It’s been a rough season in terms of playoff odds for any NL West team not in San Francisco or Los Angeles. The Padres have been predictably bad, but at least they managed to unload Matt Kemp and part of his massive contract, I guess. The Diamondbacks are certainly wishing they could get a backsies on their trade for Shelby Miller, who has the highest ERA in MLB (7.14) of pitchers with 60 innings. Ender Inciarte, despite hitting very poorly (.270/.327/.344), has fielded well enough that he has still put up 1.8 fWAR to Miller’s -0.2. I know this article is about the Rockies, but I can’t help myself and this was on my mind because the other big piece in the trade, first-overall 2015 draft pick Dansby Swanson, made his MLB debut last night, going 2-for-4. We’ll inevitably come back to this at a later date, I’m sure, but, man, that trade. Anyways, on to the Rockies.
The fact that the Rockies’ starting pitching has been pretty damn okay this season is not something we should take for granted. Collectively, they rank 14th in MLB by fWAR (9.1). In 2015, their 4.3 fWAR was good for 29th, their 5.27 ERA was good for last place, as was their 4.87 FIP. in 2014, their 5.8 fWAR was last in MLB. They made it to the middle of the pack in 2013, but that was largely on the back of an outlier season from Jhoulys Chacin. In 2012, they were 29th with 2.6 fWAR. Anyways, you get the idea, and it’s not like this a newsflash. If you follow baseball, you already know that Coors Field is a hitter’s wet dream and a pitcher’s fever-induced dinger-on-dinger nightmare. Things are looking better this year, thanks to a trio of pitchers who bring hope for dinger-depressed future.
Lefty rookie Tyler Anderson has only pitched 70 innings since he didn’t get called up until mid-June, but, if we set the bar there, his 3.42 ERA is good for 42nd among starting pitchers. However, if we attempt to account for the fact that his home park is the pitcher’s pit of despair that is Coor’s Field, and use park-adjusted stats, we see how great Anderson has been. His 70 ERA- is good for 19th in MLB, as is his 80 FIP-. He’s been throwing fastballs almost 70% of the time, a changeup 27% of the time and breaking stuff under 3% of the time. After missing all of 2015 due to an elbow injury, the 2011 first-round pick seems to be figuring things out. If you’re getting articles written comparing you to the best pitcher in the game, you’re probably doing something right.
RHP Tyler Chatwood has also been improving mightily and showing more of potential for excellence as he did in 2014. He’s pitched more innings than Anderson (127) and, among qualified pitchers, comes in 38th by ERA (3.75). If we use park-adjusted stats, his 76 ERA- is good for 24th. As with Anderson, he’s throwing mostly fastballs, relying on breaking balls and changeups less than 10% of the time.
RHP Jon Gray is the final piece of the Rockies’ starting tosser triumvirate. In his first full season, his overall ERA isn’t as impressive as the other two, thanks to a handful of outings with poor results from an earned run perspective, but he sports solid underlying numbers that suggest he’s just as good as them, with a 3.83 FIP (36th in MLB) and, again, even better looking park-adjusted stats, with a 86 FIP- (23rd in MLB). Among the three, Gray is the only one who is consistently throwing breaking pitches, and he’s throwing them for a total of around 30% of the time. Regardless, even if Gray has struggled to get results in some of his starts, he’s still been pitching very well, making changes and adding pitches to adjust to his home park.
It’s not all good news for the Rockies, of course. Their big signing of the offseason, Gerardo Parra, has been a complete bust and one of the worst players in baseball this season. The outfielder they traded away after signing Parra, Corey Dickerson, has pretty much been replacement level for Tampa Bay, but the reliever they got back, Jake McGee, hasn’t been the elite reliever he was in Florida. McGee’s overall stats are dragged down by a couple of really terrible stretches, but he’s lost a few MPH of his fastball and basically all of his numbers have gone south this season. The Trevor Story story is on hiatus while he deals with a thumb injury.
But there’s so much good news on the position player front that it’s hard not to get a little excited over the Rockies’ staff being collectively adequate thanks to some really good numbers from a few of them. Story has had his storybook season and Nolan Arenado’s has been even better. Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu and Carlos Gonzalez are all having excellent seasons. David Dahl has looked superb in his first call up and they’ve got other top prospects waiting in the wings.
The Rockies are starting to look like they have some young pitchers who can get results in Coors Field. We’ll have to wait and see if the move away from breaking-ball-reliant pitchers is something they fully embrace and whether it’s a strategy that’s going to work in the long run, but the Rockies have a bunch of really great looking players around for years and the future certainly looks more promising.