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Germán Márquez is doing something different

Colorado Rockies news and links for Wednesday, May 18, 2022

It’s no secret that Rockies ace Germán Márquez’s had a tough time so far this season. At the time of writing this, his 6.16 ERA is the 7th worst among the 101 pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched. He’s gotten squared up quite often, he’s not missing as many bats as he typically does, and a ton of the flyballs he allows are leaving the park. His last start against the Royals represented a clear step forward, however (6.0 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR, W), and there’s a good chance he builds on that and makes his way back to the very top of the rotation. His performance is not what I want to talk about today, though, because Márquez is doing something different mechanically, something that caught my eye. It has to do with extension.

What’s Extension?

In simple terms, extension is how far down the mound a pitcher releases the ball. The average extension in Major League Baseball is typically somewhere around 6 feet, and getting great extension is one reason why some pitchers have fastballs that play beyond their actual velocity. Think of guys like Jacob deGrom, Tyler Glasnow, Freddy Peralta, Zack Wheeler in the modern game, legends like Tom Seaver and Randy Johnson, and so on. They effectively release the ball closer to the plate, taking precious miliseconds away from a hitter’s reaction time. I’ve written about extension on this site before as it related to the Rockies as a whole, but this time we’re going to focus on Germán Márquez.

The Venezuelan has always had noticeably low extension. Márquez’s stride forward is very short, so much so that it’s one of the first things that jumps out at you when you pay attention to his mechanics. And the data confirms it: among the 190 hurlers to throw at least 5000 pitches in the big leagues since 2017, Márquez’s average extension of 5.3 feet is 4th lowest, and only Ty Blach, Drew Pomeranz and Mike Leake have/had less extension towards the plate. This isn’t the most ideal thing, but elite extension is only a tool to get outs, not the end game, and it’s entirely possible to be a great pitcher without it, as Julio Urías, Luis Castillo, Johnny Cueto, Marcus Stroman, Frankie Montas and others will prove.

So why am I talking about extension? Because there’s something different happening in the past few games Germán Márquez has started:

Baseball Savant

That red line right there is the average release extension for Germán in every game this season. Remember, his career average is 5.3 feet, and in recent starts it’s starting to get into the 5.5/5.6 range. It’s been rising ever since his third start, and quite drastically. Now, you might say “but it’s less than half a foot from his career average, what’s the big deal?”. This is the deal:

Baseball Savant

That is the average extension for every start, but this time it’s for every game he’s pitched in since 2017. As I’m sure you noticed, there was a noticeable change between 2019 and 2020. That change mostly stuck in 2021 and it’s been accelerating so far in 2022. In his last start against the Royals, Germán had the highest single-game average extension of any game of his career, and get this: while between 2017-22 his average fastball velocity was 95.2 MPH, the perceived velocity was “only” 93.8 MPH due to his low extension. In this start against KC, however? He averaged 94.7 MPH, and his perceived velo was 94.0 MPH. That drop of just 0.7 MPH is one of the lowest single-game drops of his career. And really, look at the outlier that outing was:

Baseball Savant

That’s every game of Germán’s career since 2017, and you see how that particular performance is almost off the chart relatively to what he’s typically done. This type of stuff fascinates me. Is it relevant? A bit, yes. Gaining some perceived velo thanks to better extension is always a good thing and if this trend continues Germán might just have another reason to try and use that fastball of his as a swing-and-miss pitch. More than likely, however, this is just a modest change that may not even be 100% intentional. Will Germán’s average release extension keep improving? Will the answer to that question change how curious this made me and how much I enjoyed writing this whole thing? Not at all. I’m definitely going to keep tabs on this development, though. There isn’t a single bit of baseball data I find dull or uninteresting (in most settings, anyway).

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The Lurking Influence of Batted Ball Spin | Fangraphs

For all the available data out there for everyone to see in places like Baseball Savant, Fangraphs, the Pitch/FX tool, and more, batted ball spin is one of the few important things that the public can’t really measure yet, but it’s a massively important component in hitting the ball out of the yard. With the ball being less lively now than in years past, this now becomes yet another element as to why a ball that might’ve gone out three years ago is now a harmless warning track flyout.

Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi the third pitcher ever to allow five homers in one inning | ESPN.com

You want to see a very good pitcher get absolutely hammered beyond belief? Really? I’ll warn you, it’s ugly. You still want to see it? Well, here it is... yikes!

On The Farm

Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes 1, Salt Lake Bees 3

In a game that saw that the return of Peter Lambert (he acted as the “opener” and tossed one inning to start the game) and the presence of Kris Bryant as part of a rehad assignment (1-for-3), the now 16-21 Isotopes got shut down by the Bees, coming up with only four hits and a walk in nine innings, with their lone run coming via a solo homer from Tim Lopes. Albuquerque had just one runner in scoring position all game, and that won’t cut it most nights. The ‘Topes will try to rebound from the loss in the series opener with lefty Dillon Overton (2-4, 7.06 ERA) on the mound.

Double-A: Hartford Yard Goats 7, Bowie Baysox 3

It was the first win of the season for righty Noah Davis, and he had himself a solid outing (7.0 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 3 K, 2 HR) to help the 20-14 Yard Goats win their ninth ballgame of their last twelve. The offense provided him with more than enough run support, mainly on the back of a four-run top of the second in which eight Hartford batters came to the plate, with left fielder Jimmy Herron’s three-run home run providing the biggest punch. The Yard Goats went an excellent 5-for-10 with runners in scoring position, scoring those seven runs on 12 hits (five of them for extra bases) and three walks. Top prospect Ezequiel Tovar got going again in this one, with a pair of hits (including a double) in a 2-for-5 performance that snapped an 0-for-19 streak.

High-A: Eugene Emeralds 0, Spokane Indians 1

A duel between two pitching staffs, this ballgame was tied at 0-0 after nine innings, and only the “ghost runner” in extra innings ended this one in a walk-off for the now 17-15 Spokane Indians, because otherwise this might’ve gone much further. Both teams combined to go 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position, and there were exactly zero extra-base hits. Not for one team, but for both teams combined. Yeah. Spokane starter Mike Ruff was fantastic (6.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K) and dropped his season ERA to 2.52 in the process. Pinch-hitter Colin Simpson singled home the winning run in the bottom of the 10th, and the Indians have snapped their four-game losing streak. Righty Tony Locey (2-1, 3.33 ERA) will look to begin a new winning streak for Spokane today in the second of the six-game set.

Low-A: Rancho Cucamonga Quakes 7, Fresno Grizzlies 8

Consider this one a showing of how to pick up your starter when he gets smacked around and KO’ed in the early innings. Cullen Kafka didn’t have it (2.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 0 HR), but the Grizzlies bullpen then pitched seven innings and allowed just three more runs, all unearned. But that wasn’t even the best part, because Fresno entered the bottom of the 9th trailing 7-4. Here’s how the frame went: walk, walk, hit-by-pitch, sac fly to make it 7-5, and then a three-run walk-off home run by pinch-hitter Zack Kokoska to send the fans home happy. Every batter except for first baseman Hunter Goodman reached base at least once, most reached twice or more, and the two of the three guys who only got on once, Adael Amador and Juan Brito, had a sac fly and a three-run homer respectively. Fresno (21-13) keeps rolling, having won three of its last four, and looking to make it four out of five with Case Williams (1-1, 4.26 ERA) on the bump. The 20-year-old righty is on a nice roll, having allowed just three runs across his past 17.1 innings of work, striking out 23 and walking only 5. He’s coming off pitching into the 7th inning for the first time in his pro career.

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