May 19, 2017
The Rockies' Many Starters, and What to Do With Them
The Rockies played their 40th game of the season Tuesday night in Minnesota, and did so under an unusual circumstance: win or lose, they knew they would go to bed in first place. For the Rockies, that’s newsworthy. In the club’s 25-year history, they’ve only been in first place at least this far into a season seven times. Not since 1995 have they spent as much time in first place as they almost surely will this year—as they already have.
Having Nolan Arenado around is nice. He’s the best part of a surprisingly good infield. The Rockies were one of the last teams to aggressively adopt infield shifting as a run-prevention strategy, but this year they’re doing a better job of turning ground balls into outs while shifting dramatically less often. For the most part, though, credit for the strong start goes to the pitching staff, and especially to one of the league’s most interesting, youngest rotations.
I wrote about Antonio Senzatela two weeks ago. He’s remained impressive, but he’s by no means the clear ace of the staff. Kyle Freeland boasts the best ground-ball rate in baseball, and allowed just one home run over his first seven starts. German Marquez has a mid-90s fastball, a good curveball, an improving changeup, and good command; he flirted with a no-hitter against the Cubs last week. Tylers Chatwood and Anderson are less exciting, but they’re the ones with something resembling a track record of success. Both keep the ball on the ground.
That’s not to mention Jon Gray, who was supposed to be the ace when the season began, but who suffered a stress fracture in his foot and won’t be back until next month; Chad Bettis, whose final round of chemotherapy was last Friday, and whom the team hopes to get back down the stretch; or Jeff Hoffman, who ranked higher on the Rockies’ preseason top 10 prospects list than any of the three rookies who have taken up residence in the rotation so far. There’s also Ryan Castellani, who profiles a bit like a right-handed Freeland, working in Double-A.
None of these guys (save perhaps Gray) is an ace, and none will carry the team to the playoffs on their shoulders. Getting there will probably require something from all of the nine hurlers named above. One helpful thing the Rockies have done on that front (whether foreseeing this season’s need or out of some larger effort to build young hurlers’ arm strength, it’s hard to say) is to allow their guys to accumulate somewhat larger minor-league workloads than are typical of today’s prized pitching prospects.
2016 Workloads, Young Rockies Pitchers
That’s despite the fact that Freeland was coming off a shoulder injury that truncated his 2015, and that Hoffman was still working his way back toward a full workload after Tommy John surgery in 2014. Not pictured there is Senzatela, who also had some shoulder injuries but, more pressingly, lost his mother last year, and so pitched little. In 2014 and 2015, though, he pitched almost 300 combined competitive innings in full-season ball, at the ages of 19 and 20.