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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.
The Colorado Rockies were beat up on the pitching side of things in more ways than one this past season. Relying once again on a batch of young starting pitchers, they saw their rotation get hit hard on the field and with injuries that kept guys off the field.
Antonio Senzatela’s 2019 season came to represent both sides of those struggles. The injuries to his counterparts meant that he pitched a lot, making 25 starts and pitching 124.2 innings. He registered enough decisions to go 11-11, so if you want to be cute next season you can refer to him as a 10-game winner.
As you know if you watched him, or as you could figure from that -0.6 rWAR, Senzatela was also one of those pitchers who got battered on the field. He had a ghastly 6.71 ERA and a career worst 77 ERA+. He allowed a career-worst 19 home runs and issued a career-high 57 walks. If there was a way to be bad, Senzatela probably pulled if off.
The most concerning change in Senzatela’s numbers was the drop in strikeouts. He just could not miss bats. To wit: Senzatela struck out 69 batters in 90.1 innings in 2018; he struck out 76 batters in 124.2 innings in 2019. That’s a dip from 6.9 K/9 to 5.5 K/9. He’s never going to be a big strikeout guy, but he’s not going to survive in the big leagues if he gets hit that often and that hard.
Here’s the good news: Senzatela is still just 24 years old. It’s perfectly reasonable to think that he’s still learning on the job, especially since he kicked back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen in 2018 before returning to full-time starting duties this year. Nick Groke wrote a piece at the beginning of September that looked at Senzatela’s struggles missing bats that also covered the steps that the Rockies were taking to help him adjust. I mention that to emphasize that this could all change quickly, as we have seen for better or worse with a number of young pitchers recently.
So what needs to change for the better? Those contact and strikeout numbers match up with what your eyes might tell you, which is that Senzatela’s fastball looks awfully flat. Maybe he develops more late movement or maybe he improves his secondary pitches to be able to set up hitters better. Maybe the Rockies focus on using him as a reliever so his velocity can play more in shorter bursts.
It takes a special starting pitcher to survive at Coors Field by primarily pitching to contact. I’m not here to tell you that Senzatela can’t be that pitcher or that he can’t make adjustments to strike more hitters out. I don’t know that, and you don’t either when it comes to a pitcher who’s still just 24. But the 2019 season told us that Senzatela isn’t a pitcher who can survive that way yet, and he’s got a long way to go to figure things out.