DENVER — Remarkably, the Colorado Rockies starting pitchers threw more innings than any other team in the National League in 2018. This year, they’ve fallen to the middle of the pack (eighth).
Whether it’s the staff’s ERA being a full run-and-a-half more at 5.67 rather than the 4.17 of last season or the walk rate increasing at nearly a third of a walk more per game, there are plenty of problems for the Colorado Rockies rotation.
Colorado GM Jeff Bridich said the other day that the Rockies have been relativity healthy, so citing injury would be foolish as to this collapse. However, for the past few years, the Rockies were extraordinarily healthy, particularly in the pitching staff. From mid-September of 2016 to the middle of the 2019 season, the club only used eight starting pitchers. Most teams will cycle through that many in about half a year.
Think about this season. Tyler Anderson going down for the year after just 20 innings, Kyle Freeland‘s massive regression from Cy Young candidate to below replacement, Chad Bettis becoming an unreliable full-time reliever and even Jeff Hoffman‘s inability to translate talent to performance are all contributors. Really only Jon Gray has been better this year and last.
It’s hard to say if fatigue from pitching deep into the past two years is a factor, a lump in unlinear progression or an overestimation in true talent love is the culprit. The symptoms of statistical analysis from strikeouts down to hard hit rate are easy to see. The deeper issue isn’t.
There comes a point in all of this where it has to be asked if the altitude effects of Denver are to blame. The organization finally found a group that was able to overcome the mental aspects of pitching at Coors Field but there are physical limits that just can’t be overcome. It’s not known where exactly this line is, but it is known that performing as an athlete in elevation and living there makes it harder to recover.
In discussions with people who have seen all nearly 30 years of Rockies baseball, they’ll all tell you this franchise has had talented players, including Todd Helton, Larry Walker and Troy Tulowitzki. Each are possibly Hall of Famers but all of their bodies broke down. The pitching side hasn’t seen talent to that level and this era could be the first case study of it.
Still it’s hard to say that a bunch of mid-20s guys are having their bodies break down. In fact, the Rockies were built to sustain this very problem with a wealth of starting pitching in the minor leagues … but their timelines weren’t set for this setback in 2019, leaving this lull.
It could be just a year thing and it could be not the problem at all. I just think it’s time to start asking the question: Is this year the side effect to having a group of six guys throw more innings at altitude than anyone else threw at sea level the year prior?