Buy or Sell: Colorado Rockies Starting Pitching
The Colorado Rockies play home games in a very unique environment. Their stadium, Coors Field, is located in Denver, Colorado, about one mile above sea level. The altitude factor at Coors Field has been notorious for negatively affecting pitchers and positively affecting hitters.
The two major forces acting upon a baseball are gravitational and frictional force. The gravitational force acts on a baseball by bringing it straight downward and is generally the same in all ballparks. The frictional force is the amount of friction caused by the baseball rubbing against molecules in the air. Due to the altitude at Coors Field, the air molecules are 15 percent less dense than at other ball parks.
For pitchers, this causes fastballs to be faster and curveballs to be flatter, which in theory could be positive or negative for specific pitchers. The Rockies tried to take advantage of this theory in 2001 when they signed 1998 CY Young runner-up Mike Hampton.
At that time, Hampton only threw a fastball, cutter and changeup, which the Rockies’ organization believed would be a successful arsenal for Coors Field. Short story even shorter, Hampton spent two seasons in Colorado and finished his tenure with a 21-28 record, 5.75 ERA and 1.67 WHIP in just over 380 innings pitched.
For hitters, lesser air density results in batted baseballs flying higher and further since there is less air resistance to decelerate the ball. These factors can be the difference between flying out to the warning track or hitting a home run.
Since being established in 1993, the Rockies have had only two Cy Young candidates with Jeff Francis in 2007 and Ubaldo Jimenez in 2010. With this in mind, many fantasy baseball owners disregard Rockies’ pitching.
However, the Rockies are in first place with a 22-13 record, showing that their pitchers may have more to offer than we originally thought.
BUY: Antonio Senzatela, RHP
- 5-1 with a 2.86 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 4.91 K/9
Senzatela has quietly been the Rockies’ best player so far. He has managed to compile five quality wins in his first seven starts. He has had trouble striking batters out, but that has never been his motive.
The 22-year-old has a minor-league career record of 41-19 with a 2.45 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 6.6 K/9. Senzatela’s transition from the minors to majors could not have gone more smoothly. His arsenal of pitches follows the Rockies blueprint, as he throws a fastball, slider and changeup.
What stands out about Senzatela is his incredible walk rates. His career walk percentage has never been over seven percent. For the analytical gurus, Senzatela’s xFIP is a poor 4.59, and his HR/FB ratio is only average at 8.9 percent. It is understandable to think his numbers are not sustainable, although I disagree.
I believe he has all of the qualities to succeed in Colorado. His arsenal seems suited for Coors Field, and his previous success has been immaculate. The sky is the limit for the Rockies interim ace.
SELL: Kyle Freeland, LHP
- 3-2 with a 2.93 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 5.9 K/9
Freeland has astounded so far in 2017. However, a drop off in performance should be expected.
The Rockies rookie has a career minor-league record of 17-12 with a 3.49 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 6.1 K/9. He has a career ground-ball rate of around 53 percent, although his current ground-ball rate is up at 66 percent. That is sure to drop. Once his ground-ball diminishes back to his career averages, his home run rate is sure to rise.
Also, the 23-year-old has an xFIP of 4.18 and BABIP of .272. Both suggest that his performance will decline soon enough.
BUY: Tyler Chatwood, RHP
- 3-4 with a 4.74 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 6.4 K/9
Chatwood has been subpar, although a turnaround is imminent. The 27-year-old has a career 4.24 ERA, which is obviously nothing to get too excited over, but he has shown signs of excellence on multiple occasions this season.
He threw a complete game shutout against the San Francisco Giants. He also held the league’s best offense, the Arizona Diamondbacks, to only one earned run in seven innings of work. His main pitches are his fastball and cutter, but he also uses a changeup and curveball to keep hitters off-balance.
Chatwood has a ground-ball rate of 57 percent and an xFIP of 3.87, which shows he is a ground-ball pitcher with average independent fielding stats. As long as he keeps the ball on the ground, he should find success in Colorado.
SELL: German Marquez
- 1-2 with a 4.88 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 7.9 K/9
Marquez has been very inconsistent in his first four starts after being called up to replace an injured Jon Gray. He has shown multiple signs of excellence, as he carried a no-hitter into the seventh against the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday. He also shut out the Diamondbacks in six innings on May 30.
The 22-year-old has a minor-league career ERA of 3.61 and has severally struggled with allowing home runs. He has a career home-run-to-fly-ball (HR/FB) ratio of 11.1 percent, which is considered poor. This trend is very worrisome since Coors Field is not forgiving to fly-ball pitchers.
Marquez also relies heavily on his curveball, which does not bode well at Coors Field either. This specific pitch will drop much less in Colorado than at any other big league park.
BUY: Tyler Anderson, LHP
- 2-3 with a 6.69 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, and 8.4 K/9
Anderson has struggled in all six of his last seven starts. However, I believe it is too early to give up on the 27-year-old. He has a career minor-league ERA of 2.38, WHIP of 1.10 and K/9 of 7.4. Clearly the potential is there, but his early struggles have caused owners to drop him at alarming rates.
The first-round pick in 2011 has faced the Dodgers twice, the Nationals, Giants, Brewers and Diamondbacks so far. Four of these five teams have top-12 scoring offenses, while three of them are ranked one, two and three consecutively.
Anderson’s HR/FB rate is at an astronomical 24.3 percent, which will not sustain itself. Also, his career ground-ball rate is about 49 percent, which is ways apart from his current 40 percent ground-ball rate. His ratios will go back to normal, and he will surely find success this season.
BUY: Jon Gray, RHP
- 0-0 with a 4.38 ERA, 1.46 WHIP and 6.6 K/9
Gray finished 2016 in sixth place in the National League Rookie of the Year voting after recording a 10-10 record, 4.61 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 168 innings.
The 25-year-old was slated to be the Rockies ace in 2017, although he is currently on the 10-day disabled list with a stress fracture in his foot. He is without a firm timetable for his return, although he has been actively throwing and will go for a follow-up on his foot this Thursday.
Gray has an immaculate career K/9 of 9.5, which will make him fantasy relevant whenever he steps on the mound. Although foot injuries are usually serious and tend to linger, this may be the time to buy low on a possibly elite fantasy commodity.
(Featured image by MLB.com)
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