Player Profiles 2020: Colorado Rockies Starting Pitchers
Throughout the winter months of the offseason, the Pitcher List staff with be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2020. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2020 hub here.
Rockies At A Glance
Coors is undefeated. We were wrapped in the wonder of German Marquez’s 2018 second half, questioning if Jon Gray or even Jeff Hoffman could overcome the high altitude for a full season after 2017, and 2019 gave us…disappointment. Kyle Freeland couldn’t survive again after his shocking 2018 campaign and the Rockies staff as a whole looks desolate. 2020 seems to come with the same woes we’re used to, but maybe, just maybe, there’s tangible value to grab at the top end.
German Marquez – Locked Starter
Nickname: The Foreigner
2019 In Review
We didn’t know what to make of Marquez’s 2018 second half—he deserved success, but was it sustainable across a full season?—and we were met with the brutal reality that is pitching in Colorado. Still, Marquez did take a small step back in his slider and there is a chance to reclaim the awe of his fans.
Fastball (52% usage)
Believe it or not, Marquez’s fastball was better in 2019…though outside of BABIP lowering and a halved HR/FB rate, not a whole lot changed. He stills sits around 95/96 with the pitch, tosses it in the zone a bit too often at a 62% clip, and manages to induce nearly 50% grounders, a surprising mark for a four-seamer.
I sound like a broken record with how many pitchers I’ve given the same antidote for their woes, but a heavy heater approach inside the zone with Marquez’s solid curveball and slider seems questionable. While Marquez does have to endure the wrath of Coors, there are steps to take to hint at his 2018 second half once again.
Curveball (24% usage)
You should like Marquez’s curveball. A lot. It has held batters to a sub .175 BAA in each of its last three seasons, while last year it peaked with a ridiculous, ridiculous -13 wRC+. Yeah.
It induces chases on 49% pitches outside the zone with a remarkable 24% swinging-strike rate, and will continue to be Marquez’s ace in the hole to maintain his 25%+ strikeout rate. Oddly, he elects to save it for deeper counts nearly exclusively, limiting its usage to just a fourth of the time. Hopefully that can get pushed up a bit in the future.
Slider (21% usage)
“What went wrong with Marquez?” This is what went wrong. Marquez’s slider dove an 11.2 pVal in 2018 to an atrocious -8.1 mark, throwing the pitch slightly harder and losing a touch of break. Marquez also struggled to locate the pitch down consistently, often leaving the pitch in the center of the plate as it was crushed for eight more longballs than in 2018, despite throwing nearly the same amount. It seemed to come with some intent as its zone rate rose eight points, an approach that clearly wasn’t wise.
Obviously, this is bad news. A near doubling of BAA from .154 to .293 is sure to bring hesitation, and a dramatic dip in strike rate from 40% to 23% isn’t encouraging in the slightest.
Or maybe it is. Seeing a distinct approach change while the pitch still held a 40% O-Swing and 20% SwStr rate suggests that Marquez could fix the pitch relatively quickly. It presents more potential than simply “oh, it was a mirage in 2018,” and that is worth consideration.
Changeup (3% usage)
Say what you want, there’s something special to me about the poor pitches inside repertoires that have no right to exist. Marquez’s changeup allowed a .556 BAA last season in its terribly small sample, with a 2.3% SwStr rate, 14% O-Swing, and 33% Zone rate. This is not a good pitch. At all.
It’s easy to look at Marquez’s 2018 second half and classify it as an outlier, moving past Marquez completely for other, less confusing fliers in drafts. There are steps toward a better tomorrow, though, and if Marquez can nibble a bit more, allowing his slider to fall at the bottom or below the zone confidently, there’s a chance for legit ratio production on top of his strong strikeout rate.
He may be a headache, though don’t rule him out as a decent bounce-back lottery pick.
Realistic worst-case projection: 4.60 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 23% K rate in 170 IP
Realistic best-case projection: 3.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 28% K rate in 190 IP
Nick’s reluctant German Marquez 2020 projection:
4.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 25% K rate in 180 IP
Jon Gray – Locked Starter
Nickname: No, The Other Gray
2019 In Review
We never quite know what to make of Gray. His 2018 came with a ghastly 5.12 ERA, but a 3.68 SIERA. His 2019 presented a 3.84 ERA…with a worse 4.35 SIERA. The ERA mark was strong, though owners had to endure a 1.35 WHIP along the way, making players wonder all year if Gray was worth the trouble.
Nothing ever lines up quite right as a pitcher with a better skill set than his numbers showcase, chained by the park they call Coors.
Fastball (53% usage)
You would think a 96 mph heater could perform well, but Gray’s four-seamer has returned a -44.4 pVal across his career, including last year’s -9.5 mark. It’s simply too hittable, returning BABIPs north of 3.40 every season, allowing batters to rake at a 148 wRC+. Yikes.
Gray simply isn’t a command specialist with the pitch. There needs to be a change here if he’s to have consistent success, either sequencing better with his slider or electing to walk more batters in an attempt to steal more strikes on the corners.
It’s a pitch that will make Gray an enigma for as long as it stays detrimental. You simply don’t know if it will work in his favor on a given night.
Sider (34% usage)
Despite how poor Gray’s four-seamer is, he does his best to mitigate its damage with this wonderful slider. It easily hit all Money Pitch qualifiers with a 21% SwStr, 47% O-Swing, and 42% Zone rate, held batters last year to a paltry .181 BAA, and held batters to just three longballs across 789 thrown.
It’s the reason Gray is still in the bigs and its 30%+ usage rate is here to stay.
Curveball (11% usage)
Mixed in with his slider, Gray has a hook that doesn’t do quite enough. With a fastball susceptible to hard contact, Gray needs a third option to consider to mix with his slider, and this curveball doesn’t earn enough chases (sub 30% O-Swing), nor does it find the zone enough (37%) to justify more than its current 11% usage rate.
It certainly did well when it worked, sporting a .153 BAA and just three extra-base hits last season, but Gray needs a more impactful third option with his horrid heater.
Changeup (3% usage)
Like Marquez, Gray’s changeup is inconsequential and does not deserve much of a spotlight. He threw just 64 last season, returning four whiffs and a .417 BAA. Not great, Bob.
With his four-seamer’s constant struggles, it’s hard to envision Gray as a safe bet for 2020, despite his impressive ERA last season. His slider is sure to keep his strikeout rate comfortably above 20%, but at what cost? Another 4.50+ ERA season could come his way without another sturdy option to back up the breaker, while his WHIP shows little signs of dipping under 1.30.
Realistic worst case projection: 4.70 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 22% K rate in 160 IP
Realistic best-case projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 26% K rate in 190 IP
Nick’s reluctant Jon Gray 2020 projection:
4.40 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 24% K rate in 180 IP
Kyle Freeland – Likely Starter
2019 In Review
Ho boy. After a starling 2018 breakout that featured a sparkling 2.85 ERA, Freeland took as strong of a step back as you’ll ever find, including a lengthy trip to the minors and a 6.73 ERA. It’s hard to imagine Freeland returning to close to the same peak, but will we see a back-end starter show itself in 2020?
Fastball (52% usage)
The foundation of Freeland’s 2018 campaign was his four-seamer. The pitch found corners constantly, induced a horrid .238 BAA, and set the table for his entire repertoire.
In 2019, his command was far from the same, returning poor numbers including a .312 BAA, a four-point drop in zone rate, and plenty of mistakes that lifted his 8.2% HR/FB to an inflated 25.6% rate.
It’s a hard gamble to bet on a pitcher’s fastball command to resurface, though if success comes Freeland’s way early, it will be on the back of this pitch.
Cutter (31% usage)
While Freeland’s heater did him no favors in 2019, this cutter had its share of troubles as well. Freeland surrendered nine longballs off cutters despite tossing just over 550 for the year, and more than doubled its ISO to a poor .247 mark.
On the plus side, Freeland did get plenty more chases on cutters, with a strong 11-point jump in O-Swing to 43%, accompanied by an uptick in SwStr to 15%. It’s possible that his cutter took a step forward, but the failures of his fastball significantly impacted its results.
If Freeland gets his fastball in order, this cutter will be the effective number-two pitch he needs.
Changeup (11% usage)
This changeup was never the overpowering secondary offering many crafty lefties possess, though it showed a few signs of promise last year with a seven-point drop in contact rate and a four point rise in SwStr rate to 16%. Still, Freeland’s changeup was often punished and returned a nightmarish 1.138 OPS across the nearly 200 thrown. There’s work to be done here, even among the steps forward.
Slider (6% usage)
Freeland can whip out this slider from time-to-time as a surprise breaker and for the most part, it does work. It’s not pristine and is a raw breaker, but there could be a time where it hits double-digits in usage if Freeland elects to induce more chases, given its strong 16% SwStr rate last season.
With the Rockies out of options after Gray and Marquez, Freeland looks to get signifcant workload as he strives to erase the 2019 season. It’ll come down to his fastball command working; if he can make that tweak, his cutter and changeup are good enough to give an honest fight against the thin atmosphere of Coors. There’s little reason to bank on the return, but keep an eye out early for Freeland nailing inside corners to right-handers with his fastball.
Realistic worst-case projection: 5.00+ ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 17% K rate in 110 IP
Realistic best-case projection: 3.80 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 22% K rate in 180 IP
Nick’s reluctant Kyle Freeland 2020 projection:
4.40 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 20% K rate in 170 IP
Antonio Senzatela – Fringe
The state of the Rockies’ rotation can be summed up quickly by Senzatela’s 2019 season: 25 starts and 125 frames of 6.71 ERA/1.75 WHIP ball…and he still wasn’t their worst starter. His slider is below average, his 93/94 mph heater is as mediocre as they get, and there isn’t much else to dig for inside his repertoire. He may still get a decent amount of volume as the Rockies have nothing else to turn to, but opportunity doesn’t always breed success.
Jeff Hoffman – Fringe
Nickname: The Hassle
With a fastball that hits 97 and a strong breaker, there were quick comps of Jon Gray when we first got a strong look at Hoffman in 2017. Even if that isn’t the most ideal comparison, Hoffman has failed to reach that standard, with little hope of a turnaround in the near future. His slider has completely disappeared, leaving a mediocre curveball to do too much, and there’s little to grasp in search of hope for a promising 2020 season.
Peter Lambert – Fringe
Nickname: White Fleece
I know it sounds crazy, but I don’t dislike Lambert, despite his 7.25 ERA last season. He flexed on his first day in the bigs with nine strikeouts and just one earned run across seven frames, showing an ability to miss bats with three secondary pitches and get by locating his 93 mph fastball. The problem was, that’s all we got. Lambert’s 11.6% SwStr that day was the second-highest across all 19 starts he had last season and to believe in his debut performance repeating consistently through a season is a pipedream.
Maybe one day he’ll move teams and turn into a steady back-of-the-rotation arm. Until then, Lambert is not worth your investment.
Chi Chi Gonzalez – Fringe
Not that I’m endorsing Chi Chi for 2020, but allowed just three earned runs across his final four starts as he doubled his changeup usage (a pitch with a 19% SwStr rate) is going to make me wonder if there’s value as a road streamer. For the full 2020 season? Steer clear, as his 92 mph fastball is as pedestrian as you’ll find, while his favorite secondary pitch is a slider that doesn’t even hit a 11% SwStr rate.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)