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Welcome to the 2019 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2019. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.
Back in July, I accepted a ride for a man named Alex in the players’ lot at the Denver Chophouse. It was my first time as an Uber driver picking up someone from “the player’s lot.” The thought immediately crossed my mind that I could be picking up a player. But Alex? I thought through a list of Giants’ players, who were in town at the time, because I was fairly confident the Rockies didn’t have an Alex. None came to mind. The tall, filled-out man who stood at the gate, though, was definitely a baseball player. I popped the trunk to accommodate a duffle bag large enough to carry a full-grown human, and racked my brain.
As soon as I found out the ride would be about three blocks—just down to Union Station—I went for it.
“Are you a player?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I play for the Rockies.”
I stammered around trying to come up with a response. “Oh, awesome …” I said. “I follow the Rockies really closely. I do some writing for a Rockies’ site, actually…” As I trailed off, he must’ve picked up on the fact that I had no clue who he was.
Politely, he replied, “You might know me as Chi Chi.”
I did know that name! It’s a hard one to forget, and I had just watched him pitch the day before in a double-header. I also knew that he had just been sent back to the minors. I did not, however, know anything about him other than that he had been waived by his former team (the Rangers), picked up by the Rockies, and called up just to make a couple spot starts.
What I learned in that short Uber ride is that Alex (Chi Chi) Gonzalez is a class act—a positive, charming person who made a lasting impression on me in a very short time. I became a big Alex fan.
For some time, though, it seemed like I might have to root for Alex from afar. “Freeland will be back soon,” he assured me. “He’s too good.” This would mean no roster spot for my new rooting interest unless the Rockies faced even more rotation issues. This, of course, was out of the question to the me-in-July who was still entertaining illusions of a 90-win season. As we all know now, 90 wins certainly did not happen. More rotation issues did, however, and Alex made it back to the big leagues.
And he may just have done enough to stay there.
It wasn’t all positive for the 27-year-old. On the season, he was 2-6 with a 5.29 ERA in 14 games. But Chi Chi was one of the few bright spots for the Rockies during a tough September. He pitched in five games, facing off against the Dodgers twice, the Cardinals, and the Brewers. Stiff competition, to be sure. During this stretch, he pitched probably the best that he has in his major league career, going 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA and an incredible 1.01 WHIP. The 0.6 WAR that earned him 13th place in Ranking the Rockies come mostly from that dominant stretch of games.
After the release of Tyler Anderson and Chad Bettis, it’s unclear who will make up the backend of the rotation. If Kyle Freeland can’t recover from his disastrous 2019, there could be three spots open in Spring Training after German Marquez and Jon Gray. Peter Lambert can maybe be penciled in, but he may have a short leash. The Rockies also have some incentive to work Alex into the mix.
The Rockies desperately need more depth in their starting rotation and long relief. They may have found a stable, likable option in Chi Chi Gonzalez. I know I’m rooting for him.