The National League West has several new faces that are set to toe the rubber in the first inning. It’s only fitting to preview this new landscape with those additions, and map out the competitive early frames in a division rich with starters.
*Rotation order is courtesy of FanGraphs Depth Charts, sorted by projected fWAR (not a projection of what the rotation order will actually be). ‘Projected rank’ is based on combined fWAR projections.
FanGraphs projected rank: 25
- Germán Márquez
- Jon Gray
- Kyle Freeland
- Austin Gomber
- Antonio Senzatela
Next candidates: Dereck Rodriguez, Chi Chi González, Antonio Santos, Ryan Rolison, Ryan Castellani
The Rockies ranked 15th in starting pitcher fWAR last year, so a preseason rank of 25 is underwhelming when a piece like Gomber joins the mix. Colorado still maintains their entire rotation going into 2021, with many of them top performers last year.
Bud Black has some decisions to make with the order of the rotation itself. Márquez’s experience and consistency reason well for the Opening Day slot; he’s coming off career figures in both ERA and FIP and he started the opener last year. Kyle Freeland has an Opening Day under his belt too (2019), and Antonio Senzatela is coming off a solid year of his own. Lest we forget Jon Gray in the mix; he is the second-highest paid pitcher on the roster (behind Márquez). While his career figures took a decline in 2020, a full offseason should do him well after battling a shoulder injury last year.
The spring training schedule may serve as a better indicator for how Black will arrange the rotation, and many eyes will be fixated on how Austin Gomber is used in his first few spring appearances. MLB has reportedly cut split-squad games out of the Cactus League schedule this year, so there are less spring training starts to go around. Gomber has been used as both a starter and reliever in St. Louis. Last week, general manager Jeff Bridich did not confirm how the Rockies will use Gomber moving forward.
FanGraphs projected rank: 2
- Yu Darvish
- Blake Snell (L) (AL Cy Young, 2018)
- Joe Musgrove
- Dinelson Lamet
- Chris Paddack
Next candidates: MacKenzie Gore, Adrian Morejon, Ryan Weathers, Reggie Lawson
Out for season: Mike Clevinger (Tommy John surgery)
Darvish is coming off the best year of his career, placing second in NL Cy Young voting. Snell is coming off an AL pennant and is three years removed from an AL Cy Young award. Both are newcomers for the big-spender Padres, and the NL West got a lot tougher upon their same-day arrival.
It is presumable that Darvish will be the Opening Day starter given his success in Chicago last year. It’s also surreal to foresee Blake Snell as a number two after his recent success, but that’s an issue that can happen when Fort Knox apparently moves to San Diego.
Dinelson Lamet placed fourth in the NL Cy Young voting last season, but a bicep injury has placed concern on his immediate future. Further precaution may be taken with Lamet already having a Tommy John scar. Last month, Padres GM AJ Preller spoke well on Lamet’s recovery, but it remains interesting as for why the team would pursue a contract for Joe Musgrove when they did. It will be interesting to keep an eye on Lamet through the Cactus League and his readiness as the season approaches.
FanGraphs projected rank: 3
- Walker Buehler
- Trevor Bauer (NL Cy Young - 2020)
- Clayton Kershaw (L) (NL Cy Young - 2011, 2013, 2014)
- Julio Urías (L)
- David Price (L) (AL Cy Young - 2012)
Next candidates: Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, Josiah Gray, Mitchell White
It’s hard to predict the best possible order of the Dodgers’ starting rotation. Clayton Kershaw has started Opening Day in eight of the past 10 seasons; does he get the Tom Brady treatment this year or will Dave Roberts opt for someone else in this gauntlet of a rotation?
Kershaw was no slouch in 2020, finishing tied for 9th in the NL Cy Young polls. He would have nine of the past 10 Opening Day starts if it weren’t for a last-minute scratch in the 2020 opener. Dustin May filled in and did an exceptional job on short notice (4 1⁄3 IP, 1 ER). If May is indeed headed to the bullpen, his agile nature in that Opening Day start reasons him well to handle whatever situation comes his way. Three of his seven appearances in the 2020 postseason were starts; two of them were only for an inning.
It’s a luxurious problem to have when Trevor Bauer will presumably force May or Tony Gonsolin out of the rotation.
FanGraphs projected rank: 24
- Kevin Gausman
- Anthony DeSclafani
- Logan Webb
- Alex Wood (L)
- Johnny Cueto
Next candidates: Sean Hjelle, Tyler Beede, Anthony Banda, Tristan Beck, Rico Garcia
Colorado native Kevin Gausman will likely be fired up to take on his hometown team. He took on the Rockies in three starts last year (16 1⁄3 IP, 7 ER), and the right-hander is set to make the highest figure of his career in 2021.
Alex Wood picked up a World Series ring last year with the Dodgers, pitching four scoreless frames against the Rays in the final five games of the year. He switches sides in the Los Angeles/San Francisco rivalry, and it will be interesting to see how he matches up against an NL West lineup he is familiar with after last year.
The Giants call upon an older contingency of starters: Gausman, DeSclafani, Wood and Cueto are all over 30.
FanGraphs projected rank: 26
- Zac Gallen
- Merrill Kelly
- Luke Weaver
- Madison Bumgarner (L)
- Caleb Smith (L)
Next candidates: Corbin Martin, Alex Young, Humberto Mejia, J.B. Bukauskas
Most of the divisional attention is directed toward Southern California, but D-Backs starter Zac Gallen reasons for some attention of his own. Gallen tied for ninth in NL Cy Young voting last year (with Kershaw), and if not for one tough start on Sept. 12 (5 IP, 7 ER vs. Seattle), Gallen could have indeed finished higher in voting. He made 12 starts in 2020; he went five innings in all but his first outing of the year (4 IP, 1 ER), and he allowed two runs or fewer in all but two of them.
Merrill Kelly only made five appearances last year (all starts), but after posting a 2.59 ERA on the year, Kelly could be in line to carry solid momentum into 2021. Madison Bumgarner is the most marquee name in the Diamondbacks rotation, but his velocity hit a career low in 2020. His ERA and fWAR were the worst of his career, but last year was also a huge interruption to Bumgarner’s normal routine. As a 12-year veteran, that routine was far more established than most. (Bumgarner also gets to hit again this year.)
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Keeler: Give the Rockies your love. But if you want change on Blake Street, stop giving Dick Monfort your money.
Our very own Renee Dechert gets some serious love from The Denver Post on this one.
Another lefty has been taken off the free agent board, as Sean Doolittle has inked a contract with the Cincinnati Reds. It will be interesting to see how the Rockies further address their left-handed pitching needs, particularly if Austin Gomber is used as a starter.
“There will not be a universal designated hitter like there was last season.”
Good news for all MLB pitchers: the ball won’t carry as far in 2021. The changes to the ball will also include a “slightly reduced weight,” which could further lead to a subtle uptick in average velocity (depending on how much “slightly” means).
Pitch physics wizard Barton Smith furthered the discussion on his Twitter page on Monday. One such reply from aerospace engineer Josh Stamps discussed changing the seams depending on the venue: “Low seams to San Diego. High seams to Coors.” (See more: Effect of seam height on wake of MLB baseballs | Barton Smith)
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