Are We Repeating a 2018 Mistake?

How different are these two pitchers?

  • Pitcher A: 3.67 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 24% K, 7% BB, 3.18 FIP
  • Pitcher B: 3.77 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 28% K, 7% BB, 3.41 FIP

I’d probably lean toward B as I’m a strikeout slut, but the idea that they’re markedly different wouldn’t really hold up. Even if you look at their pitches, I’m not sure there’s a clear difference:

  • Pitcher A: -4.2 FB, 10.0 SL, 1.4 CB, -1.3 CH
  • Pitcher B: -4.8 FB, 11.2 SL, 4.8 CB, -3.2 CH

Pitcher B has a stronger second-best pitch with that curve, but Pitcher A’s fastball and changeup were both better while the pair shared similarly strong sliders. After his campaign, Pitcher A was taken as a top 40 SP in most drafts. Currently, Pitcher B is going among the top 25 SPs, which means yes, it’s two different seasons for these stat lines. Both also happen to pitch in the most hitter-friendly environment the game has ever seen.

By now you’ve likely guessed that both are Colorado Rockies.

I’m wondering if we might be making the same mistake we did last year by pumping Marquez up the SP rankings. His season was better than Gray’s – I didn’t mention that Gray threw 110 IP in his season and Marquez threw 196 because I thought it might give away their identities too easily – but he’s also going much higher with about a 90 overall pick difference between the pair. So when I ask if we’re making the same mistake, I’m focused primarily in regards to a pair of inflated Colorado pitchers. If anything, the Marquez move could be a bigger mistake given how much higher he’s going.

My concern is that we’re once again heavily investing in a talented-but-raw arm with a limited track record, one great pitch, and a brutal home environment that is tough to tame for 15 starts a year. Or rather, avoid the 3-5 mega blow ups that can erase the 10-12 quality starts you throw there and also undercut strong road work.

Where Gray and Marquez differ is that Marquez wasn’t even good at home last year with a 4.74 ERA/1.47 WHIP combo in 89.3 IP compared to Gray posting a 3.13 ERA/1.22 WHIP there in his 2017 breakout. I think what made those of us who invested in Gray so confident was that he could give a little back at home and make it up on the road as he certainly seemed better than the 4.06 ERA/1.35 WHIP he posted away from Coors would suggest.

Narrator: He didn’t.

Gray did give back all of the home upside (4.91/1.38) while further cratering on the road (5.34/1.32). His season was so weird, though, and probably deserves its own deep-dive another time. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Marquez’s breakout is that he was really just a half season represented quite well by this picture below:

More to the point, he had a 5.53 ERA through 16 starts. That’s well past the point of reasonable patience and I understand anyone who decided to move on from Marquez, especially in mixed leagues. Over his final 17 starts, he posted a sparkling 2.47 ERA/0.95 WHIP combo with 146 punchouts in 113 innings of work. He no doubt carried some teams to the title as a staff leader, particularly because he could’ve easily been paired with more established aces since he was a late-round pick or waiver wire fodder. (Imagine if someone added Marquez and Trevor Williams to their NL-only team with Jacob deGrom in the second half!)

The emergence of a slider he dabbled with in 2017 fueled Marquez’s surge. It finally gave him a second offering to work off his elite curveball. In fact, his curveball/slider combo was the best in baseball during his second half* run. Out of the 52 pitchers who threw at least 400 CB+SL, Marquez’s .337 OPS allowed was the best in baseball as were both his .120 AVG and 55% K rate, and only 2nd to Carlos Rodon (.184) in SLG at .197 and to Clayton Kershaw (258) in PA ending on those pitches with 214.

*we’re starting his run on June 30th, so it’s not a true 2H cutoff

A dirty little secret about Marquez’s run was that his fastball was still well below average. It allowed an .829 OPS, 79th of the 107 pitchers from who threw at least 600 heaters from June 30th on. Part of his success was a favorable schedule that put him in Coors just seven times and while he no doubt dominated there with a composite .591 OPS, it was in spite of his fastball, which allowed a .929 OPS (meaning it was at least decent on the road to shave 100 points off that .829 mark). This is where the bulk of my concern comes from with Marquez.

Can he survive 15 or so starts at home with a bunk fastball? Or like I mentioned earlier, can he avoid the 3-5 shellackings there that could sink the other 10-12? That’s to say nothing of his road work, though. He had to put up a fantastic 2.95 road ERA just to get to his composite 3.77 mark. That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect for all 15-17 starts, he had a pair of 5+ ER duds on the road, but 13 of the remaining 14 saw him allow two or fewer.

I’m just not comfortable with this tiny margin of error for a top 25 starter, no matter how alluring his strikeout capability is when he’s rolling. Gray represents a worst case scenario of what could happen (5.12 ERA/1.35 WHIP and a Triple-A demotion), but I have a hard time projecting anything better than a high-3.00s/low-4.00s ERA and low-to-mid 1.20s WHIP for 24-year old righty. If he gives back anything on that 28% K rate, that further tamps down his ceiling.

At that point, why not just take Charlie Morton 45+ picks later? Or gamble on similar big strikeout arms with some ratio questions like Zack Wheeler (101 ADP), Carlos Martinez (121), Luis Castillo (110), Masahiro Tanaka (139), or Nick Pivetta (153) among others? Hell if I’m gambling on a Rockie, I might just prefer running it back with Gray at a major discount (~200 ADP).

Obviously, it’s not a Marquez or Gray proposition with such a split in their draft spots, but I’ll be bypassing Marquez at his cost in favor of similar profiles who don’t have to pitch in Coors. Marquez is electric when he’s on and at his age, he could still develop further, but Coors amps the degree of difficulty up several levels.

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Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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And I thought this would be about Cole Hamels.