After spending big money on their bullpen in 2018, it ended up being the starting rotation that was the Rockies’ biggest strength. They only used six starters throughout the season (seven counting Jeff Hoffman’s one spot start), with Kyle Freeland, German Márquez, Jon Gray, and Tyler Anderson each starting more than 30 game. Freeland and Márquez both had breakout seasons to lead the way, with Freeland posting the lowest ERA by a Rockies pitcher (2.85) and Márquez setting a club record for season strikeouts (221). They are at the top of a long list of homegrown arms and if they keep pushing the momentum they built last year, this rotation could be deadly once again.
Just like in 2018, four spots in the rotation are safe: Freeland, Márquez, Anderson, and Gray — possibly in that order.
Freeland seems to have taken the “ace” torch from Gray. The lefty had a remarkable 2018 campaign that concluded with him finishing fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting — the highest finish of a Rockies pitcher since Ubaldo Jiménez also finished fourth in 2010. After a storied season, what is Freeland working on going into 2019?
“No major goals, I just want to try to keep being as consistent as possible and repeat my delivery and my pitch mix and be on the same page with our catchers,” he said. Freeland, like Rockies fans, hopes that consistency turns into another great year for the Denver kid (hey, at least I waited until the end to mention it).
Márquez was the probably the biggest surprise of 2018. He performed okay for the first part of the season, but caught fire in the second half. On top of his phenomenal pitching stats, Márquez also took home the NL Silver Slugger for a pitcher. Before last season, Márquez was tabbed as a dark horse for the 2018 Cy Young. Now, he’s being tabbed once again as a sleeper for the 2019 award. Between him and Freeland, could this be the year that one of these Rockies pitchers takes home the hardware?
Anderson gets lost in the shuffle sometimes. He quietly works his way through games and often finishes with high marks. In 2018, he posted a 4.55 ERA over 176 innings, which ranked him third amongst Rockies pitchers with a 3.0 rWAR. He pitched really well through the first half, but the wheels fell off in August and September after one bad outing in St. Louis on August 26th. It wasn’t disastrous enough to derail his season, but Anderson will have to be much more consistent over the entire 2019 season if the rotation is to continue its dominance.
Gray had the most up and down year of his career in 2018 that included a quick reset in Albuquerque in July. Upon his return, he posted a 2.59 ERA with the team winning his first seven games back in the majors. However, he fell back to earth in late August and ended up off the NLDS roster due to his lack of consistency.
Last year, Gray said his goal was to pitch 200 innings. He ended up pitching 172 1⁄3. This year’s goal is the same.
“Definitely want to throw 200 innings this year,” he reiterated. “I want to stay healthy all year long, be there for my team, and that’s kinda the biggest part really. I missed out on a lot last year and I just wanna be healthy and, you know, pitch a lot of innings for ‘em this year.” Let’s hope he’s able to complete those goals this year.
“The Battle for Fifth” — 2019 Edition
Once again, there is a three-way battle for the fifth starter spot between Chad Bettis, Antonio Senzatela, and Jeff Hoffman. Bettis and Senzatela both seem to be the front-runners with Hoffman looking to play spoiler.
Bettis and Senzatela both split time between the rotation and the bullpen last year, whereas Hoffman has been a starter in the minors and a reliever in the majors. Bettis ended up winning the job in 2018, which relegated Senzatela to the bullpen to start the season until he was sent to Albuquerque on May 3 to be stretched out. However, as the season wore on, injuries took their toll on both pitchers and they ended up alternating as starters and relievers. At the end of the season, it was Senzatela pitching in the rotation and Bettis coming out of the bullpen.
It looks to be another back and forth contest this year with no clear front-runner. Bettis is the veteran, but Senzatela finished strong down the stretch. Hoffman has been working hard on his pitches and looks good so far, but seems to be blocked again by the other two. The competition will most likely come down to the wire, but don’t be surprised if Bettis and Senzatela (and maybe even Hoffman) both get their fair share of starts in 2019.
On the farm
The Rockies have a lot of talented arms coming up. The headliners include top prospect Peter Lambert (no. 2 PuRP) and Ryan Castellani (no. 10 PuRP), who is fresh off an Arizona Fall League appearance. Lambert split time between Hartford and Albuquerque last season. While in Hartford, he posted a 2.23 ERA in 15 games before being promoted. In Albuquerque, he was rocked a little more — posting a 5.04 ERA in 11 games and half as many innings pitched.
Castellani repeated Double-A this year and struggled — posting a 5.49 ERA (his highest to date) and 1.526 WHIP. He was selected to the Arizona Fall League, where he had a 5.13 ERA over seven starts. Regardless, they are turning heads in the clubhouse.
“I mean we have a lot of talent and that goes all the way down, through every level, but I’ve seen guys like Castellani and Pete [Lambert] throw and they’re really good, especially for their age,” Jon Gray said. “I mean, I can’t even imagine. I remember when I was like 21-years-old trying to throw and they’re just way ahead and it’s really cool to see. I know they’re knocking on the door.”
Kyle Freeland also had glowing things to say about his former teammates. “I’ve been in the minor leagues with both of them,” he recalled. “I was with Peter when he was first drafted, so I know them pretty well, you know, over the years and they’re two guys that have great mentalities and are looking to win and that’s what we need at the lower levels coming up, especially in the coming years and even this year. We need guys that are MLB ready, that are looking to come up, perform, and help this team win and win in the playoffs.”
When asked if he had any advice for these young guys, Gray said, “Just to come up and use their strengths. What I don’t want to see is them try to be someone else. I just want them to come up here because they’re good and they know why they’re good and use it.”
If catastrophe strikes
Luckily for the Rockies, they have so much pitching depth in their system that they should be able to withstand losing one or two players to injury without having to seek help outside the organization. If they need to dig deep, though, Yency Almonte is a candidate. He began his career as a starter but has since been shifted to the bullpen in the majors. Jesus Tinoco is also a starter-turned-reliever who has yet to make his big league debut, but he had a strong showing in the AFL this year so he could be very close to moving up. Either of them could be stretched back into a starter role if necessary.