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Germán Márquez puts in the work and gets the results

Walks were up, strikeouts were down. But Márquez still had one of his best seasons

Welcome to the 2020 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2020. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

★ ★ ★

No. 4, Germán Márquez: 1.7 rWAR

Last year Germán Márquez went into the season on a newly minted five year, $43 million deal and pitched his heart out. At the time he went on the IL for the rest of the season, he had made the most starts in baseball. In a pandemic-shortened season, he again led all of baseball with 13 games started. He led the National League in innings pitched and faced more hitters than anyone else in baseball. The man went out to earn his money.

There’s no question that Germán has earned his money the past two years by a volume perspective. How we evaluate his performance is a matter of perspective. From 2018 to 2019, Márquez’s strikeout rate went down (10.56 to 9.06 K/9) but so did his walk rate (2.62 to 1.81 BB/9). His inflated ERA reflects a certain amount of bad luck: a career high home run rate (1.50 HR/9) and career low strand rate. All in all, Márquez had a rougher year than in the past, but still performed well enough to post a 91 ERA-, solidly better than league average, but not quite up to

So how was 2020 different for Germán (other than the obvious)? Well, his strikeout rate was the lowest and his walk rate was the highest of his career. So naturally he posted the lowest ERA of his career and best ERA- of his career. The answer to this enigma is contact.

Germán Márquez

Stat G IP ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 GB% Barrel % HR/FB% ERA-
Stat G IP ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 GB% Barrel % HR/FB% ERA-
2020 13 81.2 3.75 1.26 8.04 2.76 50.6% 4.9% 9.4% 73
Career Avg -- -- 4.24 1.27 9.08 2.44 47.9% 6.3% 16.1% 86
Stats courtesy Baseball Savant, FanGraphs

Germán has managed to raise his groundball rate each of his four full seasons, to the point where he now qualifies as a groundball pitcher by average launch angle (check out this excellent Baseball Savant Visualization Report to get a sense of what this means). But not only are his groundballs up, but his hard contact is down as well. Baseball Savants defines a “barrel” as a batted ball with the perfect combination of exit velocity and launch angle—essentially, exactly what a pitcher doesn’t want. Márquez was in the top quartile of MLB pitchers in limiting barrels (4.9%).

Combine the increased groundballs with the lack of quality contact and you get the big difference: a 9.4% home run per fly ball rate. Keeping the ball in the yard, you might suspect, is good for a pitcher. It’s especially good if you play half your games in Coors Field. That’s what leads to an ERA- of 73, which means he was 27% better than league average after you account for league and park.

The question becomes how much of this change is sustainable. 13 starts is still a small sample size, for all intents and purposes, so it’s hard to know if that level of limiting his contact can be sustained over a full season. Some of the improvements can be tracked to his pitch usage: he’s relying on his four-seamer less and less, so the weak contact looks to continue. But we’ll have to see what happens when the fatigue of a full season kicks in. One thing we can be sure of: Germán Márquez will keep putting in the work.