DENVER -- The best one-season pitching performance in Rockies history, right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez’s 2010, was a stroke of magic that he never repeated. But don’t call it a fluke.
Jiménez was a highly coveted signee out of the Dominican Republic. The only blip in his Minor League career was an early shoulder injury. He was deemed good enough to debut in 2007 and even start a World Series game, and he had 27 wins over the next two seasons. According to STATS, Jiménez’s 5.5 pitching WAR (wins above replacement) in 2009 is surpassed in club history only by his 6.0 in ‘10.
Here is a top five list of Colorado’s best individual pitching seasons, with a couple that may surprise you:
1) Ubaldo Jiménez, 2010
Jiménez’s 15-1 start -- which included a no-hitter at Atlanta on April 17 -- made him, at the time, one of 48 pitchers in history to win that many games in his team’s first 85 contests. The no-hitter is the only one to date in Rockies history. He led the NL in winning percentage at .704, his .209 opponents’ batting average was second-lowest, and he was third in National League Cy Young Award voting.
But there was a star-crossed quality to the year. In four of his final seven starts he held the opponent to two or fewer runs. In his last, he held the Cardinals scoreless in eight innings. But the Rockies -- who tailed off in September and missed the postseason -- would drop that final game, 1-0. Jiménez finished 19-8 -- one win short of a magical figure.
2) Kyle Freeland, 2018
This performance was every bit as dominant as Jiménez in 2010. Kyle Freeland, a Denver native and a Rockies first-round Draft pick, finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting. His 202 1/3 innings were the most since Jiménez’s 212 2/3 in 2010. Freeland’s telling stat was 24 double plays induced -- tops in the NL.
Freeland’s 17 wins are tied for second-most in franchise history. At Coors Field, he was 10-2 in 15 starts, with a 2.40 ERA that was lowest in franchise history. Freeland’s season will be remembered best for a game that doesn’t count in the season stats and one in which he didn’t figure in the decision. He went 6 2/3 scoreless innings in the Rockies’ victory over the Cubs in the NL Wild Card Game at Wrigley Field.
3) Jeff Francis, 2007
STATS’ pitching WAR rates this as tied for the 16th-best season in club history. But with the joyful noise of that magical Rocktober still ringing, can you hear the advanced data? Didn’t think so.
Before winning 14 of the last 15 regular-season games to squeak into the postseason and sweeping the first two playoff series, seven games total, the Rockies hung close enough to make the big finish. And Jeff Francis was a big reason, going 8-0 as the team went 11-1 from June 14 to Aug. 8.
Francis actually took the only loss during the late run -- 4-2 to the D-backs in the next-to-last regular-season game. But in Game 1 of the NL Division Series at Philadelphia, Francis struck out eight in six innings of the Rockies’ 4-2 victory, and he held the D-backs to one run in 6 2/3 innings of Game 1 of the NL Championship Series.
As Francis went in Game 1 of the World Series -- six runs, 10 hits in four innings -- so went the Rockies, who were swept by the Red Sox. But while Francis’ season (17-9, 4.22 ERA) may not look like much on paper, you can still hear the echoes at 20th & Blake.
4) Germán Márquez, 2018
Funny thing about ’18: Freeland owned the headlines locally, but Germán Márquez was right with him in production.
Márquez struck out 230 to blow away the previous club record -- 214 by Jiménez in 2010. Márquez set club records for strikeouts over stretches of five games with 49 (Aug. 19-Sept. 10), four games with 44 (Aug. 25-Sept. 10), and three games with 33 (Aug. 25-Sept. Sept. 4).
Outside of those prolific streaks came the Sept. 26 home start against the Phillies, when he fanned the first eight batters to tie a modern record (since 1900), previously accomplished by the Astros’ Jim Deshaies (Sept. 23, 1986) and the Mets’ Jacob deGrom (Sept. 15, 2014).
Not only that, but Márquez brought a big bat -- 18 hits, most in the Majors since Zack Greinke in 2014.
5) Pedro Astacio, 1999
Francis’ 2007 appearing third might have you thinking this list has something against advanced stats. Well, how does a year in which a pitcher finishes with a 5.04 ERA and leads the NL in homers yielded make a list like this?
That’s right. We reach out the window and pull those stats back in. On the STATS list of pitching WAR seasons in Rockies history, Pedro Astacio’s 1999 ranks fourth. Astacio threw a workhorse-like 232 innings and struck out 210, against 75 walks. And he achieved a 115 adjusted ERA (ERA+), or 15 points above the MLB average that season.
ERA+ is ballpark adjusted, but spend any time at Coors Field or following the Rockies in and out of a unique mile-high atmosphere, and it’s difficult to believe that park-adjusted stats capture the whole picture. Back in ’99, the Rockies were three years from discovering that normalizing the baseball -- which shrunk, hardened and became slick while stored at altitude -- by keeping it in a humidor could help pitchers.
Astacio triumphed at a time when other pitchers were experiencing horror stories.