Here’s an interesting question: who were the top three starting pitchers by fWAR in the second half last season? Jacob deGrom? OK, obviously he was the leader. Max Scherzer? Sure, he’s up there. But Patrick Corbin, Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, or Justin Verlander? No, none of them were that good, but none other than German Márquez was better than all of them sans deGrom by that metric, putting up a 2.61 ERA and 2.25 FIP in that span.
Márquez finished with an identical fWAR, 4.2, as fellow rotation-mate Kyle Freeland, a fan favorite who mixed up his repertoire (namely, killing the sinker) and fixed his mechanics to put together an another stellar pitching season, one that Colorado rarely sees.
In fact, Freeland had the best RA9-WAR season of any Rockies starter—ever—and both him and Márquez helped the rotation put up a collective 17.9 fWAR as a rotation—fifth best in their history. Their best RA9-WAR season was in 2017.
Even with them seemingly breaking the Coors Field code, some projection systems are expecting a deal of regression, though there are arguments to be made that they are too pessimistic. The bigger, demonstrable change comes out of the bullpen, where Adam Ottavino opted to sign with his hometown Yankees, leaving a Babe Ruth-sized hole in their personnel.
That leaves with them with Wade Davis, whose $52 million contract already looks like an albatross as he put up a disappointing 89 ERA- debut season, and his bullpen companions are a series of reclamation projects sans Seung Hwan Oh, who regained his form after a lackluster 2017. The rest include former Indians bullpen piece Bryan Shaw, and former Rays bullpen ace Jake McGee. There’s upside there, of course, but there’s also the clear chance for some catastrophe.
And like many Rockies ball clubs, the offense is sure to be firing on all cylinders. The organization just made a major commitment to their future on the position player side by inking star third baseman Nolan Arenado to an eight-year, $260 million deal. They signed Daniel Murphy, off a 115 wRC+ post-trade deadline with the Cubs, for $24 million over two years. They join an existing core of Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon, and David Dahl, and they look to produce a projected 15.1 wins.
Ultimately, those won’t be the players who decide their season. If those players get you from 48 to 63 wins (via the replacement team formula), and then Márquez, Gray, and Freeland bring you to 71, then a good portion of their fate falls in the hands of the role players, the bullpen, and the back-end of the rotation. Does Raimel Tapia finally break out? Is Ian Desmond going to be a replacement level (probably)? Do Davis, Shaw, and McGee bring a win, or four, to the table?
That’s the difference between 81 and 85 wins, or 85 wins and 89, all the difference in a league where it could be a dogfight for that second wild card, and considering how far the Dodgers fell last season, another perfect storm could lead them to Game 163 again if the chips fall a similar way.
This is not your father’s Rockies, that’s for sure. With a position player core and a starting rotation that has seemingly shattered the curse of Coors Field, the only thing that can stop them are the natural upper limits of the Dodgers, or if they run into another buzz-saw like Milwaukee in the postseason. Those are things out of your control, and they took care of everything on their side of things.