In January 2016, Jeff Bridich wanted to fix the Colorado Rockies’ bullpen. So the Rockies sent Corey Dickerson, now having a resurgent year in Pittsburgh, to the Tampa Bay Rays for Jake McGee, who had a spectacular 2017 but a terrible 2016 and 2018. They added Marquez to the deal almost as an afterthought. Now, that afterthought in trade has become a forethought among across baseball with Cy Young worthy performances.
Marquez’s line initially does not look that impressive. His 3.94 ERA, 3.51 FIP, and 3.21 xFIP are above average, but those numbers show that someone is pitching at a Cy Young level. But he has lived with the elites since the All-Star break, and he does not look out of place. Consider the following leaderboards.
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Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Carlos Carrasco, and Justin Verlander are all having their usual elite seasons, while Patrick Corbin has finally made his long-awaited breakout. Marquez has pitched well, and as of late, he has shown he has everything to stay in the class of elite pitchers.
Like almost every other elite pitcher, Marquez has a high-velocity fastball that usually sits in the mid-90s but can reach the high 90s. And while the velocity does sometimes breeze past hitters, Marquez has two unhittable offspeed pitches that should keep him at the top of the game for years to come.
The Dominant Curve
The first pitch he utilizes is a hard curve that breaks late and hard. His curve only averages six inches of horizontal break and -50.8” of vertical break, well below the major league averages of 8.6” and -54.3”. He throws his curve at a higher average velocity, 81.8 mph, than the average MLB curveball velocity, 78.8 mph. But off-speed pitches rarely beat hitters based on velocity, as they rely more on deception and movement. Instead, Marquez relies on a late break to fool hitters.
Here are two videos of Marquez’s curve. The first was against Yasiel Puig. The second was against Kyle Seager. These two guys are not the best hitters in the league, but they are humans who have had success hitting against other humans who throw five-ounce cork objects covered in leather.
Greinke’s curves not only has a slower breaking ball that breaks more, but it has a bigger break. Greinke curve work because it moves so much that hitters cannot adjust their swing. Marquez, however, relies on his curve to break later, after hitters have already made their decision to swing, which also works exceptionally well. Against his curve, hitters have whiffed on 44.3% of their swings, which ranks 10th among the majors among players who have induced at least 100 swings at their curves. It may not nearly as impressive as breaking off a big bender that breaks nearly a foot and a half, but the deception still makes Marquez’s curve hard to hit.
An Additional Pitch
Before 2018, Marquez largely relied on a two-pitch mix between his fastball and his curve. In 2017, four-seam fastballs and curves made up over 80% of his pitches. He occasionally worked in a changeup or a sinker, but neither produced great results. Hitters recorded a .315 and .369 xwOBA against the changeup and sinker, worse than the .301 and .366 league average xwOBA against those pitches. Marquez needed to find a third pitch he could confidently throw to hitters.
Marquez settled on the slider, and he spent the first half of the season learning how to use the pitch, and he has eventually gotten comfortable using the slider more, as his five-game rolling average of slider usage shows.
Through the end of June, he had only used his slider 12.6% of the time. But since the start of July, he has increased his slider usage to 17.5%. Since the start of August, his usage has further increased to 20.2%. He has become comfortable with the pitch, and he has succeeded with it.
Marquez had a 38.5% whiff/swing rate with his slider before his start against the Seattle Mariners. In that start, he found his touch with the slider, and he dominated the Mariners lineup. He generated a whiff rate of 41.2%, his highest mark of the season. He also generated a whiff/swing rate of 58.3%, his seventh highest mark of the season (though three of the better starts only drew three swings or less at his slider). Since that July 06 start, he has a 44.1% whiff/swing rate with his slider, including his weird start where he generated only one whiff on 14 swings against the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 14th. Excluding the outlier start against the Dodgers, he has a whiff/swing rate of 52.17%, which would rank 10th in the majors since July 06, just ahead of Chris Sale. Marquez has gained a feel for his slider, and hitters, like with his curve, have had problems making contact with it.
After having a quality rookie year, the Rockies looked like they had somebody special in German Marquez. Jonathan Lucroy, a Rockies 2017 trade deadline acquisition, said about Marquez, “He’s the best pitcher I’ve ever caught at that age, his age,”($). Marquez not only improved, but he grew into a dominant pitcher. His fastball and curveball already caused hitters problems. But the addition of a slider has made German Marquez almost unhittable, even in the scoring circus of Coors Field.
Thank you to FanGraphs and Baseball Savant for all the stats.
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