Coors Field has long been known as a hitter’s paradise, and that was even more true with the juiced ball in 2019. Rockies pitchers struggled to a 6.20 ERA at home compared to 4.92 on the road.
That led to one of the strangest seasons in recent memory for German Marquez. The results look nothing less than ugly, as Marquez posted a 4.76 ERA. Interestingly though, that same 4.76 ERA after being park and league adjusted became an ERA+ of 109, meaning it was 9% better than the league average. Among the 51 qualified starters that posted an ERA+ of at least 100, Marquez had by far the highest ERA. Matthew Boyd’s 4.56 ERA (and 105 ERA+) being the next closest. On the other end of the spectrum, Noah Syndergaard’s 4.25 ERA correlated to just a 95 ERA+.
Marquez is the classic case of a good pitcher stuck in a bad ballpark. For him to ever have any fantasy relevance or post a good ERA he will likely need to get out of Coors Field. There’s no denying his potential though, as he has posted above-average ERAs in three consecutive years along with good peripherals. His 3.40 FIP in 2018 ranked 15th among the 57 qualified starters and his 10.6 K/9 ranked 10th. Marquez also posted a 3.31 SIERA in 2018 along with a 3.10 xFIP. That success led to Marquez signing a 5 year, $43M extension in April 2019. Many listed him as one to watch in 2019.
Without a doubt Marquez without a doubt regressed from his breakout campaign in 2018, but the potential remains for him to be a successful Major League starter in the future. Much of that potential relies on him finding a way out of Coors. He posted a 3.67 ERA on the road in 2019 compared to 6.26 at home. A split that is echoed throughout his career, a 3.72 road ERA and 5.01 home ERA at the MLB level.
However, there are some positive signs from Marquez’s 2019 season that could indicate future success. In 2019, he dropped his BB% to 4.9%, a career-low and significant improvement on the 7.0% he had posted in each of the prior two seasons. Though his K% dropped from his career-best in 2018 and settled at his career average of 24.3% his swinging-strike rate actually increased to a career-high 12.7% in 2019, possibly indicating untapped strikeout potential.
Another sign that Marquez could have more future success is the spike in HR/FB he experienced in 2019. The 20.1% HR/FB rate he posted in 2019 was significantly higher than his career average, and the highest of his career. His HR/FB% was also the third highest among all qualified pitchers in 2019. While that can be partially explained by a drop in IFFB% from 7.8% in 2018 to just 4.2% in 2019 it still seems unsustainable. The low IFFB% itself is an outlier in Marquez’s career stats. The promising sign is that Marquez did not see a significant increase in Hard-Hit % according to Fangraphs, only inching up by 0.6% from 2018 to 2019.
That spike in HR/FB% can likely be at least partially explained by the juiced ball in 2019. The league average HR/FB% spiked to 10.9% in 2019, a notable increase from the 2018 league average of 9.1%, and the highest recorded since at least 2000. While it’s yet to be definitively proven that the ball was juiced in 2019, there was a notable increase in HR. The league’s explanation centered on inconsistent seams on the baseballs, combined with a change in launch angle tendencies. Regardless of what the actual reasoning behind the spike in home runs was, MLB seems determined to resolve any quality issues with the baseball that may have increased home runs. This could lead to home run numbers dropping back to more manageable levels, solving Marquez’s home run issues and leading to better future performance.
Marquez also experienced a drop in LOB%, leaving only 68.0% of runners on base, dropping below 70% for the first time in his career. That reduction seems to be an anomaly, and a return to his career averages would lead to some additional success in run prevention.
Marquez also had some interesting changes in his velocity. His fastball saw a slight increase, improving his career-high from 95.2 to 95.5 in 2019. However, the more significant change was in his off-speed pitches. Marquez’s changeup saw a 2.2 MPH increase to 88.0 MPH in 2019 and his curveball saw a 3 MPH increase to 85.0 MPH. Increasing his velocity is nothing out of the ordinary for Marquez, as he has done so in three consecutive years. However, this was the first time that his offspeed pitches saw a much larger spike in velocity than the fastball.
This increased velocity proved successful for his curveball, as its pitch value increased from 4.8 in 2018 to 13.7 in 2019, becoming his most valuable pitch. The changeup trended in the other direction, decreasing from -3.2 to -4.9. While his slider had previously been his best breaking pitch in 2018, its value tanked in 2019, having a negative pitch value for the second time in three years. For the first time in his career, his fastball posted a positive pitch value.
What can be taken away from his pitch velocity and pitch value changes? The most obvious takeaways are the positive trends for the fastball and curveball. His fastball has increased in value for two consecutive years and his curveball has increased in value for three consecutive years. The other takeaway is that the increased velocity on his changeup decreased its effectiveness. Reestablishing a velocity gap between the changeup and fastball could be a key to adding future success. The slider is harder to peg as it has alternated between negative and positive values each of the last three years.
While it’s not likely Marquez will ever become a top tier starter while pitching in Colorado, he’s shown flashes of brilliance and the underlying numbers indicate that success could be in his future. He’s still a plenty useful pitcher even if he’s pitching half of his games in Coors, but expectations must be tempered, especially for fantasy purposes. There’s no denying that upside exists. German Marquez’s career will be an interesting one to follow and watch unfold.