The 2018 Colorado Rockies starting rotation was one of the best in franchise history, and the same pieces are returning in 2019.
The Rockies starters posted a 4.17 ERA in 2018 and pitched an average of 5.7 innings per game –critical given the bullpen’s inconsistency. 25-year-old Kyle Freeland and 24-year-old German Marquez were the clear standouts; Freeland posted an ERA of 2.85, a 8.2 bWAR and was fourth in Cy Young voting (and had a coming-out performance on the national stage in the NL Wild Card game), while Marquez had a 3.77 ERA and an elite strikeout rate of 28.2 percent.
Both pitchers will probably regress a bit. Freeland is more at risk of regression (he pitches to contact and his fielding independent pitching (FIP) of 3.67 in 2018 implies some good fortune on his part). But Freeland won’t come crashing back back to earth – more like a slight stumble back to earth.
The rest of the potential rotation? Crafty lefty Tyler Anderson will turn out solid outings while going through some rough stretches. Jon Gray still has the stuff to be an elite pitcher – that slider is the stuff of legends – and he seems to be in a better (and beefier) place at Spring Training.
I do not imagine Chad Bettis as a long-term starter (he could be valuable as a middle- or long-reliever again) but Antonio Senzatela posted a 3.95 ERA in 73 regular-season innings as a starter in 2018 and might be a dependable option as the fifth man in the rotation. Could we also see the 21-year-old prospect Peter Lambert on the mound at some point this season?
But enough about the team you know and love. How does the Rockies’ starting rotation compare the Los Angeles Dodgers’?
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The Dodgers’ staff of starters has a clear advantage in depth, and might have the most raw talent in the National League. However, it is a rotation littered with questions and uncertainties.
The one certainty is the excellence of Walker Buehler. He had a remarkable rookie season – 2.62 ERA, 0.96 WHIP – and his fourseam fastball, sinker and curveball are exceptional pitches that generate a lot of swings-and-misses. The Rockies struggled to do anything against Buehler, and he took care of business in Game 163, allowing just one hit in 6 ⅔ innnings. Like Freeland and Marquez, he could certainly slump a little, but will continue to be an ace.
Then there’s Clayton Kershaw, who signed a three-year, $93 million deal even after showing clear signs of regression. His numbers were still impressive, but hardly Kershaw-like. His fastball velocity was down to 90.9 mph so he will probably live and die by his still-jaw-dropping breaking ball, but it will not matter if he can’t even take the mound. Injuries took their toll last season, and at Spring Training 2019, Kershaw is struggling to even throw the ball.
Hyun-Jin Ryu is an ace when he is healthy, and he boasts an arsenal of pitches that generates a lot of swings-and-misses. But he is the David Dahl of the Dodgers’ rotation – seemingly every part of his body has sidelined him at one point or another (no spleen ailment yet, though).
Your crazy uncle Rich Hill will continue to be solid, but he is 38 and blister issues continue to haunt him. Kenta Maeda is incredibly talented but had a rough go as a starter last season, and his numbers are suffering by the season (1.139 WHIP in 2016, 1.154 in 2017, 1.261 in 2018).
We might end up seeing a lot of Ross Stripling and Julio Urías plugged into the rotation. Yet although Stripling was an All-Star last year, he went careening off a cliff in the second half of the season (6.41 ERA vs 2.08 in the first half). Urías is an outstanding pitcher, but the Dodgers are extremely careful with his innings, much to the annoyance of the Dodgers blogosphere.
If I were starting a team from scratch and had to pick a rotation, I would still probably go with the Dodgers’. There are just too many weapons to work with. But it’s a very close call, and I hope the young Rockies staff proves me wrong. The Dodgers will be juggling a lot of moving parts, and some steady hands on the mound could give Colorado that edge it needs for that elusive NL West title.