The hot stove season has officially ended except for transactions during spring training. I purchased both the 2017 Bill James Handbook of Baseball and Baseball Prospectus 2017 books. There was some good information in both of these books that can help us project the 2017 Rockies. I recommend reading both books as I cannot cover everything in this limited space.
The two popular projection systems varied widely. Fangraphs’ ZiPS projected Colorado to win 83 games based on cumulative projected team WAR of 35 plus cumulative team plus replacement-level team WAR which is 48. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system projected the Rockies to win only 74 games.
Unlike previous spring trainings in franchise history, there are practically no positional battles: Tom Murphy/Tony Wolters, Ian Desmond/Mark Reynolds(likely to win 25-man spot), DJLM, Trevor Story, Nolan Arenado, David Dahl, Charlie Blackmon, and CarGo are the presumptive locks for the position players. Locks for bench players because of guaranteed contracts are Gerardo Parra and Alexi Amarista both of whom will join catcher and first baseman backups. That’s four bench players right there and depending if they carry a 12-man or 13-man pitching staff, there might be one more spot. So the positional players on the fence to break camp with the Rockies are Chris Denorfia and Christian Adames. It looks like Jordan Patterson will be a victim of the numbers game, but he no doubt will provide depth as the season drags on.
On the pitching side, there appears to be a lot of depth in both the rotation and bullpen. Some pitchers are obvious while others will have to battle it out. Early indications have Jon Gray, Chad Bettis, Tyler Anderson, and Tyler Chatwood in the rotation. Anything can happen during Cactus League play. If those four starters hold down their spots, the fifth spot appears up for grabs between Jeff Hoffman, German Marquez, and Kyle Freeland. I heard at the Bud Black Q&A session that Ryan Castellani and Yency Almonte are knocking on the doors if there is an emergency need for them. I believe the battle will come down to Hoffman and Freeland. Hoffman has the pedigree (top 50 prospect in most publications) while it has been said that Freeland has nothing left to show in the minors while Hoffman can use a little more seasoning at Albuquerque.
Colorado rolled their dice on the health of the relievers. Adam Ottovino is the presumptive closer to open the season as he is nearly two years removed from Tommy John surgery. Mike Dunn is not the best healthy reliever available via free agency, but he should bring the veteran presence. Greg Holland is a high risk/high ceiling signee. It says a lot about the Rockies front office when they beat out several teams for Holland’s services. Jairo Diaz is back from the TJ, but he may need a couple of months to get back to 100%. Jake McGee, if healthy, should be better than 2016 but he is unlikely to see return to his 2014 form. Jason Motte and Chad Qualls were signed to two-year contracts before the 2016 season as place holders until the contention window opens up. But the window opened much sooner than expected, so the Rockies may have to eat the sunk cost of both pitchers. Chris Rusin and Jordan Lyles appear to have the long relief spots. Scott Oberg and Carlos Estevez gained valuable experience last year. Miguel Castro and Sam Moll are probably next in line if the bullpen sees attrition.
Baseball Prospectus has Colorado’s farm system ranked at #9. They were #3 last year but the system graduated a few players to the majors such as Gray, Dahl, and Story. The Prospectus also had several leaderboards for the various categories. CarGo and NoDo are top 20 for HRs; Blackmon tied for 16th in runs; DJLM, NoDo, and Blackmon are all in top 20 for batting average; CarGo and NoDo tied for 15th in RBI; Blackmon 17th in stolen bases; nobody in top 20 for OBP; NoDo, CarGo, and Murphy (surprise!) are in top 10 for slugging percentage; Murphy, NoDo, Story, and CarGo all in the top 20 for isolated slugging (whatever that means); Wolters #16 in Runs Above Average (for catchers only); NoDo 9th in WARP for the NL; Patterson (surprise) is #10 for NL’s Rookie WARP; both NoDo and Blackmon in top 10 for biggest WARP decline; there were no pitchers in nearly all of the top 10 statistical categories except for Hoffman #2 in NL rookies’ WARP.
I can’t help but mention Jack Wynkoop once again. In the summary of prospects further down the pipeline, it quoted, “Don’t scout the statline, but lefty Jack Wynkoop slung a Buehrle-esque mid 80s fastball and struck out 144 batters while walking just 12 in 170.2 innings across two levels. If I calculate it correctly, that’s 0.63 BB9 walk rate. And a 12:1 K/BB ratio. I loved the Mark Buerhle comparison.
Let’s go to my favorite chapter in the Baseball Prospectus book – managers. It went on and on about the various components of managing the baseball team. In a nutshell, today’s managers have to work in concert with the upper management due to advanced sabermetrics. It also had a stat called wRM+. Quoted from BP: “…created RM and wRM+ in order to better understand the degree to which big-league managers match their best relievers to the game’s biggest moments.” wRM+ is scaled to 100 ( over 100 good and under 100 bad). Bud Black had the score of 103.1 which was bettered by only two other managers (Bruce Bochy, of course with his parade of pitchers for each batter in the final three innings and Joe Girardi). Obviously JB was on to something when he hired Bud Black plus the fact Black had modernized himself as today’s manager.
Admittedly, I do have huge Purple Shades on, but I am still projecting 90 wins based changing the manager, a lot more depth on both sides of the ball, and lack of regression by the hitters. I remind you, EdtheUmp that you owe me a case of beer when we hit 90 wins. Also I am adding in the fact that I believe we will steal a lot more bases than PECOTA projections. Only Blackmon is on the leader board, but it fails to account for Dahl and Story both of whom has potential for 20+ SBs. There’s a little bit of speed from DJLM and Desmond that can add 10-15 SBs each. And Black’s wRM+ is worth three wins in my mind.
For the first time, I will be able to attend the Rockies’ spring training in three weeks knowing what to expect. This year, I do not have to hope the bench and pitchers have a perfect PAT to get us over the hump. We already have the 40-man roster and up to two NRIs that will replace deadweights. 90 wins, baby! NL West crown, baby!