Is the Old Germán Márquez Still In There?

German Marquez
John Leyba-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockies are what would happen if a baseball team were run by the guy on your block who raises pygmy goats in his yard. Sure, this is a suburban subdivision outside of Columbus, Ohio, and there’s no real purpose to having goats. But the noise and smell aren’t as bad as you feared, neighborhood kids think the goats are cute (correctly — look at their little ears!), the goats only infrequently climb onto your neighbor’s roof and escape to the street, and apparently nobody had goats in mind when the township zoning ordinances were written because there’s no rule against it. Is it weird? Absolutely. But it’s not hurting anyone, so who cares? The world is a little more interesting with little goats running around.

Spare a thought, then, for one of the goat farm’s more decorated denizens, Germán Márquez, who’s entering a pivotal season of his career.

Márquez has been around so long he’s actually made a postseason start; the Rockies made the playoffs in 2017 and ’18, the first two full seasons of his career. But he’s still a few weeks from turning 28, which means he’ll be able to play out the end of a very club-friendly contract and hit free agency for his age-30 season. He will make $15.3 million in 2023, the last year of a five-year, $43 million extension that started in 2019, and the Rockies have a $16 million club option for him next season.

Márquez has been one of the most durable starters in baseball since his first full season in the majors back in 2017. He’s qualified for the ERA title six years running, including in 2020, when he led the National League in innings pitched. Since 2017, he is sixth in the majors in innings; since ’19, seventh; since ’20, fifth.

And up until this season, those have been good innings. Márquez had his ups and downs, but unlike the rest of his cohort of young Rockies pitchers of the late 2010s — Kyle Freeland, Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson — he never really bottomed out. He was never removed from the rotation, never posted an ERA that could’ve been a year of the Holy Roman Empire, nothing like that. Even in 2022, his annus horribilis, he kept his ERA to 4.95 despite pitching for a last-place team that plays in Coors Field. Just a couple seasons ago, he was at least a no. 2 starter, if not an ace. If the Rockies, who have struggled to develop pitchers for going on 30 years now, decided to keep him, he could have asked for close to $30 million a year for five years or more. If Colorado had traded him, the return from a pitching-hungry contender would have been eye-watering.

But Márquez faltered in 2022, tying or matching his full-season career highs in ERA, FIP, and opponent wOBA. He also posted a career low in strikeout rate and his lowest whiff rate since 2017. This despite throwing both of his fastballs harder and with more movement than he had in 2021.

Good stuff or not, Márquez got slaughtered within the strike zone. Among Baseball Savant’s four attack regions — heart, shadow, chase, and waste — he was about average in the latter three but got killed over the heart of the plate. This is where most pitchers make their living, on account of every pitch thrown there being a strike. But among 148 pitchers who threw at least 1,500 pitches last season, Márquez ranked 147th out of 148 in the heart of the zone, ahead of only Patrick Corbin. And in 2022, the last thing a pitcher wants is to be named in a sentence that ends with “ahead of only Patrick Corbin.”

The good news for Márquez is that after a frustrating first half, in which he posted ERAs of 5.00 or worse in each of the season’s first three months, he settled down after the break. From the first half to the second half, he reshaped his curveball and started throwing his sinker more and saw modest improvements to his FIP and opponent wOBA to something more in line with recent performance. His ERA also dropped from 5.47 in the first half to 4.27 in the second. Based on that trend and the lack of any injury to explain his sudden three-month cold spell, it feels reasonable to expect him to return to at least above-average performance in 2023.

What I’m going to say next is going to look annoyingly obvious at first glance, but: It’d really help if Márquez got traded. It’s not just prime smarmy national writer territory to suggest that bad teams should trade all their good players; ever since 1993, the best prescription for a struggling Rockies pitcher is to get him back to sea level. And while I admit that, as a fan of Márquez’s game throughout the years, I’d like to see him pitch in more meaningful games during his prime, his home-road splits are staggering — not just in 2022, but throughout his career.

Germán Márquez Home/Road Splits, 2019-2022
2022 Home 6.70 5.00 .392 20.2 6.1 23.2
2022 Away 3.34 4.45 .289 18.3 10.2 11.5
2021 Home 3.67 3.66 .278 23.2 9.5 14.5
2021 Away 5.38 4.14 .336 23.4 7.2 17.1
2020 Home 5.68 2.98 .330 21.2 7.3 7.4
2020 Away 2.06 3.53 .258 21.2 7.3 10.8
2019 Home 6.26 4.00 .356 25.5 5.5 22.0
2019 Away 3.67 4.10 .273 23.3 4.3 18.8

We’ve all got a mental Coors Field tax that we apply heuristically to baseball players. But even that doesn’t do justice to what’s happened to Márquez the past few seasons. (Except in 2021, when he was almost two runs better at home than on the road. I’m not even going to try to explain that one. I’m a baseball writer, not a priest.)

In 2022, Márquez allowed a road HR/FB% of 11.5, almost exactly in line with the league average of 11.4. At Coors, the overall HR/FB% was only 13.5, but he allowed home runs on almost a quarter of his fly balls. And it’s not just the home runs that make Coors Field a nightmare to pitch in. It’s the giant outfield, the fact that breaking pitches move because of air resistance, and that, with less air a mile above sea level, pitches don’t break as much.

In three of the past four seasons, Márquez has posted a home ERA almost double his road ERA. Put another way, his home LD% would’ve been second-best among qualified starters in 2022; his away LD% would’ve been dead last. It’s so bad I wondered if he used a different pitch mix at home versus on the road. The answer: sort of. But look how his pitch usage lines up over two wildly different splits.

Germán Márquez Pitch Usage by Venue, 2022
Sample FF% SI% CH% SL% CU%
All Home 31.7% 21.6% 2.5% 21.8% 22.5%
All Away 28.7% 26.3% 3.0% 18.7% 23.3%
First Half 32.1% 20.9% 3.4% 22.2% 21.4%
Second Half 27.4% 28.2% 1.9% 17.6% 25.0%
Total 30.1% 24.0% 2.7% 20.2% 22.9%
SOURCE: Brooks Baseball

When Márquez pitched poorly — at home and in the first half — he used his four-seamer and sinker at about a three-to-two ratio. When he pitched well — on the road and late in the year — the two fastballs were about even. The schedule confounds this conclusion a little; he made 10 home starts and eight away starts before the break, six home and seven away after the break. But generally, he was better when he threw his sinker and curveball more.

The best thing for Márquez long-term might be a move away from the goat farm, though the Rockies’ unique way of doing business makes it hard to speculate on how likely that eventuality is. But in the meantime, he seems to have discovered the tools to make his time in Colorado more pleasant than it was in the first half of 2022.

Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic,, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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1 year ago

Long time owners of German in fantasy leagues feel seen right now. Thank you.