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Rockies’ starting pitching surge fuels resurgence

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During an 8-3 stretch, starting pitching has kept Colorado afloat

On April 22, Germán Márquez delivered a 96 mph fastball that struck Kris Bryant in the head, forcing Bryant to leave the game. Marquez received a chorus of boos from the horde of Cubs fans in attendance at Coors Field for the rest of the afternoon. Márquez was never able to get back on track and allowed six runs in just 313 innings pitched. The Rockies went on to lose 9-7. The next day, they gave up 13 runs to the Padres, and their record fell to 12-12 overall, with a sense of dread that the pitching staff was faltering.

Since April 24, Rockies starting pitching has fueled a run to the top of the Wild Card standings in the National League, even during a time when the offense has been inconsistent. The Rockies have played 11 games, going 8-3, and winning three of four series. Here are the starting pitching performances during that time:

Rockies starters since April 24

Date Player Opp Rslt IP H ER BB SO HR Pit Str GSc ERA WPA RE24
Date Player Opp Rslt IP H ER BB SO HR Pit Str GSc ERA WPA RE24
2018-04-24 Kyle Freeland SDP W 8-0 7 3 0 2 8 0 90 57 77 0 0.16 4.162
2018-04-25 Jon Gray SDP W 5-2 6 3 0 1 11 0 101 65 76 0 0.288 3.567
2018-04-27 Tyler Anderson MIA W 1-0 1.1 1 0 1 1 0 28 16 52 0 0.007 0.07
2018-04-28 German Marquez MIA L 1-4 6 6 1 3 6 0 113 70 55 1.5 -0.09 -0.121
2018-04-29 Chad Bettis MIA L 0-3 7 4 2 1 5 1 106 70 65 2.57 0.034 1.359
2018-04-30 Kyle Freeland CHC L 2-3 7 6 3 1 5 0 99 61 57 3.86 -0.062 0.688
2018-05-01 Jon Gray CHC W 3-1 7 3 1 1 6 1 96 67 72 1.29 0.365 2.688
2018-05-02 Tyler Anderson CHC W 11-2 7 3 2 1 9 2 100 71 71 2.57 0.184 1.688
2018-05-04 German Marquez NYM W 8-7 6 6 2 0 8 1 105 69 60 3 0.097 1.007
2018-05-05 Chad Bettis NYM W 2-0 7 6 0 1 2 0 94 61 66 0 0.501 3.508
2018-05-06 Kyle Freeland NYM W 3-2 7 4 2 1 8 0 103 64 68 2.57 0.235 1.508

A few immediate observations pop out. Discounting Tyler Anderson’s start in Miami that was cut short due to a medical issue, each Rockies starting pitcher has each thrown at least six innings and 90 pitches. No pitcher has given up more than three earned runs, and in five cases the pitcher gave up one or zero. In only two cases did the starter have a negative win probability added (WPA). Pitching this well (primarily on the road) has kept the Rockies in games. In fact, in four of the Rockies victories during this stretch, they scored three runs twice, two runs once, and one run once. The starting pitching has covered up a lot of the hitting woes.

Good starting pitching has been the key to Rockies success overall this season. In the team’s twenty victories, the starter has gone less than five innings only four times (one due to injury). The Rockies are 16-1 when ahead after seven innings and 0-13 when behind after seven. Not only is this a testament to the bullpen holding leads, it also shows that when the starting pitching has faltered, the offense has been incapable of comeback victories late.

Overall in 2018, the starting pitching ranks a modest 12th in ERA but 7th in ERA- at 85 (a park-adjusted measurement of ERA based on a league average of 100). For comparison, the Rockies bullpen ranks only 20th in ERA- at 107 (below league average).

This recent stretch should make Rockies fans optimistic. In baseball, it feels easier to overcome bad hitting with good pitching than vice-versa because the deficits are usually small. Right now, the Rockies have the preferable problem. On the flip side, if the pitching doesn’t continue to be stellar, the offense hasn’t shown the ability to come back late in games or score runs in bunches when behind.

At some point in the season, the offense will have to carry the weight. Still, with lots of young arms continuing to develop in the starting rotation, this pitching staff could become one of the scariest in the NL top to bottom.