Germán Márquez pitched like the All-Star he is against Minnesota in his last appearance. He allowed no runs on three hits across 7.2 innings pitched for the struggling Colorado Rockies.
If the rest of his season had been that dominant, he would punch his ticket for a second straight All-Star Game. Sadly, though, the rest of his season has not been nearly as dominant. His ERA is over 5 and his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is the highest among the Colorado Rockies starting pitching staff.
What is going on? What is different in the way Germán Márquez is pitching for the Colorado Rockies, and why is it causing his struggles?
The emergence of the sinker
If you had asked this question a month ago, I would have blamed the coaching. Back then, almost all of the pitching staff not named Chad Kuhl seemed to struggle, but now Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela have seemed to figure things out, so what is hurting the ace, Germán Márquez? If we look into the analytics, several concerning statistics pop out. First is the emergence of the sinker.
Márquez has always used a sinker in his arsenal with little success in the past, and this season his usage of it has increased dramatically from last year. This is a higher movement fastball that induces ground balls, something that should in theory be perfect for Coors Field, but simply does not work for Márquez. With an expected Batting Average (xBA) of 0.359, it has been the worst of his main four pitches, yet he has increased its usage by almost 13% from 2021.
Why would Márquez elevate this pitch? The allure is obvious. Márquez’s sinker in 2021 had an incredible average launch angle of minus-5 degrees, meaning that batters were essentially shanking the ball directly into the ground. Ground balls have been the key to being successful at Coors. If a ball is going to be hit, you want it nowhere near the daunting outfield. But so far, success has eluded Márquez with this pitch.
While the sinker has never been Márquez’s strong suit, his other pitches have suffered as well, particularly his fastball and dangerous slider.
Márquez’s fastball actually has suffered from something major this year — bad luck. The expected batting average on his fastball has remained static, yet the true batting average has jumped by an unfortunate 0.093. This difference between true batting average and expected batting average means that Márquez has had extremely unfortunate luck, be it things like poor fielding or hitting against the shift, the team around Márquez has not been able to give him support on his fastball hits when they were last year. Márquez has seen a massive increase in slugging on the pitch by 0.200 and an average launch angle increase of 7 degrees.
The problem is, Márquez has seen movement, spin, and velocity on his fastball increase between the 2021 and 2022 seasons. If the pitch has gotten better, then why has it struggled? The analytics are debated, but it has been discussed that pitchers with lower spin rates are actually better for Coors Field. Spin creates movement, which allows even fastballs to move drastically through the zone, but this requires air to create the pressures needed. At Coors Field, the air is thinner, meaning that baseballs do not move the same, nor as drastically as they do at sea level.
While the fastball has struggled though, the actual story is how Márquez’s nasty slider has been neutered in 2022.
All-Star slider no more
The issue with Márquez’s slider is simple: movement. I just explained that while movement at Coors Field is muted, Márquez’s slider was special, despite playing at Coors, he could produce above average movement with it despite his home ballpark in 2021 (his only pitch that season to have above average movement). Unfortunately, Márquez has seen his slider lose 1.4 inches of movement in 2022. This is most likely the reason the expecting batting average on the pitch has increased from 0.207 to 0.251. Still good, but not the elite pitch that it once was.
Losing movement can be attributed to a slightly increased velocity, and a slightly decreased spin rate. Increasing velocity is usually a good thing. If you make your slider look identical to a fastball until it breaks, you can be elite. Unfortunately, increasing how hard you throw the ball means that it has less time to move. In order for a pitch to remain successful, spin rate must increase accordingly with velocity, something that did not occur for Márquez this year.
With that, I think we have identified three aspects of why one of the Colorado Rockies’ greatest pitchers has struggled this season. Márquez will always be in the annals of Rockies history. We shouldn’t forget that he is an All-Star for a reason. He will figure it out. Everyone has rough stretches, the Colorado Rockies analytics department is empty, and Colorado’s coaches have displayed a very traditional mindset in the past. Eventually the Rockies will be dragged into the 21st century, and Márquez will yet again be the better for it.
Data for this article was provided by Baseball Reference and Baseball Savant