Between posting the highest ERA in baseball (5.91), giving up the most homers (154), and striking out the fewest batters (533), the 2023 season was brutal for the starting pitchers for the Colorado Rockies.
Injuries dealt the biggest blow to the rotation as the team used 17 different starting pitchers to get through the season, setting a franchise record.
Even knowing that Antonio Senzatela and Germán Márquez will miss most of the upcoming season, it’s hard to imagine that 2024 could be any worse for Rockies starters. Even for a pessimist still fuming about 103 losses, there is one good reason to believe 2024 will be better for the Colorado starting rotation.
After years of good health and luck, the Rockies finally know what it’s like to get bit by the injury bug. Once you’ve been hit, you can’t forget the pain. You can’t unsee lineup holes.
The acquisitions of Cal Quantrill and Dakota Hudson prove that the Rockies are no longer banking on health and good luck, or going all in on the belief that players will simply play better. In the last two seasons, Quantrill recorded 19 wins, while Hudson totaled 14.
For comparison, Kyle Freeland and Austin Gomber, the two stalwarts of the Rockies rotation in 2023, posted 15 and 14 wins respectively in 2022 and 2023 combined. The next highest win total over those two years for the Rockies? Reliever Daniel Bard’s 10.
The Rockies front office never could have imagined a disaster like 2023 because the core of Márquez, Kyle Freeland, Senzatela, and Jon Gray spoiled them. In 2018, the last year the Rockies went to playoffs, they used seven starting pitchers. In 2019 it was 11. In the shortened and strange 2020, they used eight. In 2021, it was 11. In 2022, the first year post-Jon Gray, it was eight. The Rockies almost used the totals of 2021 and 2022 in 2023 alone.
“It was a tough year with the injuries,” Rockies pitching coach Darryl Scott said at Rockies Fest on Jan. 27. “In previous years, we’d been probably one of the most successful organizations in baseball as far as health with Austin, Free, Marqy (Márquez), Senza. We had one of the healthiest staffs in baseball for quite some time. … We know when we go into the season, like this year in spring training, we know we have 33 players coming into spring training and, honestly, you’ve gotta create that depth.”
With Freeland, Gomber, Quantrill, and Hudson, the Rockies have four veteran starters. Quantrill and Hudson have struggled with injuries and aren’t guaranteed, but both finished 2023 looking good and feeling good.
“Injuries are tough. I am a competitor. You want to play through it and I probably played through it a little too long,” Quantrill said of his 2023 shoulder injuries while speaking on a panel with Gomber, Ryan Feltner, Peter Lambert, Scott, and new catcher Jacob Stallings at Rockies Fest. “When I was able to get back, I was able to finish the year the way that I wanted to and I’m looking forward to a healthy season here.”
Time to shine
Then there’s Feltner. After a horrifying skull fracture sidelined him for most of the season, he returned only to hit the IL again with the dreaded inflammation in his throwing elbow. At Rockies Fest, Feltner had good news.
“For this year, I feel totally normal, totally healthy, and ready,” Feltner said.
After making 19 starts in 2019, Lambert has been in severely restricted by injuries. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2020, he made two starts for the Rockies in 2021 and none in 2022 (two MiLB starts). He made 25 appearances for the Rockies last season (11 starts) and made another seven starts for Triple-A Albuquerque while he transitioned from the bullpen to the starting rotation.
“I was just excited to have the opportunity to finally pitch and pitch consistently,” Lambert said at Rockies Fest. “In the past three years, I would pitch and then injury and pitch and then injury. It felt like a never-ending cycle. So, it felt really good last year to have a healthy year.”
Even with his healthiest year since 2019, Lambert still landed on the 15-day injured list with biceps tendinitis in September. Like Feltner, Lambert also had good news to report at Rockies Fest.
“I am feeling good right now and excited to get going,” Lambert said.
That’s a solid six starters and they’ve been in Arizona already preparing for the 2024 season long before they have to report for spring training.
With Noah Davis on the active roster and Ty Blach re-signed on a minor league deal, that’s eight. The risk factors get higher quickly after the first six, but at least there is more depth.
The shockwaves of the starting pitcher nightmare of 2023 have rippled through the minor league system as well. That was evident at a Rockies Fest panel with Chris Forbes, director of player development, Jesse Stender, assistant director, and former manager Clint Hurdle, who is now a special assistant to general manager Bill Schmidt.
“There’s ebbs and flows. It wouldn’t be baseball without that. We try to project. We try to expect everyone’s performance and really anything — on the field and off the field. You never truly know when things are going to pop up,” Stender said. “Our jobs are to be prepared for anything and when those things come, be ready to continue to lead the charge. We feel like we have a good group of human beings with Chris and Clint to lead us through those challenging times.”
The challenging times hit hard in 2023. The starting five —Márquez, Freeland, José Ureña, Gomber, and Feltner — lasted three rotations. It started to crumble in mid-April. From that point on, the Rockies just seemed like they were trying to survive each start.
While 2024 will hopefully be better for Rockies starting pitching, Márquez’s absence isn’t easy to overcome. If he can come back late in the season, he can start building toward a full, healthy, and successful season in 2025. If the farm system can continue to grow the 37 pitchers the Rockies have added in the last year and a half, even if they aren’t all starters, the future will look much brighter.
“You are constantly trying to put the pieces of the puzzle in place and ultimately have a big picture of what are things going to look like in two, three, four, five years,” Forbes said. “So that’s a big part of our player development strategy.”
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The Rockies first spring training game is in two weeks. Their 2024 season opener is about a month and a half away (March 28). While Rockies fans are still awaiting the official word about how and where we’ll be able to watch games this season, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred broke some news about 2025 at an owners meeting on Thursday. Manfred projected that fans will be able to watch all games, whether they are in-market or not, in 2025. In other words, no more local blackouts. In the same article, Evan Drellich talked about how this could be a hard situation to navigate for teams with their own networks and cable deals. On the other hand, Drellich explained how a few teams could help pave the way for that scenario this season: “MLB will broadcast three teams’ games this year: the Diamondbacks, Padres and Rockies. Those three teams’ digital rights, therefore, should be available for 2025. The Guardians, Rangers and Twins are not under contract for 2025, so that makes six potential teams right away.”
The Todd Helton love letters just keep coming. Here’s another good one from Shane Monaghan, a former digital editor of 5280.com and journalism teacher at Regis Jesuit High School, who details following Helton’s stats in his prime and even gives a shoutout to the Rocky Mountain News.
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