A few days ago Dave Schoenfield of ESPN wrote an interesting article about the ten best cores in baseball; his measurement was which teams' best five players accrued the most WAR. Eight teams in the top ten were playoff teams. One of the non playoff teams, the Texas Rangers, won 91 games. The Rockies were the other team, with 74 wins. And they didn't barely sneak into the top ten; they ranked a solid sixth (with 24.2 rWAR), sandwiched between the Rangers (24.1) and the Cardinals (24.6).
So what's going on here? Why is every other team with such a great core a playoff contender, while the Rockies bumbled to a last place finish?
The obvious answer is that roster spots 6 through 30 punched far below the weight of the other teams. Add up the rest of the roster and the non-top-five guys accrued a whopping nine wins above replacement. Contrast that with the Cardinals (16.5)* and the Rangers (24.4). The Dodgers added 32.2 extra wins from all players not named Clayton Kershaw, Juan Uribe, Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig and Hyun Jim Ryu.
*Seems low for the Cardinals, but remember, they had a historic season when hitting with runners in scoring position
So yeah. Depth. The Rockies featured 18 players in 2013 who performed below replacement level. The Cardinals played 17, the Rangers 12 and the Dodgers 19. Doesn't sound so bad, yeah? Well, when you add up those sub-replacement level players, the Rockies lost 12.4 wins. The Cards only lost 6.7, the Rangers 5.3, and the Dodgers 7.4.* The Rockies gave far too many chances to the likes of Tyler Colvin, Chris Nelson, and Jordan Pacheco, who combined for -4.1 WAR.
*RhodeIslandRoxFan's drag factor measurement looks at all this stuff more in depth than I do, but it's the same principle: the Rockies gave too many plate appearances and defensive innings to guys who couldn't perform. Also, I apologize for only focusing on three other teams, but I don't have the time to Excel-erize every team.
Then, of course, there's health. Tulo was limited to 126 games. CarGo only got into 110. Dexter Fowler played in only 119 and Wilin Rosario only 121. It's no coincidence that the Rockies nosedived after Tulo and Cargo got hurt in mid summer. I hate complaining about health (lest we forget, the Dodgers received partial seasons from Ramirez and Puig), but when your core contributors only play 2/3 of a season, the results suffer.
Anyway. That's enough looking backwards. I'm curious as to how the cores of the NL West teams stack up for 2014. Fangraphs' projections see the top 5's of the NL West shaping up like so:
|Rockies Top 5||WAR (proj)|
|Dodgers Top 5||WAR (proj)|
|D'Backs Top 5||WAR (proj)|
|Giants Top 5||WAR (proj)|
|Padres Top 5||WAR (proj)|
Projections in baseball are always a fraught enterprise, since there's so much variability in performance and injury luck. I mean, a few days ago the Diamondbacks would look a lot better, but Patrick Corbin's UCL snapped like a dry rubber band, significantly altering their 2014. So while it's fun to quibble with results spit out by a computer (wait, Nicasio is projected to be our most valuable pitcher? WTF?), they're the most impartial system we have available.
The Rockies sit smack dab in the middle. They're +1.7 on the Diamondbacks and +4.2 on the Padres. Meanwhile they're -1.0 to the Giants and -2.5 on the Dodgers. That's not a bad place to start.
Obviously the Rockies' top five has a great chance to be the top core in the NL West. Tulo and Cargo's projections are dragged down a bit from all the time they've missed. Nolan Arenado is primed for a big breakout. ZIPS seems overly pessimistic toward Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge de la Rosa. But as we know, just having a top notch core isn't enough. The theme of the off-season was addressing the Rockies' depth issues; we'll see if that pays off in 2014.