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Germán Márquez’s fastball issue

Colorado Rockies news and links for Sunday, June 5, 2022

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Germán Márquez’s struggles are well documented. Among the 145 pitchers with at least 30 innings so far this season (through June 4th), his 6.71 ERA ranks 8th worst. He’s missing less bats than ever before, and he’s getting absolutely pounded when batters make contact. He’s given up 11 home runs in 55 innings and almost half the batted balls he’s allowed are being hit 95+ MPH or harder, one of the worst rates in baseball. We can talk about why this is happening and point to many different things, but today we’re going to focus on the pitch he’s given up over half of his home runs on: his fastball. Let’s dissect his heater, figure out what’s going on and see if there are some changes that can be made.

The Basic Metrics

Márquez’s heater has good velocity. For most of his career, his fastballs have averaged just about 95 MPH, and he can touch 98-99 when he really tries to throw it through the catcher’s mitt. That’s good velocity in general, and especially good for a starting pitcher, but velo is only one part of a fastball’s identity. We’ll go over the traits later, but first let’s go over his mix. Márquez has two different fastballs: a four-seam-fastball (4SF) and a sinker (SNK). As a general rule, the sinker has been more or less one MPH slower than the four-seam throughout his career, even though this year the gap has closed a bit (94.8 MPH on the 4SF and 94.4 MPH on the SNK). That’s something, but it’s unlikely to be relevant. This, however, really is:

Baseball Savant

Márquez has just about never thrown his sinker more than he has this season, and his four-seamer has never been less utilized in general. For the purposes of this piece, we’re going to focus on the four-seam-fastball. His sinker is getting smashed too, but it’s never been a good pitch for him because it’s entirely unremarkable, so there’s nothing new about that. The fact that he’s throwing one of his worst pitches more is a whole different topic, but let’s not talk about that right now. Márquez’s four-seamer is getting mauled by opposing batters. Guys are hitting .364 and slugging .597 against it, both figures easily career-worst numbers.

That this comes after a 2021 season in which Márquez’s 4SF was a phenomenal pitch for him is even more puzzling. Last season, that pitch generated excellent results, with batters hitting a huge amount of groundballs against it and generally not slugging like big league hitters typically do against other heaters. At Coors Field especially, the pitch was a gold mine. So what’s happened this season?

The Movement Has Changed

Germán Márquez’s fastball is not moving the same way it was last season, plain and simple. “V Mov” means vertical movement, “H Mov” means horizontal movement. Both values are in inches. Before you read the table below, remember that a baseball bat’s barrel is 2.61 inches wide in its thickest part. (And don’t worry, we’ll talk about VAA before this piece ends)

Germán Márquez’s Four-Seam Fastball

Year MPH VAA (º) V Mov H Mov LA (º)
Year MPH VAA (º) V Mov H Mov LA (º)
2021 94,8 -5,7 11,4 5,7 3
2022 94,8 -5,4 12,9 8,3 10

The picture here is clear: Márquez’s heater has actually gained movement this year. It’s gained 2.6 inches of horizontal movement, so it’s running more to his armside, but crucially, it’s also gained 1.5 inches of rise. In other words, his four-seamer is fighting gravity more this season, and it’s not dropping as much. While that’s typically good for a four-seam fastball, in this case it’s leading to some bad results. The Rockies have prioritized low-spin fastballs for years now because they’re less affected by Coors and the extra drop garners more groundball outs, and Germán fastball last season was a perfect example of that. This year, Márquez is locating it more or less in the same spots of the zone as last season (a bit higher this season, but not by a lot), but whereas last season his fastball dropped more and batters often clipped the top of it and beat it right into the ground, this year it’s running right into the barrel and they’re squaring it up mercilessly. The average launch angle against it is 10 degrees, a hard line drive every time it gets hit. Again, those added 1.5 inches of rise may not seem like much, but that’s exactly the difference between a batter hitting a groundball or a hard, back-spinning line drive. What could be causing this?

Pointing To The Issue

There are a bunch of things that could be causing this that I don’t have access to (finger pressure, the positioning of the ball in Germán’s hand, etc), but I can see a noticeable change for the right-hander this year. A change that I suspect is not intentional. This is Germán release point on every single one of his 2021 fastballs:

Baseball Savant

And here are his 2022 release points:

Baseball Savant

It’s subtle, but the difference is clearly there. Márquez’s release point has changed this season: he’s releasing the baseball slightly less over the top, and a bit more sidearm-ish, and I believe that this is what’s causing the change in movement. Remember, his fastball is getting more armside run and less sink, which tracks with a low-spin four-seamer thrown from a less over the top arm angle. I don’t think this is intentional, because it goes against what the Rockies tend to actively seek in their starters, but it’s hurting Germán. His fastball used to be a pretty noticeable outlier when it came to its movement, but this year it’s drifting a bit more towards normalcy, and fastballs with average shapes don’t get batters out (just ask Hunter Greene).

As a result of this change in release point and the slightly higher location within the zone, Márquez’s vertical approach angle (VAA, here’s a primer on it) has changed this season, just a bit. In 2021 it was -5.7º, one of the steepest for any starting pitcher, and this year it’s slightly less so at -5.4º. The more negative the value of the VAA, the more steep it is, the more it drifts towards 0, the flatter. When thinking about a flat VAA, think of someone like Craig Kimbrel: rising fastball at the top of the zone from a sidearm delivery. A steep VAA would be someone like Antonio Senzatela: sinking fastball at the bottom of the zone from an over-the-top delivery. The flatter the VAA on a four-seamer, the more swings and misses it’s going to get, but it’s also going to cause more flyballs. Márquez’s fastball is now residing in the Bermuda Triangle of unremarkable (whether good or bad) movement, middling location and a VAA that’s drifting ever so slightly towards normalcy.

All those things are happening at the same time, and they’re a recipe for disaster. There are more things on top of this that are causing Márquez’s issues (pitch sequencing, the overuse of his sinker, the inexplicable disappearing act of his curveball, the shape of his curveball and slider doing the fusion dance, predictable location, etc), but this is part of it. His fastball was excellent at contact management last season, but now it’s looking more like the 2018-19 version that used to get crushed. For his sake, I hope there are some changes made here, because this can’t continue. If his heater is sinking less, he needs to locate it differently. He’s using his 2021 location gameplan with his 2018-19 fastball shape, and it’s lead to predictably horrible results. Also, please... less sinkers! This is a power pitcher at heart, Rockies, stop trying to make him dot the down-and-away corner!

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Rockies prospect Drew Romo ‘wants to be a perfect player’: Why the catcher is worth the risk | The Athletic ($)

Some good stuff on top Rockies prospect Drew Romo. The California native was one of the riskiest prospects in his Draft Class: a switch-hitting, big-framed, high school catcher with some hit tool concerns. But Romo has performed brilliantly so far, and his incredibly driven mentality is a big reason why.

A Visualized Primer on Vertical Approach Angle | Fangraphs

I’m putting this here even though it’s from a while ago because reading it is important to understand why Márquez is struggling right now. Unsurprisingly, he gets a mention here, as his 2021 fastball is basically the anti-VAA pitch.

On The Farm

Triple-A: Albuquerque Isotopes 8, Sugar Land Skeeters 5

In what was Riley Smith’s best start of the season, and his first W (6.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 6 K, 1 HR), the Isotopes (24-29) cruised to a relatively dominant win that was only made closer on the scoreboard by a three-run rally in the Sugar Land half of the 9th inning. It was a complete offensive performance: seven of the nine batters had at least a hit and five of them were on base twice or more, with Elehuris Montero leading the way with a 3-for-5 game that featured a double and a pair of RBI. Albuquerque had five extra-base hits, went 3-for-8 with RISP and got a pair of two-out RBI. All in all, a good night at the ballpark, and the ‘Topes will try to make it four wins in six games against the Skeeters today. Their starter is TBD at the time of writing this piece.

Double-A: Reading Fightin’ Phils 5, Hartford Yard Goats 7

A solid enough bounceback outing for Karl Kauffmann (5.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 HR) and capitalizing on the opportunities on offense were enough for the Yard Goats (31-19 after the win) to beat Reading in this ballgame despite getting outhit, 10 to 8, and outwalked, 6 to 2. Five of Hartford’s runs came with two outs, including a two-run homer from Michael Toglia that proved to be the difference in the end. A bullpen blow-up in the 7th threatened to turn the game around, but reliever Stephen Jones came in, got a double play to end the frame and got five more outs without further damage before PJ Poulin got the save. Riley Pint had pitched a scoreless 6th with three strikeouts before all of this. Hartford will send Noah Gotsis (1-1, 3.91 ERA) to the hill today looking to take the series from the Fightin’ Phils.

High-A: Spokane Indians 1, Vancouver Canadians 12 (GAME 1)

This is what they call getting hammered. Spokane (now 25-22) got dominated in all areas of play: they managed just five hits, only one of them for extra bases, went 0-for-4 with RISP, and their pitching staff got picked apart. Starter Will Ethridge was massacred (3.2 IP, 7 H, 9 R, 3 BB, 4 K, 2 HR) and the bullpen didn’t fare much better. All three Indians pitchers walked more batters than they K’d in this game, which should tell you something. One of those games you just erase from your memory, right? Spokane will look to do so today with righty Andrew Quezada (2-0, 5.06 ERA) on the bump.

High-A: Spokane Indians @ Vancouver Canadians (GAME 2)

The second game of the doubleheader was postponed due to rain.

Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies 3, Modesto Nuts 4

Fresno (now 32-18) held a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the 8th inning, just six outs away from victory, but it slipped from their grasp as the Nuts rallied for three runs in the frame against reliever Sergio Sánchez. This took the win away from 18-year-old Víctor Juárez, who was terrific yet again (6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K) and now has a 2.72 ERA with 49 Ks to just 12 walks in 46.1 innings at Low-A while being almost three years younger than the average player at the level. The Grizzlies didn’t do much offensively despite the three runs, as they all scored without RBIs (via two wild pitches and a fielder’s choice) and the Fresno lineup couldn’t manage a single extra-base hit. The Grizzlies will look to get back into the winning colum with lefty Mason Green (4-1, 1.93 ERA) hoping to carry his hot streak further. Green has allowed just one run in his last 26.1 innings of work across four starts, and pitched into the 8th his last time out.

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