The former first rounder finished the year strong
Welcome to the 2021 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2021. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.
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No. 15, Robert Stephenson: 0.8 rWAR
Acquired from the Reds in a November 2020 trade, Robert Stephenson entered this season vying to perform as a viable, trusted arm in the Rockies bullpen.
A first round pick of the Reds in 2011 out of high school and former top 50 prospect, Stephenson remained in the Reds organization throughout his development then broke the big league roster as a starter in 2016. After spending a couple of years bouncing between the Reds and their Triple-A affiliate, the Louisville Bats, he was only able to throw ten innings of work during the 2020 season and was at this time now a full-time reliever. Hoping a change of scenery would do some good (for both sides), he was traded along with Jameson Hannah for Case Williams and Jeff Hoffman.
In some ways, the change of scenery appears to have put Stephenson on the right track. He missed all of July with a back issue, but posted a career-best 3.13 ERA and was the Rockies third-most-valuable reliever by rWAR. He struck out 26.4% of batters he faced and had career lows for HR% and BB%, at 2.5% and 9.1% respectively. His best stretch came from August 25th to the end of the year – allowing just one run in 15 appearances.
He was by no means an innings eater for this Rockies team, but still threw the sixth-most innings in the Rockies bullpen – a ranking that he will likely be pushed to improve on going forwards, as the Rockies placed last of NL teams in 2021 innings pitched. While the usage of a team’s bullpen is likely just as indicative of it’s starters prowess as it is of reliever quality, the Rockies will continue to look to Stephenson to make that next step and live up to his draft and prospect pedigree.
Purple Row’s Mario DeGenz previously took a look at Stephenson’s success, noting his pitch mix and how it’s shifted as he came to the Rockies. Stephenson’s fastball has the potential to be all-world, and it was one of the reasons why he was such a highly touted prospect with the Reds. It was his most used pitch in 2021, despite it not being able to move as much at altitude. The velocity is elite, but pairing it with the movement is what makes it so lethal.
Stephenson is 28 years old and 2021 was his first season of being arbitration eligible. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2024 and is projected to earn around $1 million in his upcoming season. His low price tag and potentially high upside point to someone that could become an even more valuable part of the Rockies bullpen in 2022.