Sunday Rockpile: Saito says adieu, and why the Rockies may just be the best in the West (right now)

It's interesting that Dodgers fans are reminiscing about Takashi Saito's role of allowing three runs in the top of the ninth before their thrilling comeback (back to back to back to back HR's to tie in the bottom half of the ninth before winning in the tenth) against the Padres on September 18, 2006, but as a Rockies fan, I'm drawn to his performance in a game exactly one year later, which of course started the Rockies run to Rocktober. On the whole, despite having more blown saves against the Rockies than any other team (three, one for each season that he's been here), Saito dominated us just as much as any other team, so I can't say that I'm sorry to see him out of the NL. Note to the Red Sox, though, you may just wish to schedule an off-day for Saito on the 18th of September, he picked up another blown save on 9/18 against the Pirates in 2008.

Patrick Saunders talked to Chris Iannettaabout how he went about accepting the honor of playing with Team USA for the WBC, and Iannetta showed off his typical team first mentality:

"It was 50-50 when they first asked me to play," Iannetta said Saturday. "It sounded like a great opportunity, but I had to ask my family and my teammates what they thought. Especially, I wanted to really know what my teammates thought.

"The last thing I would ever want was to be a distraction during spring training."

****

The projections I posted last night aren't drawing the universal rave reviews I thought they would, says Jim from the Snakepit on the Snakes' messageboard of choice:

Colorado to win? As the comments say, "minus Holiday, Tavaras, and Fuentes, plus Street, Gonzalez, Smith, and Marquis, equals fourteen more wins?" Dodgers in fourth? I call BS. I'd probably be more worried if this wasn't the same Yankees-centric projection that had the AL East Rays finishing in fourth-place last season, with 22 less wins than they actually had, while it was New York who had 95 wins. How'd that work out for you, Larry? SmileOther highlights from last year's projections include San Diego being above .500 and predicting just one of the six division winners. 

No, not impressed.

He's got somewhat of a point, but let's compare apples to apples here. The simulations posted thus far from SG were from Marcel and THT projections, the link Jim gives are to simulations of projections from CAIRO and Diamond Mind. Last year the CHONE projection was probably the most accurate in the simulator, at least as far as tthe two divisions he singles out are concerned (it really screwed up the AL Central), let's wait until that one comes out and then we can be really giddy. Things to keep in mind:

 

  1. Pre-season projections will always wind up favoring the Yankees and the Red Sox as a result of their ability to buy a safer, higher grade of ballplayer in general. This is what the money buys, March championships.
  2. What they won't see are "black swans," the weird little anomalies that actually make the game interesting. Justin Upton having a huge breakout season, for instance, is an apparent possibility for anybody who watches the game on a regular basis and knows what to look for (THT, for instance, projects Upton to have only a .258/.341/.454 line). Projection systems won't necessarily see all the potential given his performance history. To some extent, Chris Young and Maz Scherzer are in the same category. The young and talented will often get overlooked (see Matt Holliday, Josh Hamilton) until their skills start to match their tools.
  3. The THT projection was without defense taken into account. The Rockies defense was pretty terrible last season, and shouldn't be that much better in 2009 without Taveras or Holliday in the outfield (we should get some of a rebound on the infield with a healthy Tulo and Helton and Hawpe isn't likely to be as terrible as he was last year). This will skew our expected wins higher when it's not taken into account, but at the same time, the team's shoddy work in the field in 2008 plus the lack of a true ace has people severely underestimating the talent of the Rockies rotation, and pitching staff in general. It's a no-name group, but there aren't any pitchers who project to be below average for their slot. The culminating effect of that leaves us in very strong position overall.
  4. I don't know how often I have to say this, but Holliday to Smith/Stewart in left is not as much of a downgrade offensively as Taveras to Spilborghs in center and the leadoff slot is an upgrade on offense. You're talking about going from a .409 OBP down to a projected .354 OBP in left, versus up from a .308 OBP to a projected .367 OBP in center, it's a net positive as far as outs are concerned, and that's before factoring in rebounds from disappointments like Tulo, Helton and Atkins.
  5. These early projections will favor teams that are more or less complete (like the Rockies and Giants) over those that still have holes to fill (like the Dodgers). Once the Dodgers sign Ramirez and fill out their rotation, they will gain ground and might even pass the Rockies in the simulations. Rather than focusing on the men in blue, Jim should be looking at why the D-backs, who are also more or less complete, should project so lousily. The "black swan"* thing is part of it but it's becoming clear as the offseason progresses that Arizona is going backwards, particularly on the offensive side of things, where losing Hudson and Dunn will have a much larger impact than a rebound from Byrnes or the projected breakout from Upton. If that breakout doesn't materialize, Arizona is going to be in a lot of trouble this season. The Dodgers are also going backwards, as they are replacing Lowe, Saito and 2008 Dodger Manny with inferior players (2009 Dodger Manny won't be that good) and are looking to make up the ground with improved team health/complete seasons from Ramirez and Furcal. On offense and in the lineup, I think they will, but their pitching situation still projects to be a step backwards. 

 

At the end of the day, the Rockies project to win the division this early because right now they've got the best 25 plus guys on the roster. The other teams might have a better rotation, they might have a better left or right fielder, they might have better closers, but they don't have better collections of players. That could well change depending on who the Dodgers add, but right now that's the way it is. Okay, rant over, now I've got to go back and put in a bunch of tags.

*- remember, though, that other teams have good black swans too, Ian Stewart breaking out, for instance could be one for the Rockies, and not every unforeseeable event is good. In the case of a top of the rotation pitcher going down, Arizona's more vulnerable than any team in the division save San Diego, the Rockies the least vulnerable.

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