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Past & Present: The 10 best pitching seasons in Rockies history

Taking a look back at some of the best seasons put together by Rockies pitchers, including a pair from 2013.

Ubaldo Jimenez shutting down the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in 2010, part of the best season a Rockies pitcher has ever had.
Ubaldo Jimenez shutting down the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in 2010, part of the best season a Rockies pitcher has ever had.
Jeff Gross

With the success of the top of the Rockies' starting rotation this season, it seemed a good idea to take a look at the best single seasons starting pitchers have had in franchise history. There are many ways the list could be put together; you could rank them by WAR, ERA or wins (though I wouldn't advocate the last one), but I decided to combine those with a few other stats and admittedly add in a dose of subjectivity. We'll start the list with the Honorable Mentions in chronological order:

John Thomson, 1997: 27 GS, 7-9, 4.71 ERA, 166 1/3 IP, 51 BB, 106 K, 4.02 FIP, 2.8 bWAR, 4.1 fWAR
Darryl Kile, 1998: 35 GS, 13-17, 5.20 ERA, 230 1/3 IP, 95 BB, 158 K, 4.69 FIP, 2.2 bWAR, 4.2 fWAR
Pedro Astacio, 2000: 32 GS, 12-9, 5.27 ERA, 196 1/3 IP, 77 BB, 193 K, 4.69 FIP, 3.1 bWAR, 4.3 fWAR
Julian Tavarez, 2000: 12 GS (51 G), 11-5, 4.42 ERA, 120 IP, 53 BB, 62 K, 4.79 FIP, 2.0 bWAR, 2.0 fWAR
Aaron Cook, 2006: 32 GS, 9-15, 4.23 ERA, 212 2/3 IP, 55 BB, 92 K, 4.20 FIP, 3.9 bWAR, 3.9 fWAR
Jeff Francis, 2007: 34 GS, 17-9, 4.22 ERA, 215 1/3 IP, 63 BB, 165 K, 4.19 FIP, 3.9 bWAR, 3.8 fWAR
Ubaldo Jimenez, 2008: 34 GS, 12-12, 3.99 ERA, 198 2/3 IP, 103 BB, 172 K, 3.83 FIP, 3.8 bWAR, 3.9 fWAR
Tyler Chatwood, 2013: 15 GS, 7-4, 3.15 ERA, 85 2/3 IP, 28 BB, 60 K, 3.33 FIP, 2.3 bWAR, 1.8 fWAR

None of those seasons cracked the top ten, but here are the ones that did:

No. 10: Joe Kennedy, 2004

27 GS, 9-7, 3.66 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 162 1/3 IP, 67 BB, 117 K, 4.35 FIP, 135 ERA+, 5.6 bWAR, 3.1 fWAR

In an otherwise forgettable 2004 season for the Rockies, the late Kennedy put together the first sub-4.00 ERA season by a Rockies pitcher since the team's move to Coors Field. Kennedy was actually better at home than on the road that year, posting a 6-1 record with a 3.59 ERA in 14 starts in Denver.

One of his best starts of the season came at Coors Field against the Baltimore Orioles on a Sunday afternoon in June, when he tossed seven shutout innings, giving up four hits and a walk and striking out four. Unfortunately for Kennedy, the game was lost for the Rockies when Shawn Chacon allowed a ninth-inning grand slam to Brian Roberts. Kennedy's high game score of the season (74) came at Montreal in May when he pitched six one-hit innings in a 2-0 Rockies win.

No. 9: Kevin Ritz, 1995

28 GS (31 G), 11-11, 4.21 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 173 1/3 IP, 65 BB, 120 K, 4.15 FIP, 128 ERA+, 4.5 bWAR, 3.9 fWAR

Ritz anchored the rotation for Colorado's first playoff team and posted the second-best pre-humidor season by a Rockies pitcher at Coors Field. He also started Game 1 of the NLDS, allowing three runs (two earned) in 5 1/3 innings, but lost to Greg Maddux and the Braves.

I do not know what sorcery Ritz employed in order to compile a 4.21 ERA with Coors Field as his home park in 1995, but it is certainly an impressive feat. Unsurprisingly, Ritz thrived on the road, compiling a 3.25 ERA in 97 innings away from Denver. As the season wound down with the Rockies chasing a playoff spot, he had his best start of the season, throwing 7 1/3 innings and allowing just one unearned run in a 5-1 win in San Diego.

No. 8: Jason Jennings, 2006

32 GS, 9-13, 3.78 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 212 IP, 85 BB, 142 K, 4.09 FIP, 130 ERA+, 5.0 bWAR, 4.4 fWAR

Jennings was the most reliable member of the Rockies' rotation in the early- and mid-2000s, making 149 starts from 2002-2006, and had his best season as a Rockie in the final year of that stretch. Jennings was underwhelming since winning the NL Rookie of the Year in 2002, but put it all together in 2006.

The highlight of Jennings' season was a pair of complete-game shutouts in May, the first at home against the Astros that saw him strike out nine and the second a two-hit performance in San Diego a few weeks later. He was also red-hot during the summer, posting a 2.77 ERA in June, July and August. He was rewarded for his excellent season by being traded to Houston for Jason Hirsh, Taylor Buchholz and Willy Taveras.

No. 7: Jorge De La Rosa, 2013

25 GS, 12-6, 3.22 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 142 1/3 IP, 50 BB, 98 K, 3.94 FIP, 135 ERA+, 3.7 bWAR, 2.6 fWAR

De La Rosa has returned from Tommy John Surgery with a vengeance, putting together a season that puts him higher on this list than any other lefty in franchise history. De La Rosa has been especially dominant at Coors Field, where he has earned eight of his 12 wins and has a 2.58 ERA in 12 starts. He has allowed just two home runs at home in 69 2/3 innings pitched.

De La Rosa has not allowed a run in six of his 25 starts this year, and yesterday's win over the Padres marked his 14th quality start of the season. He has thrown seven shutout innings in a start twice in 2013, once in St. Louis in May and again in Toronto in June. With another good six weeks, his 2013 season could climb even higher on this list.

No. 6: Pedro Astacio, 1999

34 GS, 17-11, 5.04 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 232 IP, 75 BB, 210 K, 4.56 FIP, 115 ERA+, 5.9 bWAR, 5.3 fWAR

Aside from durability and strikeouts, Astacio's raw numbers from 1999 aren't anything to write home about, but when you take into consideration that those numbers came in the most steroid-fueled, homer-happy era in baseball history and in pre-humidor Coors Field, they become downright impressive.

Astacio's home ERA of 7.16 in 1999 was essentially double his road ERA of 3.60, so when you got him away from Coors Field and its park factor of 126, he was actually a pretty good pitcher, given that the NL had a collective ERA of 4.56. The most notable part of Astacio's 1999 season is the 232 innings he pitched, a franchise record that still stands and likely will for years to come.

No. 5: Aaron Cook, 2008

32 GS, 16-9, 3.96 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 211 1/3 IP, 48 BB, 96 K, 3.76 FIP, 118 ERA+, 4.3 bWAR, 4.6 fWAR

One of the few bright spots from the Rockies' 2008 season was the knowledge that there would be a Cook start every fifth day. The Rockies were 19-13 when Cook took the hill in 2008 and 55-75 when anyone else did.

There was nothing really remarkable about Cook that year. He took the mound every fifth game, got a whole bunch of ground balls (as many as 19 in a game against the Dodgers in September) and the Rockies usually won. The one remarkable thing about Cook in 2008 was the career-high 29 double plays he induced. Essentially, Cook did the same things he's always done, he just did them better during that forgotten season.

No. 4: Marvin Freeman, 1994

18 GS (19 G), 10-2, 2.80 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 112 2/3 IP, 23 BB, 62 K, 3.84 FIP, 179 ERA+, 4.5 bWAR, 2.5 fWAR

The lone entry on this list from the Mile High Stadium era, Marvin Freeman had a fantastic, if strike-shortened 1994 season. The lanky right-hander posted the best full-season ERA by a Rockies pitcher to date with a 2.80 mark in the team's second year of existence.

Freeman was remarkably consistent throughout 1994, recording a quality start 13 times in his 18 trips to the mound, mirroring the Rockies' 13-5 record when he started a game. He only allowed more than three runs once, giving up four runs in seven innings in a start against the Mets in June. His success stemmed largely from the fact that he issued a miniscule 1.8 walks per nine innings. His best start of the season came against the Pirates at Mile High, where he tossed seven shutout innings, allowing five hits and no walks.

No. 3: Ubaldo Jimenez, 2009

33 GS, 15-12, 3.47 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 218 IP, 85 BB, 198 K, 3.36 FIP, 136 ERA+, 5.6 bWAR, 5.6 fWAR

Ubaldo was the ace of a rotation that helped the Rockies make the playoffs in 2009, putting together a stellar season that rarely is talked about by Rockies fans. He started Games 1 and 4 of the NLDS, allowing just two solo home runs in seven innings of work in Game 4.

Jimenez bookended the 2009 regular season quite nicely, throwing eight shutout innings in Arizona in his first start of the year and striking out 10 Dodgers in six innings in his final regular season start. Both games resulted in Rockies wins. Ubaldo had a 4.37 ERA when Clint Hurdle was fired in late May, but had a 3.13 ERA the rest of the season. He was especially dominant as the Rockies made their run in August, with a 1.77 ERA in six starts, striking out 38 in 45 2/3 innings.

No. 2: Jhoulys Chacin, 2013

23 GS, 11-6, 3.18 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 150 IP, 40 BB, 90 K, 3.18 FIP, 138 ERA+, 5.2 bWAR, 3.9 fWAR

Chacin is having a breakout year in 2013. His 3.18 ERA, currently third-best in franchise history, has been greatly helped by his career-low 2.4 BB/9 and the fact that he has allowed just five home runs in 150 innings pitched. At age 25, Chacin is, along with Kennedy and Jimenez, the youngest pitcher on this list. He has also passed Jimenez for the lowest career ERA in Rockies history.

With the Rockies imposing a soft 100 pitch count on their starters this season, Chacin has been ruthlessly efficient, going nearly 6 2/3 innings per start, despite the pitch count, and averaging just 14.5 pitches per inning. His three highest game scores this season have come in starts at Coors Field, but Chacin has been absolutely dominant on the road, with a 1.87 ERA in his nine road outings. He has not given up more than two runs in any start away from Coors Field in 2013.

Chacin hasn't thrown more than 106 pitches in any game this year, but has pitched at least eight innings four times, including his most recent start in which he allowed one run on six hits to the Padres in eight innings and 100 pitches. At his current pace, Chacin will pitch more than 200 innings this season and repeat Cook's feat from 2008 of inducing 29 double plays. Chacin is the perfect poster boy for the Rockies' new "pitching absolutes" of efficiency of pitches and keeping the ball on the ground.

No. 1: Ubaldo Jimenez, 2010

33 GS, 19-8, 2.88 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 221 2/3 IP, 92 BB, 214 K, 3.10 FIP, 161 ERA+, 7.5 bWAR, 6.5 fWAR

The season you expected to be at the top of the list is the one at the top of the list, Ubaldo Jimenez's mind-blowing 2010. Ubaldo set single-season franchise records that still stand for wins, strikeouts, WHIP and WAR, and he threw the only no-hitter in Rockies history.

Jimenez entered his third start of 2010 in Atlanta having allowed three earned runs in a dozen innings on the season, good for a 2.25 ERA. He walked several Braves early, but did not allow any hits and switched to working exclusively from the stretch midway through the game, which cut down the walks and allowed him to complete the no-no. He threw 13 1/3 shutout innings in his next two starts to finish April 5-0 with a 0.79 ERA. He took his first loss of the season on May 9. He allowed a run on two hits in seven innings, but got no run support in a 2-0 loss to the Dodgers.

Jimenez allowed just two runs total in his final four starts of May, finishing the month at 10-1 on the season with a 0.78 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 80 1/3 innings. He finished the first half with a 15-1 record and a 2.20 ERA with 113 strikeouts, earning the start for the NL at the All-Star Game in Anaheim. Jimenez slipped a bit in the second half of the season, recording a 3.80 ERA and a misleading 4-7 record after the All-Star break, but still should have won the NL Cy Young Award (he finished third in the voting behind Adam Wainwright and Roy Halladay).

Ubaldo's dominance in 2010 was indiscriminate; home or away, day or night, he shut down opposing offenses en route to the best pitching season in Rockies history.