ineffectiveness for a team without any other options like few pitchers in history. Randolph was terrible, posting a 5.51 ERA and allowing 76 walks and 73 hits in 81 innings. The Diamondbacks were still 9-36 in his appearances.
The 2005 Royals lost 106 games. Even by Royals standards, they were terrible. They had a rookie pitcher, Juan Carlos Oviedo, who would eventually become a closer for the Marlins. But it's like he was a totally different pitcher back then. He allowed 73 hits, 18 walks, nine home runs, and hit three batters in 53 innings. His ERA was 7.55. The Royals were 12-29 in his games.
Even Franklyn German was involved of 16 of the 43 wins the 2003 Tigers enjoyed, even though he had a 6.04 ERA and allowed an average of over two base runners per inning. The only person on the 2003 Tigers who compared with Reynolds was Steve Sparks, whose knuckleballery made him perfect for multiple-inning mop-up duty. But, again, we're talking about a team that lost 119 games. The Rockies are bad. They aren't that bad.
There's a simple explanation to this. Reynolds has faced 29 batters this season with a tie or a lead. He's been brought into two games with a lead since May; one of them became the only win during this streak, and he blew the other lead. The two times he entered a tie game, he left trailing by one.
So he's not totally blameless, but that still means he's entered the game with the Rockies trailing in 38 of his last 42 appearances. He is brought in to hold the line, to act as the final defense while the Rockies rally behind him to vict … oh, well, dang, maybe next time.
A lot of this has to do with the effectiveness of his peers in the bullpen, too. Rafael Betancourt is the closer, so clearly he's going to see a majority of the wins (the Rockies are 27-12 in his appearances). Matt Belisle has been a workhorse and one of the best relievers in the game, so if there's a rare lead, he's the one brought in for the seventh or eighth innings (30-22).
There aren't a lot of late-inning leads, and when there are, those innings are spoken for. There are a lot of early-inning starting pitcher meltdowns, though, which means someone has to give the team some competent innings amidst the ashes and rubble.
That pitcher is Matt Reynolds, and it means he's having a really, really unique season. Unique can be good! Not here, though. Not here. Oh, man, not here. Reynolds gets up, goes to work, puts a uniform on, pitches well for the most part, and loses just about every time. When the Rockies win, it isn't because of anything he's done. That has to be discouraging.
There are discouraging seasons. There are discouraging individual seasons in the larger context of supremely discouraging team seasons. And then there's Matt Reynolds. He'll have better seasons, even if because he can't have one that's much worse.
(Please use the #Pray4Reynolds hashtag should you chose to discuss this story on Twitter. Thanks.)