Colorado Rockies news and links for Wednesday, March 24, 2021
THIS IS A GUEST ROCKPILE BY SKYLER TIMMINS (@SideLine_Crowd)
The Rockies boast one of the best rotations in the history of the franchise and plenty has been said about that fact, but in a time when pitchers have taken a year off from batting and are beginning to get reps in spring training games, it begs the question: what should we watch for in 2021 from the Rockies hitting pitchers?
Bunting and pitchers hitting are synonymous with one another. The main role that a pitcher will have at the plate is to sacrifice a runner over to second base to turn a lineup over. In 2019, the Rockies had 51 sacrifice hits, second only to the Dodgers. Rockies pitchers accounted for 42 of those sacrifice hits, with Germán Márquez leading the way with 10 sac bunts followed closely by Jon Gray with nine.
The bunt is becoming less utilized in baseball, but it’s crucial that Rockies pitchers successfully get the job done to set up scoring opportunities for the top of the lineup. Having a pitcher that won’t be an immediate out can go a long way in helping the Rockies offense produce runs, especially when stealing bases is a focus for many players.
One Last Silver Slugger
Two pitchers have earned a Silver Slugger award in franchise history. Mike Hampton mashed his way to two awards during his time with the Rockies in 2001 and 2002 by hitting a slash line of .315/.329/.552 with 10 homers. The other pitcher to win the award is none other than Márquez in 2018 when he hit .300/.300/.350 with one home run he demolished against Diamondbacks infielder Daniel Descalso.
Márquez is the most likely candidate for the Rockies to contend for the Silver Slugger. If he can regain his 2018 form, Márquez could become just the 10th pitcher in MLB history to win multiple Silver Sluggers, a list that includes Hampton, Tom Glavine as well as active players Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke.
Who Will Hit the Next Home Run?
The Rockies are no stranger to pitchers hitting home runs, but have not seen one since Márquez’s 2018 blast.
There was a time in 2017 when Jon Gray hit a 467-foot home run at Coors Field. At the time it was the longest home run by a Rockies player that season (until Mark Reynolds did this), and the longest home run by a pitcher in the Statcast era.
Kyle Freeland also launched a home run during his rookie campaign in 2017 in a road win against the Reds. Unfortunately for Gray and Freeland, their strikeouts and ground balls are numerous. If either wants to succeed at the plate, they must get their bunts down and work on making quality contact otherwise.
Antonio Senzatela would have to strike an insane amount of luck to hit a long ball. He boasts a career .073 average and zero barrels according to Statcast on FanGraphs. It’s a long shot for Senzatela, but if Bartolo Colon can hit a dinger, anything is possible. With expectations low for 2021, a Senzatela home run could be a piece of hope to hold on to for desperate Rockies fans.
Márquez, as is the case with the Silver Slugger, is the immediate favorite to hit a home run. His ability to make solid contact with an average exit velocity of 83.6 mph plays well in most ballparks, but especially at Coors Field. Márquez’s only problem is that he is hitting a ground ball 59 percent of the time and averaging a career 0.6 degree launch angle. If he can get underneath a ball more often than not in regular hitting situations, Márquez could invoke the spirit of Mike Hampton in Colorado.
Austin Gomber, the presumed fifth rotation member, is the wild card. 2018 was the only time Gomber batted. In 21 plate appearances with the Cardinals, Gomber hit for a .211 AVG with four RBI. He recorded four hard hit balls and had an average exit velocity of 86 mph. He can make more contact and have productive outs; like Senzatela, he remains an outside candidate, but who knows what Coors Field could do for him.
Enjoy the End
Regardless of the inevitability of a universal DH and the arguments about the useless nature of having pitchers hit, let us enjoy the absurdity and awkward performances that pitchers put in at the plate. 2021 might be the last time we get to witness it in action and Rockies pitchers could surprise us all.
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While facing Mark Canha in the third inning, Rockies starter Kyle Freeland exited the game with what the club indicated was a left shoulder strain. The lefty pitcher gave up two runs on two hits with three strikeouts and one walk issued. It remains to be seen how long he will be sidelined and how this may open up opportunities for players battling for a coveted roster spot. On the opposite end, Oakland pitchers baffled the Rockies offense by tallying 12 strikeouts. Seven of them came in the first four innings by Athletics starter Daulton Jefferies.
Thomas Harding chronicles the journey of Josh Fuentes and his efforts to cement a place for himself with the Rockies. From going undrafted to fighting his way into a starting position over Daniel Murphy in 2020, Fuentes remains determined to prove himself as a quality big leaguer worthy of recognition. His hard work just may pay off with playing opportunities due to the current injury to Brendan Rogers.
Colton Welker is garnering consideration to make the Rockies’ Opening Day roster. Welker has enjoyed a strong spring and the team could choose to have him on the roster to gain some experience since the Triple-A season won’t start until May. “I feel ready right now,” Welker said. “My confidence is there. My work ethic is there. I think I can perform at that level. Spring training isn’t the Major League season because of who you’re facing, but I feel confident against anyone right now.”
Spring training is a time for players of all calibers to practice and hone their craft. Kyle Fredrickson reports on how Germán Márquez is improving his command over his pitches, especially his fastball in an effort to continue his growth into a feared National League pitcher. The Rockies haven’t named their Opening Day starter yet, but Marquez could get the nod if he hits his rhythm in his final Spring Training start.