Last week I did a relatively detailed piece about Antonio Senzatela’s general approach to pitching. I explained what I considered to be his strengths, his weaknesses, and what changes he could make in order to unlock his potential. This week we’re going to do the same with the most talented pitcher on the team: Germán Márquez.
Germán is my favorite pitcher and he’s the one Rockies player I have a jersey of, so watching his 2022 has been rough for me. With his recent struggles fresh in all of our minds, it can be easy to forget just how good Márquez has been throughout his career. He is the only starter in Rockies history with at least five qualified seasons of an adjusted ERA+ above 100, all from 2017 to 2021. He was top five in Rookie of the Year voting in 2017, set the all-time single season Rockies strikeout record in 2018, led the NL in innings pitched with a 3.75 ERA in 2020 and became an All-Star for the first time in 2021. While he may not have the single-season high of Kyle Freeland’s 2018 or Ubaldo Jiménez’s 2010, by most measures he is, at worst, one of the two best pitchers in franchise history along with Ubaldo.
His 2022 struggles have been serious, however, and written about in detail on this very site many times. His two fastballs have gotten hammered, his slider hasn’t been as good as usual, his changeup has all but disappeared and his curveball was somehow largely M.I.A. in usage (but excellent as per usual when deployed) until the second half of the season. His strikeout rate has fallen below 21% for the first time in his career, he’s given up a career-high 30 home runs and his ERA+ has fallen below 100 for the first time. This has been the only full season of his MLB career in which he’s been, essentially, a below average starting pitcher.
I believe these struggles are partly a result of gameplan, approach and a change to his pitch shapes, so today we’re going to take a look at Germán Márquez as a pitcher. As we did with Senza, we’ll be going over his strengths and weaknesses, and we’ll craft a gameplan based on them. The format will be a bit different this time around, as I’d like to focus on his pitches individually once we get to the gameplan part, but the buildup will be similar. Let’s break down Germán Márquez as a hurler.
(DISCLAIMER: All the stats in here from this point on were compiled before the final start of Germán’s season at LA. I finished writing this the day before that game!)
What Germán Márquez Does Well
As per usual, we’re going to start with a pitcher’s strengths, his main tools we should deploy and build upon. As always, keep in mind: a true in-depth analysis would involve citing a pitcher’s biomechanical strengths. Since I don’t have access to that information, as with Senza last week, we’re going to focus more on repertoire and approach.
- His knuckle-curve is an absolutely elite pitch. I’ve written about Germán’s curveball a few times before. The main thing to know about it is that despite undergoing some significant changes in terms of velocity and shape, it’s remained an elite pitch. Since 2017, the best hitters in the world have batted .144/.165/.236 with a 50.6% strikeout rate against Germán’s curveball. Among the 246 curves that have been thrown at least 500 times since 2017, Germán’s knuckle-curve ranks 8th-best with a minuscule .174 weighed on-base average (wOBA) against it, and none of the curveballs in the top 12 have been thrown even 1300 times. Márquez’s curve is in a league of its own when you take that into account, and it does everything well: it gets chased out of the zone (with an elite 37.3% chase rate), it gets swings and misses (over 20% of all the curveballs he’s thrown over this time frame result in a whiff), it doesn’t get hit hard (87.5 MPH exit velo), and so on, and so on. It’s a truly elite offering, one that should be used as the backbone of Germán arsenal. A lot of times, when putting a gameplan together for a struggling pitcher, one of the biggest hurdles to clear is the lack of a true signature pitch, an offering they can rely on over and over again. This is not the case for Germán, who has a borderline 80-grade curveball. This is a major strength that will make things easier for us.
- Good velocity. Germán’s always had a really live arm, sitting 94-97 and just about always being able to reach back for 98-99 when he feels the need to. Because of his short stride, his perceived velocity suffers (it’s more like 94ish on average), but when he’s throwing hard even his perceived velo is plus. As a bonus, Germán can maintain his velocity deep into outings and frequently throws harder later into the season. This is another plus for him.
- Two different fastball types. We’ll get to the quality and utility of those two fastballs, but having two different ones is almost always a plus in my eyes, because it gives you two different weapons to use based on the handedness and bat path of the batter at the plate. If you only have one heater and it has a significant weakness, you just have to deal with it. If you have another complementary fastball, however, you can work around it and weaponize each heater based on context. Combined with his velocity, this gives up some potential paths to generate real fastball utility if we use them well. I consider this another plus.
- Two different breaking balls. This plus does come with a disclaimer -it being that we’d like to do some tweaking to the dynamic between his two breaking pitches. But simplifying things, Germán throws both a curveball and a slider, and his slider has been successful in the past, albeit far more inconsistent than his curveball. But still, we don’t have to theorize a new pitch out of thin air here. Germán throws a quality slider, so he has two different breaking pitches. Being able to change shape and velo with your glove-side breakers is always a plus, of course, and Germán has that in his repertoire.
- Throwing strikes is not an issue. When at his best, Germán is and always has been an aggressive strike thrower. This comes with some drawbacks, of course. He does throw a few more middle-middle pitches than average, and sometimes gives up hits others wouldn’t. But it also has benefits: it keeps the walks down, gets him more outs early in the count than most, and can sometimes put a batter in auto-swing mode right away, knowing that if he leaves the bat on his shoulder a two-strike count will arrive very quickly. In other words, we don’t have a pitcher who’s wild and runs his pitch count high all by himself. We can put this under the “strengths” category.
So, as far as strengths go, we have a pitcher who’s a natural strike thrower with a truly elite pitch in his curveball, good velocity, good in-game stamina, a good slider and two different fastball types. This sounds like a wonderful foundation from which to start, doesn’t it? There’s a reason Germán, who’s still only 27 years old, is highly coveted by other teams. They know the clay they’d get to mold is of premium quality.
What Germán Márquez Doesn’t Do Well
Now, for the less flattering stuff. There’s some things related to approach, just like with Antonio Senzatela, but it’s not the only thing that’s been lacking in my view.
- Highly generic fastball shape. This is, in my humble opinion, one of the biggest weaknesses in Germán’s game. As I’ve talked about many, many times before, a fastball with average shape thrown in an average way is something MLB hitters can and will take advantage of. Combined with “only” slightly above average perceived velo due to his short stride, its usage and location (we’ll talk about these things very soon) and a relatively standard release point, and we have two fastballs that don’t figure to perform all that well. And indeed, they have not: batters have hit a combined .314/.382/.509 against Márquez’s four-seam and sinker since 2017. They’ve also had just a 9.6% strikeout rate against a 9.5% walk rate when facing his heaters. As Kenneth recently wrote, his sinker has gotten hammered this season, but that’s not new, as it’s almost always been an average sinker in terms of shape that doesn’t get deployed in the best way (we’ll get to that!). The four-seamer’s shape has gone through some significant changes, from a heater with average rise and a tiny bit of cut in 2017, to an extremely flat and straight one in 2021, to one that’s running and sinking on him in 2022. None of the shapes over the years have been great for swings and misses, but the current one is probably the worst of them all. And speaking of his 2022 fastballs:
- His two fastballs are overlapping. In Germán’s first full season, 2017, his four-seamer had more or less average rise (15 inches of drop, gravity included) and a tiny bit of natural cut. It did relatively okay, with a neutral run value, especially considering that he threw it well over half the time. In 2022, his four-seamer is not cutting or rising, it’s sinking a bit and running to the armside. Does that sound like a sinker to you? It does, doesn’t it? Now, let’s remember than his sinker’s shape has been consistently average throughout his career. By putting two and two together, we can see an issue: his four-seamer and sinker are more similar now than they’ve ever been. On average, they’re separated by about 4.4 inches of drop and 5.4 inches of run this season, an extremely low number. There are times where I’m watching him pitch and I get his fastballs mixed up if I’m not paying attention. Needless to say, that’s bad, and can almost eliminate the “two different fastballs” strength we listed. My official theory is that with his lower arm slot this season (which I’ve written about before), he’s inadvertedly creating more run on his four-seamer, and the two pitches are doing the fusion dance. More on that issue in a bit.
- Way too many fastballs. I’m sure some of you were waiting for me to bring this up. Germán not only has the issue of hittable fastball shape, not only does he have the issue of his two fastballs almost becoming one, he also throws them way too often. For his career, he’s thrown fastballs over 55% of the time. We’ve established that his fastballs are the worst of his main pitches, so 55% is way too much. In 2022, you cannot be throwing your worst pitches well over half the time, it simply will not work. MLB hitters are too good at punishing even good fastballs, let alone mediocre ones. And for the love of all that is holy, stop throwing so many fastballs in the first inning of games. Batters have hit .354/.475/.800 against Germán’s fastballs in the first inning this season, and in many cases it’s because he’ll open the game throwing nothing but heaters. This has to stop, and we have to attack hitters from the jump. I’m not against saving a bit early on, but there’s a line between that and being predictable. Speaking of:
- Predictable sequencing. Just like Senzatela, Márquez throws a whole bunch of first-pitch fastballs. For his career, he’s thrown almost 70% first pitch heaters, way above MLB average. Hitters have batted .364 and slugged .592 against those heaters from Germán throughout his career, and in 2022 in particular they’ve demolished them, batting .419 and slugging a whopping .811 against them. That’s a .514 wOBA, folks. Six of the homers Germán has allowed this year have come in these situations. Another predictable count? 2-0. Germán throws almost 80% fastballs in 2-0 counts, a staggering number, and has allowed a .470 wOBA on these pitches. Again, let’s remember that MLB average fastball usage is 52% on 0-0 counts and 64% on 2-0 counts. Germán, like Senza, has both of those numbers beat by a huge amount. But wait, there’s more: Germán throws 3-1 fastballs about 90% of the time, MLB average is 69.7%. This is almost beating a dead horse at this point, but I have to emphasize this: while the vast majority of MLB hurlers have moved past the idea of a fastball count, most Rockies pitchers still operate under that mentality. That has to change.
- Four-seam fastball location. This has been talked about a billion times before, so I won’t dive too deep into it, but the simplified version is this: Germán tends to throw his four-seamer at the knees quite a bit, and that’s not where a four-seamer should go most of the time (let’s not dismiss it entirely, though. You can steal called strikes at the knees here and there). Even a four-seamer with average shape is far better off being located up in the zone. Combine that with the sequencing we talked about and the average shape, and you won’t be surprised by what comes next. Batters have hit .511 and slugged .766 in 2022 against Germán’s fastballs when they’re in the lower third of the zone. His four-seamer when thrown in the upper third of the zone in 2022? .178 batting average and .333 slugging percentage against. And remember, those are in-zone fastballs. You’ll get even better results if you can get guys to go after a high hard one. Basically, the idea is the following: throwing low in the zone is fine if you’re throwing a sinker. If it’s a four-seamer? Please throw it up, or it’s getting destroyed. MLB hitters have spent just over a generation figuring out how to lift pitches at the knees.
- His slider and curveball have overlapped in recent years. I suspect that one of the reasons behind the inconsistency of Germán’s slider is the fact that his curveball has gotten more and more similar to a slider with every passing year. Whereas they used to have defined velocity ranges and shapes, now his slider is just his curveball when it doesn’t bite. Look at how similar they are in 2022:
They barely differ in terms of velocity range, but the curveball drops more. This leaves his slider in no-man’s land, and it’s no wonder it’s getting hit. For a comparison, check out his shapes and velo in 2018:
The difference is quite easy to point out. A few years ago, his slider and curveball each had their own identity as pitches, but that’s disappeared in recent years, leaving him almost as a two-pitch starter. It’s worth noting that his curveball has gained velo steadily through Germán’s career, most noticeable in 2018, when it gained almost 4 MPH between April and late August, and this does not happen by accident. This will be one of the things we tackle when crafting the final gameplan. We’ll be looking at how to differentiate the two pitches again, and which direction would be best to take.
- His changeup is not developed. Among the great gaps in Márquez’s game is the lack of a changeup, leaving him more exposed than usual against lefties. He does manage to take velocity off the ball, as his changeup is frequently 7-9 MPH slower than his fastball, and unlike Senza, he does take some spin off the ball. His average changeup spins at 1600ish RPMs, which is actually noticeably lower than MLB average (usually around 1750ish RPMs). So what’s the issue, then? Why doesn’t this pitch have any sort of bite for him? We’ll be talking about this in the gameplan as well, because I believe I understand why he can’t get depth on this pitch.
Those are what I’d call Germán’s weak points. Like with Senza, we have a lack of a changeup and overuse of the fastball combined with predictable location and sequencing, but we also have middling fastball shape and two breaking pitches merging together. These seem like huge issues, and they are, but a good amount of this can be solved with a better approach. If we assume we can be less predictable, throw less fastballs and locate them better, our issues come down to the two breaking balls doing the fusion dance, fastball shape and the missing changeup.
We’re here. I’ll do this a bit differently than last week -instead of going over general points, I’ll go pitch by pitch and break down what I believe would be the best way to deploy and/or develop it. We’ll start with his fastballs, because they’re the main thing holding him back.
We’ve already determined that we have to throw this pitch less and higher in the zone when we do throw it, but what detailed adjustments do we want to make with it?
- Get rid of some the run and sink and add rise. Since we’re going to use this pitch in a vertical way, we want extra hop on his four-seamer. I don’t know what changes Germán has made over the years to his grip and finger pressure, obviously, but being overly simplistic, I’m going to say that we’re targeting at least his 2017 fastball shape in terms of vertical movement (15 inches of drop). I don’t know if this is doable with his current lower arm slot (if it is, perfect, because the vertical approach angle on it up in the zone is flatter!), but if it’s not we need to raise that release point again. We cannot have a flat or a running four-seamer that blends in with his sinker, but we can live with average rise if we weaponize it well. This is what Trackman, Rapsodo and pitch design sessions are for.
- Throw it less against RHH, more against LHH. Believe it or not, righties have hit Germán’s four-seamer significantly better than lefties during his career. Righties have a .403 wOBA against it, lefties have a .362 wOBA. Combined with another adjustment we’ll make with his sinker, this means our fastball usage will change a lot depending on batter handedness. Of course, this is all a general gameplan. If the lefty at the plate is someone with a flatter bat path who does really well against high pitches (think Juan Soto), we’ll pitch him differently than we will someone with a steeper barrel path who can be had up in the zone. But as a whole, we want more four-seamers against lefties than against righties.
- Don’t be afraid to throw up and in. This goes for both lefties and righties, by the way. You can tie up a batter really badly if you can locate up and in. Even some of the game’s best hitters will frequently give that area of the plate up early in counts and struggle to reach it for damage with two strikes. This doesn’t mean pitch the same to every batter (detailed scouting reports are there for a reason), but it does mean that it’s much better to not keep everything away from batters, or you become predictable.
In our final mix, the four-seamer would likely be thrown between 20-25% of the time. We throw it mostly up in the zone, more to lefties than righties, and we adapt our usage depending on the batter’s bat path and overall strengths and weaknesses. In order to perfect it, we need to add some carry to this pitch, and that’s where professional pitching coaches and pitch design labs enter the equation. Let’s move on to the sinker.
Contrary to what you might believe, I’m not opposed to Germán throwing sinkers. His four-seamer is not a plus pitch, for starters, and since groundballs are important when you pitch half of your games at Coors Field, sinkers are a good way to get them. There’s a few decisions and changes to be made with this pitch, however.
- Stop throwing it so much to lefties! While Germán’s sinker has been smacked hard this season, the bulk of the damage has come against lefties, who’ve hit a whopping .375/.421/.698 against his sinker, for a .468 wOBA and a .456 xwOBA, so no batted ball luck here. Righties, on the other hand, have hit .263/.302/.388 against the sinker. That’s a .300 wOBA (and a .301 xwOBA) for Germán’s sinker against right-handers in 2022, which is quite good. His 23.5% sinker usage against righties could probably be even higher, but his 24.4% usage against lefties needs to go down by a lot. Remember what I said about throwing more four-seamers against lefties? This is part of our combined adjustment to make two average fastballs work better. We can throw far more sinkers against righties, and far more four-seamers against lefties. This sinker usage guideline is followed by many right-handed pitchers across MLB, and for good reason. Since 2015, right-on-left sinkers have a .375 wOBA against, but right-on-right sinkers have a .335 wOBA against. That’s a big gap, just about the equivalent of the 2022 difference between Mookie Betts (.377 wOBA) versus Dansby Swanson (.334 wOBA). Like the four-seamer, our sinker usage can’t be just about handedness -we have to take the opposing batter into account. Facing a right-handed batter with a really steep bat path, throwing him too many pitches low in the zone is asking for him to lift one of those 400 feet. On the other hand, if we’re facing Juan Soto and we want to throw him a fastball, maybe a sinker would do better than a four-seamer against his bat path. And so on, and so on.
- Define the profile of the sinker. When you begin throwing a sinker, one of the first decisions you have to make from a pitch design standpoint is “how am I getting to my sinker movement?”. This means the following: are you achieving movement based on a true axis and efficient spin, or are you achieving movement based on low efficiency and seam-shifted wake? In very general terms (there’s exceptions everywhere), you can think of sinkers with efficient spin as more of that running two-seam profile (think Dustin May, Sandy Alcántara, etc) and lower efficiency seam-shifted wake sinkers as more of that vertical bowling ball sinker (Logan Webb, Marcus Stroman, etc). Ryan Feltner is a great example of a Rockies pitcher with a vertical, low spin efficiency, seam-shifted sinker (a pitch I’ve written about here). In general, once you get to 85% spin efficiency and below, you’re a candidate for seam-shifted wake. Germán’s sinker was around this area before 2022, but his lower slot this season has made him spin the sinker more efficiently. Now, I can say that in a vacuum I’d prefer to see a return to the older arm slot because it probably gives Germán a better shot to, in a proper pitch design session, find a grip that works and weaponize his sinker’s lower spin efficiency into more vertical, gravity induced movement. However, gaining carry on the four-seam fastball is more important to me than altering the shape of his sinker right now, and If Germán can’t do that from his higher arm slot but he can from the lower one, the sinker can stay as it is now, because it will work fine if we use it correctly. The ideal change here, in my eyes, would be to gain rise on his four-seamer and lower the spin efficiency on his sinker (and weaponize it to gain vertical movement) from the lower slot, but this depends on what Germán himself finds more natural to do.
Really, the main adjustment to make with the sinker is to throw it less to lefties and more to righties. All in all, we’d also use it 20-25% of the time. It could probably work that way even with its current shape, but we could have a better one if we use the low spin efficiency to create depth. His location is fine too: mostly in on the hands, leaving the outer half for the slider, curveball and four-seamer. Let’s get to that slider.
SLIDER & CURVEBALL
Actually, let’s do these two together because they’re very much intertwined. When Germán broke through in 2018, his slider had a lot to do with his success, and when his slider has been worse, he’s struggled more (2019 and 2022). His curveball has changed a lot, but it’s remained a plus-plus pitch. As we’ve mentioned before in this piece, his slider has sort of lost his place as his curveball has gained more and more velocity, so we need to make a decision with this dynamic.
- Do we take velocity off the curveball, or do we turn the slider into a cutter? Personally, I would lean towards the former, but one of these two things has to happen so we can have two different pitches again. Germán already tends to use his slider like a cutter in a way, throwing lots of strikes with it, and it has cutter-ish velocity and action. The short, sharp break is one of the reasons it generates chases and whiffs, but I like it the way it is now. Germán can also throw some really hard sliders that are proper cutters at 90+ MPH, and those perform very well. If he can manipulate his slider that way like Daniel Bard does, I’m all for it. Therefore, what I would suggest is lowering our curveball velocity just a bit, in the 82-86 MPH range, gain a couple of inches of depth, and allow the slider to find its pocket in the 87-91 MPH range. Germán can manipulate the velo and shape of both pitches pretty well, and this something else he can use to his advantage. Want to flip a curveball in there for a strike? Throw a bigger, slower one at 81 MPH. Want to get a chase out of the zone? Ramp it up to 86-87 MPH.
- Use them more, including in hitter’s counts. This is an obvious adjustment to make. The curveball is Germán’s best pitch by far, and he should be throwing it at least 30% of the time, especially against lefties. Against righties, the slider can be thrown quite often and you can basically split the usage 30% each, but it makes sense to lower the slider usage against lefties and compensate by throwing more curveballs. This goes not just for when we’re ahead in the count, but also for when we’re behind, or on the first pitch. You cannot be predictable and telegraph a fastball when a hitter has the advantage.
- Throw the curveball for strikes a bit more often. This is a big one. Over the years, Germán’s thrown the curveball in the zone less and less, mainly using it as a chase pitch and instead using his slider as the in-zone option. We’re going to take a little bit of velocity off the curve, but we should do this even if we kept the velo. Over his career, Germán’s in-zone curveballs have returned a .247 wOBA against, pretty good and more than enough to make getting more called strikes on it worth it. Being unpredictable is a big part of our philosophy, so the last thing we can do is limit the pitch types we throw for strikes. It can be a chase pitch, but it has to get called strikes as well. Not saying we have to flip it in for strikes 60% of the time, but it has to be at least between 40-45%, in my opinion.
And those are the breaking ball adjustments. Not a whole lot to be said, really. Throw them more (at least 50% of the time combined), throw that beautiful curveball for strikes a bit more often, and make a decision when it comes to the shape and velo of your curveball and slider so they don’t trip over each other and they can act as two separate pitches. Two separate pitches that still tunnel brilliantly with Germán’s fastball and between each other, of course. The only other thing I would maybe say is that Germán tends to drop his arm slot ever so slightly on his slider compared to the rest of his pitches, but he’s been doing this for years and had great success on the pitch while doing it, so I doubt it’s something batters notice. Let’s not make a big deal out of nothing here.
This is the big unknown for Germán. He’s thrown his changeup just 4% of the time since 2017 started, and the few ones he’s thrown have been rocked to the tune of a .394 wOBA against. This is a pitch that, if we could develop it, would give Germán a terrific option against lefties. He could use it mainly against southpaws, save most of his sliders for righties and we’d have a proper five-pìtch mix, and probably the makings of an ace in our hands. Of course, as we briefly went over, Germán does manage to take velocity and spin off the ball. His changeup spin, around 1600 RPMs, is lower than league average and looks perfect for Coors Field. After all, pitches without a spin-based movement profile don’t suffer as much at Coors. What’s wrong? Let’s talk about changeups for a little bit here.
In very broad terms, there are two types of changeups out there: side spin based changeups and gyroscopic spin (also known as “gyro” spin) based changeups. Both of them share traits, of course. When you throw a changeup you want to “kill” spin on the ball, but not just spin in general. We’re specifically aiming to remove backspin from the baseball, because you can take velocity off the ball and remove spin, but if you’re still backspinning the ball, that changeup is going to fight gravity just like a fastball and stay up. You know how sometimes you see pitchers with changeups that sort of float instead of dive down? Too much backspin is a frequent cause for that. Therefore, the change made in order to throw a great changeup is to throw it while spinning it with as little pure backspin as possible. In most cases, you’ll see pitchers aim to spin the baseball sideways, and this is what creates that run on the pitch, as seen with Stephen Strasburg down below:
Stephen Strasburg, Disgusting 87mph Changeup (spin axis/release). pic.twitter.com/hYoMqjUn1I— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 24, 2019
Most changeups with higher than average spin (think of someone like Marlins right-hander Pablo López, or Brewers ace reliever Devin Williams) have sink and fade, and the good ones are what most people would see as screwball. On these pitches you’d want a relatively high level of spin efficiency and a steady axis, because we’re creating movement based on side spin. Some guys, for whatever reason, can have a tough time creating side spin on their changeup, however. In most cases, those pitchers would tend to go towards the splitter, a more vertical kind of offspeed pitch with even lower spin and gravity induced movement. The other option, a less common one, is a vertical gyro changeup. Now, when thinking about “gyro spin”, picture a football thrown with a perfect spiral from an NFL quarterback, or the way a bullet spins. Gyroscopic spin doesn’t contribute to creating movement on the ball, so if we have a high degree of gyro spin on a pitch, we are allowing gravity to affect the offering more than usual. Gyro spin is most common in hard, vertical, biting sliders such as Germán’s, Dinelson Lamet’s, and many of the better slide pieces across the league. As far as changeups, Ryan Feltner’s is like that, if you’re thinking of Rockies hurlers. An even better example of this is Giants ace Logan Webb:
That is an almost entirely vertical changeup with bowling ball-like depth. In fact, Webb’s changeup has only 7.1 inches of horizontal run, one of the lowest numbers for any cambio in the big leagues and half as much run as his sinker, but this extreme vertical profile works very well for him. The way Webb generates so much depth on it is the following: he not only has extremely low raw spin on his change (regularly under 1500 RPMs), his changeup is also spun far less efficiently than most (74% this year), which means he’s getting more gyro spin on the ball and is thus allowing gravity to impact its movement. As the cherry on top, his change has a noticeable change in spin axis throughout its flight. Think of that clock again. His changeup starts spinning at 3:15 PM and ends at 4:30 PM, an enormous gap that clearly contributes to its movement via seam-shifted wake.
What changeup is best for Germán is a question I can’t answer, because it depends on what he finds easier to do. I can definitely tell you that a changeup like Logan Webb’s, with low spin, some degree of gyro spin and seam-shifted wake, translates far better to Coors Field because its movement is heavily based on gravity and not spin. But if Germán can’t get those traits on his changeup (and they’re not very common), it’s not worth it to limit the available changeups to just the gyro ones. He may find a really good grip and release that allows him to throw a solid spin-based changeup, and while it may technically suffer a bit more at altitude, it would be silly to force something else on him for the sake of fitting every pitcher into the same gameplan. The Rockies play 81 games on the road too.
The first thing we need to do, with the right tools such as high-speed cameras, Trackman and Rapsodo units, etc, is to work through grips and releases and try to help Germán, so he can find a way to remove the backspin on his changeup. Right now, his changeup spins in the same direction and axis as his fastball, around 1:45 PM on our clock, so while he does remove spin and he does remove velocity, the excess backspin on his changeup effectively fights against gravity and keeps the pitch from getting the depth we need in order to miss bats. Ideally, we'd also want to achieve some level of gyroscopic spin in order to allow gravity to have a bigger impact on ball flight, but achieving good side spin would also be something we can chase if that’s what Germán finds more natural. If he manages to do that, his changeup will not run a lot, but it will gain depth and become a legitimate weapon for him. Then, it will be a matter of getting comfortable with it and finding consistent command on the pitch. I’m not saying that developing a changeup is an absolute must for Márquez to succeed, by the way, but finding a solid cambio would make him far better against lefties.
Because I talked about each of his pitches separately, let’s now bring it all together in broad strokes for ease of reading. It’s not overly complex, but this is our gameplan for Germán Márquez:
- We’re going to throw less fastballs and make our sequencing less predictable as a whole. If MLB hitters know something is coming, they will hit it even if it’s a good pitch. If the pitch they can tell is coming is average, that’s when you get awful results below a hurler’s true talent. 55% fastballs is too much, we need to at the very least get to the 45% threshold and adopt the “any pitch, any count” mentality.
- We need to give each of Germán’s fastballs its own shape, role and identity. There’s a way to deploy two average-ish fastballs and get solid results with them, but that won’t happen if those two pitches overlap and fulfill a similar role. In our new gameplan, Germán’s four-seamer is a swing and miss pitch thrown up in the zone, and his sinker is our groundball pitch thrown to his armside. More four-seamers against lefties, more sinkers against righties. And the two shapes need to be better defined.
- His curveball is by far his best pitch, and we should throw it more. Almost regardless of the batter, in fact. This also means more a few more curveballs for strikes, instead of deploying it solely as a chase pitch.
- We’re aiming to give Germán’s slider its own place within his pitch mix again. Our idea for achieving this was to drop a bit of velocity on his curveball, which would also gain a bit of shape and allow the two pitches to be two separate entities, rather than blending into one offering. Roughly, we want the curveball at 84 MPH and the slider at 88 MPH. We also want a larger proportion of sliders against righties and a larger proportion of curveballs against lefties.
- His changeup isn’t necessary for him to be good, but our goal when it comes to fixing it is simple. Germán already kills both spin and velocity on his cambio, which is more than can be said for most pitchers who struggle with throwing a changeup. In his case, we simply need to remove some backspin from the baseball and turn it into side spin. Of course, simple doesn’t mean easy, but still.
Because we have so many good elements to build on, the adjustments for Germán are more about pitch deployment than anything else. We have a plus-plus pitch to build an arsenal around, two different breaking balls, two different fastballs and no strike-throwing concerns. The development of his changeup is the only thing I have to significantly project on.
I’d say that’s about it, and here are the main takeaways I developed while researching and writing this piece. Remember, these are my takes from the outside based on watching games over the years, the data and the way I understood it. I’m not trying to disrespect anyone’s work or effort, Germán’s in particular. But this is the way I see it:
- Germán Márquez is a highly talented pitcher with a flawed and predictable approach. I believe that, while done with good intentions, the changes made to Germán’s approach since 2018 have been for the worse. I wasn’t there, but my guess is there was an attempt to make Germán better at his one weak spot between 2017-18: home runs. I’m pretty sure that’s why he started throwing low fastballs in 2019 and why he started throwing more and more sinkers and sliders over the past couple of seasons. It clearly hasn’t worked -Germán has set a career-high in home runs allowed this season and while he’s gotten more groundballs, it’s come at the cost of precious strikeouts and a much less aggressive approach that has all but eliminated the top of the zone and his fastball as a weapon to attack hitters with. That combined with the overuse of his fastball, the predictable sequencing, and so on, has made him an easy pitcher to nail down as a batter. There aren’t many areas of the plate you should look for right now, and if you can lay off a breaking ball in the dirt, you’re probably going to get a fastball in the zone to square up.
- Germán is a power pitcher at heart, and we should act like it. Home runs were indeed a weakness for Germán in his first two seasons, but he had many positives, among them good strike-throwing ability and very good stuff. It’s easy to say it years after the fact, of course, but I believe the focus should’ve been on making Germán’s positives shine even brighter, and accept that while he was going to give up some home runs here and there, it was worth it if the swings and misses remained plentiful and he kept the walks down, as he’s entirely capable of doing. Groundballs are good, but they’re not worth erasing a pitcher’s strengths over. Pitching development 101 says you take a pitcher’s best trait and build on that, and that’s what I believe would be best for Márquez. His movement profile is vertical, he throws gas, his approach is aggressive, and he has two different swing-and-miss breaking pitches. This a power pitcher we’re looking at, not a soft tosser who dots the low-and-away corner and nibbles his way through games.
- His arsenal coherence needs to improve. It’s not an accident that as his pitches have started to blend together, his strikeout rate has fallen. There needs to be more separation between his sinker and four-seamer, and his curveball and slider need to have defined roles, shapes and velocity ranges again. Otherwise, his slider becomes his bad curveball, his four-seamer becomes his bad sinker, and he has nothing to attack different areas of the zone with. Since his changeup is still a work in progress (even though I think it could click rather quickly with the right developmental approach), we cannot afford for his pitch mix to be narrow by accident.
- Germán Márquez’s career isn’t ruined. He remains this team’s best and most talented pitcher. I want this point to be clear, which is why I’m leaving it as the final note. This is not a pitcher you give up on or try to fit in a box. This is a durable and reliable power pitcher with tons of potential, an electric arm, natural feel for spin, tons of in-game stamina and (I’m 100% sure) the moxie to handle a setback or two. The ace is still in there, and I have not stopped believing that for one second. It needs to be revived, and I hope that happens soon. This piece was my take on how to revive that dormant ace, but I’d love to hear your opinions on the topic.
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Of course, as me, Evan and Mac wrote about yesterday, I’d be all for bringing Ureña back, and proved me right against the Dodgers last time out. It seems like there’s mutual interest here, so don’t rule out a return for 2023.
A really interesting piece on the concept of “clutch”. We’ve all heard that idea a million times, almost as many as we’ve heard someone say that “clutch” is not a thing. Recommended if you’re a bit of a data nerd in particular.
On The Farm
Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes (COL) season concluded on Sept. 28 (Final record: 62-86)
Double-A: Hartford Yard Goats (COL) season concluded on Sept. 18 (Final record: 77-60)
High-A: Spokane Indians (COL) season concluded on Sept. 11 (Final record: 64-66)
Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies (COL) season concluded on Sept. 20 (Final record: 83-49)
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