The narrative focus for the Colorado Rockies has often revolved around the fact that they have a great offensive lineup and an awful pitching staff. They have tried all shapes and sizes because they have tried to find their answer to the simple fact that pitching wins championships. The Babylonians knew it, the Romans knew it, and the 2020 Dodgers knew it.
It’s no doubt that pitching at elevation is difficult, but over the years the Rockies have quietly put together one of the most solid rotations in baseball. In some strange Twilight Zone-esque irony, the biggest strength for the 2021 Rockies (amidst a struggling offense and stumbling bullpen) is none other than their starting rotation. Taking a glimpse into a variety of categorical statistics gives a better idea of how special the rotation really is.
Limiting the long ball
For a team that plays half of their games at Coors Field, Rockies starters have done a phenomenal job at preventing opposing hitters from utilizing the longball. Heading into Sunday, Rockies starters have given up 10 home runs to a spectacular rate of 0.84 HR/9 which is the fifth-lowest in all of baseball, and the lowest in the National League West.
Jon Gray leads the way having only allowed one home run in four starts followed by Austin Gomber with two, Germán Márquez with three, and Antonio Senzatela with four. What’s more impressive to note is that of those 10 home runs, only three have been given up at Coors Field. It’s a surprise for sure, but a welcome one and if the Rockies starters can prevent the long ball at home, it will increase their ability to win games.
Ground ball enthusiasts
Crash Davis once told Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham, “Throw some ground balls — it’s more democratic.” The Rockies seemed to take that advice to heart in 2021. So far this season, the Rockies rotation sports a 50.8% ground ball rate which is second only to the Milwaukee Brewers. Conversely, the rotation has a 28.9% fly ball rate which is second-lowest in baseball, once again behind the Brewers.
It’s notable that Rockies pitching has struggled with walks and a lack of strikeouts this season. Things are slowly improving in those departments, but in the meantime, starting pitching is surviving thanks to contact pitching. Opposing teams have a .256 BABIP against them, the fourth-lowest in the league, credited in part to a .988 fielding percentage from the team behind them. If the rotation wants to continue succeeding, they need to keep the ball on the ground. The ability to limit fly balls that can turn into home runs is something the Rockies have tried to instill with their pitchers over their history and it seems they may have figured something out.
Quality workhorse grinders
The key to alleviating the stress on a bullpen (and limiting chances to have implosions) is to have quality starts. The role of a starting pitcher is to go out and give their team the best possible chance to win the game, and the Rockies have done that. Trailing only the Dodgers, the Rockies have tallied 10 quality starts amidst their 7-13 record.
If not for the struggles of the bullpen and the lackadaisical offense, it is not farfetched to envision this team as a top contender. The rotation owns a 3.61 ERA and 4.24 FIP over 107 1⁄3 innings pitched and has the makings of being one of the best rotations in the game (and it hasn’t reached its final form yet). If the Rockies can continue to get solid outings from a rotation that loves to grind, it may just be enough to inspire the offense to pull together and get the run support.
Hope for the future
The season is still young and there are plenty of problems with the current situation for the Rockies. But fans can rest easy knowing they have a starting rotation that is reliable and can compete with the best in the game. The Rockies may have 99 problems, but their starting pitching isn’t one of them.
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During the last road trip for the Rockies, Ryan Spilborghs and Cory Sullivan got the chance to call a couple of games. It was a unique experience to watch, but also a fun one. Nick Groke had the chance to chat with Spilly about the experience, the preparation, how he came up with his “Boom. Roasted.” home run call, and how Garrett Atkins got stuck with a $9,000 bill at dinner. I for one am eager to have Spilly get back in the booth with Sully and have a good time.
Prior to Friday’s game against the Phillies, the Rockies unveiled a fresh new logo for the 2021 All-Star Game that was relocated to Denver. According to the MLB press release, “Rockies purple along with the modern geometric mountain silhouette create the logo’s dimension and signifies the expansive views from downtown Denver and Coors Field.”
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