Coming out of 2018, it looked like the Rockies front office had finally started to figure out how to put together a pitching rotation that could have success in Coors Field.
The core of Germán Márquez, Kyle Freeland, Jon Gray, and Antonio Senzatela had all put up above average years (by ERA+) in 2017 and Freeland followed it up with a Cy Young worthy performance in 2018. Márquez had led the team in ERA+ in 2017 and was the the de facto “ace” for the group, but any of the core starters were capable of winning their team a game. After the Rockies were swept by the Brewers in the 2018 NLDS, scoring just two runs over three games, it was clear that their pitching definitely wasn’t the biggest worry and could actually be considered a strength.
In response, the front office extended Márquez in April of 2019 to a five-year deal with a club option for 2024. They extended both Senzatela and Freeland in 2021 through the 2028 season. And while they were unable to lock in Gray, the core of the rotation - one that had experienced success - was here to stay. And the moves made sense - the group definitely showed more than just promise.
Rockies pitching core WAR, 2017 - present
But today, we just care about 2022. One Rockies starter has an ERA below 5 (Freeland at 4.38). No Rockies starter has a winning record. Senzatela is currently on the IL, but the others have had consistency: Márquez and Freeland are both on pace to start 30 games. It’s just not like many of them have been memorable.
Extrapolating the shortened 2020 season to full length, the core pitchers have provided three seasons in the last six that made it a no-brainer for the front office to extend them all. 2019 was a dud for Freeland and Senzatela, then 2021 was underwhelming and this year is looking to be even less impressive. Which version of the core will show up in years to come? What kind of season will it take from Márquez to extend their club option? If Márquez does leave, will he turn into this year’s Tyler Anderson?
Compared to the offensive side of the ball, there’s not a lot of help coming for the Rockies staff. There’s not currently an Ezequiel Tovar shooting up the minors and giving people a reason to watch September baseball. So it’s this group that will have to get it done.
The Rockies clearly still believe in their pitching. They have to - when they’ve made the playoffs recently it’s been on their backs, and the three combined make up nearly 20% of the payroll. And they have good reason to, each pitcher has shown they have what it takes to be an ace. But if the Rockies are to have any success in 2023, it will start on the back end. Having these three on their A-game would go a long way to help that.
★ ★ ★
This year will mark Bud Black’s fifth year at the helm of the Rockies. While there are compelling points that there are a lot of things out of his control concerning the Rockies, he is ultimately responsible for the on-field makeup and product. And recently, it’s no surprise that the product has been lacking. Even without injuries to key players this year, the Rockies figure to have been on the outside looking in, come the expanded October postseason. So how much is too much? GM Bill Schmidt has expressed confidence in Black, as has pitcher Kyle Freeland, but after another season of less than mediocrity, the questions are starting to swirl.
★ ★ ★
On The Farm
It was a day to forget at Constellation Field for the Isotopes on Sunday. Sugar Land (HOU) scored eight runs in the first two innings and Albuquerque was unable to match even that. Sam Hilliard provided the vast majority of the offense for the visitors, smacking two-run homers in both his second and third at-bats. Brent Doyle (no. 25 PuRP) was the only other player to record more than one hit, and the lack of offense plus the barrage by the Space Cowboys were more than enough to sink the ‘topes. The team will wrap up their season with a three game set against the El Paso Chihuahuas (SDP), starting today.
★ ★ ★
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