Reason for Hope at Coors? Rotation Rebound After Painful 2019 Is Critical
The Rockies have had a quiet off-season which has created a stir among members of the media and the fan base.
The team, however, remains optimistic about what lays ahead, to the point that owner Dick Monfort predicted last weekend that the Rockies will win a franchise-record 94 games in 2020, without any significant roster additions in the off-season.
In the days leading up to spring training, InsidetheSeams.com will take a look at why there can be reason for hope after a season of disappointment.
Kyle Freeland is the poster boy for the Rockies hopes of revival.
A Thomas Jefferson High School grad, and the Rockies first-round draft choice out of the University of Evansville in 2014, Freeland was the talk of baseball in 2018. He set a franchise record for a starting pitcher with a 2.85 ERA for the season and also with a 2.40 ERA at Coors Field. His 17 wins were second most in franchise history.
And add in a solid rookie season in 2017, Freeland was the foundation for a young Rockies rotation.
Now, don't get the wrong idea. Freeland wasn't the reason that the Rockies hit the skids. It was a staff-wide implosion. The 2019 stats for the Rockies rotation were as far from the stats the two previous seasons as anyone could see.
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Freeland, however, was a symptom and because of the success he had in his first two seasons, and his seven-inning-one-run effort in a 6-3 victory the Rockies 2019 season-opening game at Miami.
After that, however, he became a piece in the 2019 Rockies puzzle. In the Rockies advancing to the post-season in 2017 and 2018, Freeland was a combined 28-18 with a 3.39 ERA. He had gone 17-7 in 2018 with franchise records of a 2.85 overall ERA, and 2.40 at Coors Field.
Not only did he finish the season 3-11 with a 6.73 ERA, but he spent 43 days mid-season on an option to Triple-A Albuquerque, and when he was with the Rockies, Freeland was twice on the disabled list -- April 19-28 with a blister on his left index finger, and again Aug. 22-Sept. 21 with a strained left quad.
The Rockies rotation, meanwhile, went from having the second best ERA in franchise history (4.17) in 2018 and sixth best (4.58) in 2017 to a 5.87 ERA in 2019, the second worst by a Rockies rotation, including the expansion seasons at Mile High and pre-humidor moments at Coors Field.
Go figure. The Rockies were a surprise in 2017, in large part because of the addition of rookies Freeland, German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela. They had four starters win in double figures, used only eight starters all season despite the youth, and had four pitchers win in double figures.
And the young staff put to rest fears of a sophomore jinx in 2018. Freeland, Marquez, Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson set a franchise record by all making more than 30 starts. Freeland set the franchise ERA records for a season overall and at Coors Field.
Then came the reality check in 2019. The Rockies used 11 different starting pitchers. Marquez was the only one who worked the 162 innings necessary to qualify for an ERA title. Marquez (12-5) and Jon Gray (11-8) were the only ones out of the 11 to have a winning record.
Freeland made two brief starts in the final week of the season, a test for him after that second trip to the Injured List, but for all practical purpose the Rockies played the last six weeks with all five members of the season-opening rotation on the Injured List.
Now comes the challenge for the Rockies rotation -- a 2020 rebound. The sleeper is Chi Chi Gonzalez, a former first-round pick of the Rangers, who missed the 2017 and 2018 seasons because of Tommy John surgery that initially was delayed until late in 2017 while he attempted to address the situation with injections.
Signed to a minor-league contract prior to 2019, he spent the bulk of the season at Triple-A Albuqerque, and showed some inconsistency when he was first recalled by the Rockies.
In his final five appearances (four starts and a relief appearance) he seemed to turn the corner. The Rockies were 4-1, and Gonzalez was 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA. His fastball gained velocity, hitting 95, and he had more action on his breaking pitches, putting him in line to step into the rotation behind Freeland, Marquez, Gray, and Senzatela.