Imagine you’ve just arrived in Arizona to enjoy some Spring Training action. In exchange for sitting through two dozen enthralling exhibition baseball games in less than a week, you’ve agreed to first take your sweetheart on a day long horseback riding excursion. You’re about to pay full freight for this pricey little adventure when a shady looking cowboy pulls you aside whispering tales of an unadvertised, half price donkey option.
It’s a pivotal crossroads: Do you forfeit a few servings of nachos at the ballgames and pony up for the trustworthy horse, which you’re confident will deliver you to the promised land? Or do you gamble on the cagey donkey, which may nibble on your girl’s foot halfway through the trek before taking a nap in the middle of the desert?
The Horse Case: In 2018, Aaron Nola made the leap from “up and coming miniature horse” to “purebred stallion”. This pony made strides across the board. Most every metric we care about saw marked improvement for A-A-Ron last season: ERA, FIP, xFIP, WHIP, SwStr%, F-Strike%, Barrel%, even all three of his FICO credit scores saw a major improvement! So the question for me isn’t so much, “Is he legit?”, as it is, “Is he worth the top 25 overall price tag?”.
With a 2.37 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 224 Ks in 212.1 IP, Nola was so good last year that we have to dig pretty deep to find reasons for concern. One number that does jump out is his 87.6% 2nd half strand rate which was the 8th highest in the majors. Great pitchers do tend to buckle down once runners are on base, but I still think this number comes down a bit next year. Another minor concern is the innings jump…
|Aaron Nola Innings Pitched by Season|
|2015 (AA, AAA, MLB)||22||187||None|
|2016 (MLB)||23||111||Sprained UCL|
|2017 (AAA, MLB)||24||178.1||Low Back Sprain|
|German Marquez 2018 2nd Half Rankings|
What does it all mean? It means Marquez’s underlying numbers were just about as good as any other major league pitcher during the 2018 2nd half. He was able to work ahead in the count, make opponents whiff, and finish hitters off at an incredible rate. If anyone’s going to succeed as a dominant pitcher at Coors Field these will be some of the necessary ingredients. It’s clear the Coors environment boosted the ERA and WHIP ratios slightly, but a 2.61 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in the 2nd half is hardly a wart.
Now why am I focusing so narrowly on the 2nd half with this untamable beast? It just so happens there were notable adjustments to Marquez’s 2nd half pitch mix which I believe played a large role in his horse-like transformation. It was a dramatic decrease in the usage of his four seam fastball along with an increase in usage of his slider, curve and, maybe most importantly, his sinker. It’s logical that throwing more sinkers and diving off-speed pitches might be advantageous for a guy throwing half his games in the Colorado thin air.
If you can’t tell, I believe in this special 23 year old donkey. I’m aggressively projecting Marquez for a line of 14-9/3.30/1.15/220 in 185 IP and I think there’s room for more.
The Verdict: The Stud, Aaron Nola, made a strong case for himself and he’s the safer option by default as he doesn’t pitch half his games at Coors Field. But the Honorable Judge Donkey Teeth is buying what the shady cowboy is selling in potential Mustang German Marquez, nearly 60 picks after Nola is off the board. It’s not about anything Nola did or didn’t do, it’s purely about the value we’re getting on Marquez, and of course the extra nachos we can devour with our spare draft capital.
Kid Marquez has the tools to put together the best pitching season in the history of Coors Field, and I won’t be at all surprised if he’s more valuable than Aaron Nola for 2019 fantasy baseball. Coming off three consecutive seasons of 170+ IP with little to no injuries, Marquez’s innings feel just as safe, if not safer than Nola’s. Investing in Rockies pitchers has its risks and isn’t for the faint of heart, but ride with me, I know a trustworthy donkey when I see one!
Find Donkey Teeth on Twitter @DonkeyTeeth87. Subscribe to his podcast with @DiktaSausagePod: Ditka, Sausage, and Fantasy Sports on Itunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.
All ADP data courtesy of NFBC and all statistics courtesy of Fangraphs & Baseball Savant.