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The Rockies finally have their pitching trio

After years of a strict philosophy, they find a few pitchers who lead them to success in spite of that old model.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Colorado Rockies Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

I very rarely make any public outings as a Baseball Blogger, mostly because the amount of time it takes to write and do my daily work and life is too consuming to then add actual trips to it. But I was lucky enough to do that when I did have time, namely the 2014 SABR Analytics Conference.

In one of the panels, I remember in attendance was Bill Geivett, the then-assistant general manager under Dan O’Dowd. The Rockies had some interesting prospects then—I was even lucky enough to catch Jon Gray face Athletic Yoenis Cespedes that very trip—but this was an organization known to have issues with pitching and dealing with Coors Field.

Geivett was asked after his panel whether they were going to change their pitching philosophy of targeting and developing groundball pitchers, largely because the evidence shows that those kind of pitchers tend to be worse than you’d expect. His response was that they would still pursue those pitchers, regardless of what people thought, largely because their internal processes were so wrapped up in that.

That’s not to knock Geivett, of course, as a person; anyone who has played baseball possesses physical knowledge that I could never dream to have. Yet he and O’Dowd were succeeded by Jeff Bridich, who wanted to flip the script from when, during Geivett’s tenure, the Rockies “posted the fourth-highest ground-ball rate (48.4 percent), but they also recorded the second-worst strikeout rate (15.7 percent) and the highest walk rate (8.6 percent).”

Contrast that with 2018, where they have posted their eighth-lowest ground-ball rate since 2000, highest strikeout rate, and sixth lowest walk rate. But more importantly they have had a 103 ERA+, which seems remarkable considering where they have come from. And even more importantly, they have two starters who have posted better than a 115 ERA+, and all five have posted a ERA+ over 115.

I include Gray in this “trio” of sorts because he still has that potential beyond the groundball past of the Rockies, and those questions were being asked even in 2013-14. Despite an ERA of 4.70, his FIP of 3.59, and his DRA of 3.61 evidence that this is likely some fluke, despite the fact his home run rate is inflated (it was pretty high the previous two seasons, as well). His 10.1 fWAR over three seasons is a drafting and development success no matter how you slice it, even if he has yet to toss 200 innings. Considering the Rockies have been among the worst teams in drafting pitchers, Gray is certainly a bright spot.

Now, there’s Kyle Freeland. A fan favorite and a newfound success, his 2.96 ERA and 3.3 fWAR make him just as valuable as Gray, and he was yet another drafting success, taken eighth overall in the very next draft after him. In a recent Ben Lindbergh piece at The Ringer, he documented how both a change in rubber placement, a timing mechanism, and a decrease in sinker usage (which never would have happened in the past) brought him to his current success.

Which brings us to the final member of the trio, German Márquez. Márquez was brought to my attention because of a really eye-opening fun fact for anyone that isn’t a daily Rockies watcher: other than Jacob deGrom and Patrick Corbin, he has the most fWAR of any starter—that includes Max Scherzer, Gerrit Cole, and Corey Kluber—in the second half.

Márquez’s DRA (3.37) and FIP (3.63) would suggest he is likely one of the fifteen best pitchers in all of baseball, and you wouldn’t necessarily find him on any fantasy go-to list or highlight reel. Yet the hype is just as real: a nearly 5/1 K:BB ratio, just 23 years-old, and just recently, he has raised eyebrows after striking 24 batters in his last two starts.

Consider all of that, and then consider the ages of these pitchers, and consider the fact that they have Nolan Arenado in his prime, and Adam Ottavino as their closer setup man. And... they have yet to hit that consistent 200 inning level, which is the only “if” left in the equation. Colorado isn’t used to pitching, and now they have three homegrown starters who could produce four-ish wins a season, without even one of them posting a groundball rate over 50%.