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Rockies' Potential Projection Beaters 2007

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Stats as prognosticators. Spreadsheets. Regression analysis. Some people love it, some people hate it. Me, I'm sort of a dabbler in the religion, but not an acolyte. I'll look at everything as long as it's free, but I don't feel compelled to spend money and time on any books to give me insight when I can spend it on video/audio instead and actually look at the players. I just think they're cuter in real life. I'm definitely not going to take the time to make my own stat based forecasts just yet. I admit I do subscribe to Baseball Prospectus, but that's just because it's a mandatory expense to enter the baseball blogger's guild, as well as swearing a blood oath that you will never ever praise Bud Selig. Oops, I probably shouldn't have said that. Crap. Now the Deadly VORPer Assassination Squad will be on my ass again.

hold on just a sec while I remove myself to a secure location..,

...okay, safe. Really, once these forecasts get to about a 90% accuracy level, we better all convert, but for now, at least our differences give us something to talk about during the offseason. Some of you have already seen the team projections and know that the Rockies, depending on what system you use, figure to clock in around 79 wins, give or take six. That gives us around a 10%-12% shot of making the playoffs, which incidentally is twice the chance we had last season. In fact, last year, the Tigers were projected to have about the same number of wins we are this season (they were given a 14% shot of the postseason) and the NL West winning Padres' chances of making the postseason averaged around 7%. Of course, teams go the other way too, St Louis was supposed to crack 90 wins, and the Cubs crack .500, but the NL Central on the whole proved much weaker than the numbers would indicate.

What I want to look for now are reasons to hope the Rockies are capable of being one of the positive surprises of 2007. Are there any? Well, first you have to understand why the numbers underestimate teams in the first place, and in both the Padres' and Tigers' cases, it came largely down to missing badly on the performances of their respective rotations. The numbers just didn't see Clay Hensley, Chris Young, Jeremy Bonderman, Kenny Rogers, or others put up the numbers they did in 2006. In most of the cases, it was due to young pitchers taking a step forward, in Rogers' case, it was a veteran finding a second wind. It's not always just pitchers though, Josh Bard and Mike Piazza outplayed their projections by a considerable margin. Bard you can chalk it up to a young player finding a new level of performance, but Piazza?

Alright, let's look at the Rockies roster and try and pick out players that the braintrust is banking on being better than forecast for 2007, for all you Dan O'Dowd detractors, these are the players to judge him on this season, as they represent his biggest gambles:

1. Rodrigo Lopez - I'm not joking when I say our playoff fortunes rest on his right arm. Our lineup should be capable of making mediocre pitchers look decent, but right now I have a lot of doubts that Lopez is mediocre, or even starter worthy in the Major Leagues. The THT forecast has him just under a win above replacement (he's positive at all due to his ability to eat innings) with a 5.35 ERA. Even then, he projects for an 8-9 record with the club thanks to our sluggers. All he needs to do to pass the projections is locate a considerably higher portion of his pitches a few inches further below hitters' belts. Seems simple, but no results have shown him doing this in practice. I can't give my blessing that we'll have this one fall for us yet, right now Lopez looks like our undoing.

2. Kazuo Matsui - PECOTA has an OBP of .320 for Kaz, THT clocks in at .316. A 68% out rate won't cut it from our number two hitter, regardless of how fast he is, a 65% out rate might. Kaz has retained some pretty impressive contact rates this Spring, as he showed in his brief call-up last fall. He's hitting different types and speeds of pitches and at different locations. I'm extremely confident that this is one projection that will miss in our favor. Matsui's OBP will be in the .370-.380 range this season, though some of that depends on how Coors plays.

3. Willy Taveras - A less bleak, but still troubling forecast is put forward for our leadoff hitter. PECOTA shows a park inflated .360, the THT projection has a more natural .340. If Willy maintains the PECOTA line on the road as well as at home, than it's fine, but I have a feeling BP doesn't see it that way. Willy seemingly has a swing that could play through the Juan Pierre shift that defenses employed against JP his second full season to cut down on a lot of the pop flare singles over the drawn in infield. His contact rates aren't as solid as Matsui's this Spring, and Willy's got an unrealistic BABIP even with his speed. That's the bad news. The good news is all that luck has him hitting over .400 right now. With adjustments downward, I think he still could contend for the NL batting crown this season, if Atkins or Helton don't run away with it. I'm feeling about 60/40 that Willy exceeds his projections.

4. Todd Helton - Everybody's saying he's Sean Casey. He's got thirty extra pounds of mass that says Sean Casey was on the dessert tray. From our cleanup hitter and beard, er... face of the franchise, we need a six WAR season. THT says we're going to get three, PECOTA says four. What do I say? Well, the Spring hasn't shown everything I want to see to convince me otherwise. Namely, I wanted to see an opposite field HR, and that hasn't happened. In fact, only two extra base hits overall should give the declining Helton camp some fodder. That said, Helton has fifteen hits in 34 AB's with only one K and he's had solid contact all along. It looks to me that at the very least, the spreadsheets are wrong on the low end with his batting average and doubles (I'm going to say 45) but I'm not signing off on a return of HR power. I think we could peak at 5 wins from Todd.

5. Jason Hirsh - Here's our second prime rotation opportunity to see an underprojection. PECOTA has a park adjusted 5.13 ERA and only 130 IP from Jason. His number one comparable pitcher according to BP is Lamar native Scott Elarton, and Rockies fans should cringe at the recollection of what Elarton himself brought to the ballclub early this decade. Disaster looms if this forecast proves true, what are the differences? First, Hirsh gets about 8% more of his balls in play on the ground, which is a decent start, even if his GB% is still not as high as we'd like. Second.., well, there's not really a second. K and BB numbers are similar, stuff is similar. He does seem to have better health, and hopefully he won't get in as much trouble under adversity. Houston officials weren't overwhelmed by his audition last year, which is part of the reason they felt okay letting him go for JJ. So it's another big, tall righty moving from Houston to the Rockies. The Elarton thing is the kind of comparison that will only go away if Hirsh shows something more than Scott did and this Spring, the results have been mixed on the side of meh. That said, I've been charmed by his voice and winning personality. He carries himself with poise on and off the mound and for some reason I'm going to give him a positive endorsement for surpassing his projection. That's entirely the hunch of a homer, though, and nothing substantial seems to back it up, so take it for what it's worth.

6. LaTroy Hawkins - I think he's under-rated by Rockies fans and his projections. He's a decent arm out of the pen and will serve us well. I'm looking at a win, a win and a half above replacement this season. Why? Mostly the GB%, and I think he'll be helped by Coors Field's long grass and humidor.

7. Chris Iannetta - One category of player that gets underrated by stat tables are those kids making steps forward in development. Heltonfan yesterday pointed out that there's nothing in the record to say that Iannetta will outperform projections that have him with a .270 AVG, .350 OBP. So we're going outside the lines in saying we see more for Chris in 2007. I'm fine with that.

So, I'll take the over on most of these players' projections in 2007, with the exception of Rodrigo Lopez, but the logical side of my brain is having some issues with my vote of confidence in Hirsh. I might delve into a couple more in another post, as well as going into detail on some in the other category...

Players who I suspect will underwhelm this season:

Jamey Carroll
Tom Martin
Ramon Ramirez