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April in review: What a great month of baseball

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And it should get better as the team gets to full strength. Five good and five other things that happened in April.

San Diego Padres v Colorado Rockies Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Five Good Things

Free Agent pitchers

Mike Dunn and Greg Holland are big reasons why the Rockies have had one of the best bullpens in baseball. Between the two of them, they have struck out 23, walked seven, allowed only 12 hits and three runs in 19.2 innings of work. Holland is 11 for 11 in save opportunities and Dunn is second on the team in Holds with six and it’s clear to anyone who has watched this team that their impact has been significant. Dunn should be coming off the DL this Wednesday after dealing with some back spasms last week.

Freeland, Senzatela, and Marquez

If this was April 1 and I told you that Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, and German Marquez were looking like our top three starters after a month of baseball I’d get rotten vegetables tossed at me. That’s our current reality; Freeland and Senzatela both have ERA’s below 3.00 and have been getting it done with ground balls and guile (more on that later). Marquez, after a rough first two innings, has allowed one run in eight innings against two of the most potent lineups in baseball. He’s also struck out nine in those eight innings including, but not limited to, superhuman Bryce Harper, a guy who makes contact with over 90 percent of pitches in the strike zone. There’s going to be growing pains for these young arms, but the early results should make you excited.

Jon Gray is out for the foreseeable future with an injured foot, Tyler Anderson is allowing too many home runs and big innings, and Tyler Chatwood has had one start - his complete game shutout in San Francisco - where he hasn’t allowed less than four runs. For better or for worse, these rookies need to continue to pitch like veterans to keep up the Rockies pace.

Tony Wolters’ bat

Defensive whiz Tony Wolters is currently leading the Rockies in batting average (.360) and on-base percentage (.407). Yeah, that’s right; Tony Freaking Wolters. That number probably won’t last, but I doubt it’s going to drop significantly; Wolters hit .321/.374/.488 in the second half of last season. I see this as a continuation of his success in the majors and am looking forward to his offensive growth into a gap-power hitter. That, or a .462 BABip is really helping his case. Either way, Wolters can hit better than you think he can.

BONUS GOOD THING: 1st Place

The place that the Rockies are in. Sure, they’re 8-0 in one-run games and that will level out, but there’s reinforcements on the way to make this team even more formidable. If you can ignore those three horrible, no good, very bad days against the Nationals, it’s been one impressive stretch of baseball.

Five ... Other Things

**Note: this is usually Five Bad Things, but the Rockies are in first. I don’t think there are any truly bad things at this point in the season and with the current result. Plenty to keep an eye on, but we’re not in bad territory.

Tyler Anderson’s fly ball problem

From 2016 to 2017, there has been a stark difference in how hitters are faring against Anderson. I know that sounds ridiculous considering his surface statistics, but a few things have changed in his approach; Anderson’s fastball usage is up 10 percent from last year along with the fly ball rate and hard contact rate, up 9.1 percent and 7.4 percent, respectively.

For context, Anderson is inducing less swings on pitches outside the zone but more swings and misses. From 2016 to 2017, Anderson’s O-swing%, or swing percentage on pitches out of the zone, has dropped from 33.2 percent to 29.6 percent while his Z-swing%, or zone swing percentage, has risen from 68.9 percent to 70.2 percent. That’s a 4.9 percent swing in the difference between the two. Essentially, batters are seeing the ball better this year than last year. Anderson’s swinging strike rate has rose from 10.7 to 12.1 percent, but that’s not making up for the combination of more fastballs and less swings out of the zone.

All this paints a picture that the uptick in fastball usage might be leading to harder-hit balls and balls leaving the yard. I’d like to see Anderson use more of his slider to create more imbalance and variation and see if there’s an improvement in performance.

Trevor Story’s strikeouts

I wrote about this earlier in April and still stick to my original point; the strikeouts aren’t concerning to me. Since April 10 (when I wrote the original piece), Story has hit .182/.280/.470 with a .188 BABip. He’s still striking out at a very high clip and, if he continues to strike out at the same rate as he has since April 10, he’ll break Mark Reynolds’ single season record, but that BABip has to come up and raise his overall numbers. Even if Story hits .240/.340/.470, he’d still be a top-10 offensive shortstop.

Freeland’s and Senzatela’s strikeout rates

In continuation of our Freeland/Senzatela/Marquez discussion, the minimal strikeout rates that both Freeland and Senzatela are seeing are not encouraging for projections of continued success. Senzatela and Freeland have a 14.3 and 13.4 strikeout percentage, well below the team average of 19.5 percent. For a team that ranks 18th in baseball in total strikeouts, being that far below the average isn’t a good sign. Freeland has been a groundball machine, though, producing a 66.3 groundball percentage while Senzatela has only produced a groundball 48.3 percent of the time. Even though Freeland isn’t striking people out, he’s keeping the ball on the ground.

Adam Ottavino’s efficiency

Ottavino has been successful in many different situations for the Rockies this year; he threw two scoreless innings last night, leads the team in Holds with 10, and has struck out 15 in 12.2 innings. One thing that has stood out, though, is that many of these innings are strung out with deep counts. Ottavino is averaging 17.45 pitches per inning this year and the only other relievers behind him are Scott Oberg and Jordan Lyles. For contrast, Greg Holland leads the team with 13.58 pitches per inning. Ottavino is hurt a bit by some early rough outings, but there’s still some significant struggle there.