The Coors Effect

June 20, 2009 4:10 PM

Marquis's key to success: More grounders

Raise your hand if you thought Jason Marquis would have nine wins in the middle of June.  Or that he would have the lowest ERA of all Rockies starting pitchers.


Except that it's true.  Marquis's 3.71 ERA puts him just a hair ahead of Ubaldo Jimenez for the lead on the Rockies' pitching staff.  And no pitcher in the National League has more wins than Marquis, though Matt Cain of the Giants and Chad Billingsley of the Dodgers are tied.  Meanwhile, the Cubs designated Luis Vizcaino for assignment on April 23.  Yeah, I'd say the Rockies won that trade.

So what, exactly, has Marquis been doing for the Rockies that he wasn't doing for the Cubs?  Marquis has gotten ground balls on 58 percent of all balls in play.  Last year, that number was 47.6 percent.  In fact, only one pitcher in all of the majors -- the Cardinals' Joel Pineiro -- has gotten grounders on a higher percentage of balls in play.  The Rockies' own Aaron Cook is third, with 57.8 percent; Ubaldo Jimenez comes in ninth at 52.9 percent.

It's becoming pretty clear what kind of pitcher can succeed at Coors Field.  Coors Field still is not a pitcher's park; the humidor has only brought it down to a point where it's roughly on the level of the ballparks in Arizona or Texas, but it's far down from the late 1990s when it was a hitter's haven like none ever seen in baseball.  Of course, hitters aren't going to hit too many homers if they're hitting the ball into the ground.  And that's what pitchers like Marquis, Cook, and Jimenez are doing -- and it's why the Rockies need to concentrate on finding pitchers who can induce grounders.

Of course, it wasn't clear that Marquis would.  After all, he'd been a groundball pitcher in St. Louis; in his most successful season to date (2004) Marquis got grounders on 55.5 percent of his balls in play.  Marquis also got more strikeouts then (6.1 per nine innings, compared with 4.1 this year.)  But both numbers had fallen off in the years since.  When his groundball percentage completely collapsed in 2006, to 42.9 percent, Marquis got lit up to the tune of a 6.02 ERA and infamously was left off the Cardinals' playoff roster that season.  It saw an uptick in 2007 and 2008 with the Cubs, though nothing on the levels that it was previously, and Marquis was merely a serviceable back-of-the-rotation starter.

In short, none of this was predictable.  Either the Rockies did a really good job scouting, identifying a pitcher who could get groundballs with the proper coaching, or they just got really lucky.  If it's the former, kudos to Bob Apodaca; in Marquis we're talking about a guy that Leo Mazzone and Dave Duncan reportedly had problems with.  If it's the latter... well, everybody needs good luck now and then.  Maybe it's the 'stache.

Speaking of luck, Marquis has gotten a bit lucky this year.  His .277 BABIP is a bit low, but it's not in the territory where it's clearly a fluke, and it's only seven points lower than Aaron Cook's.  The question is whether he'll keep all this up for the rest of the season.  If he keeps getting grounders, he should.

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