Last week, Baseball Prospectus released the first version of its 2015 PECOTA projections (named in reference to Kansas City Royals middle infielder Bill Pecota). PECOTA is among the best prognosticators for future performance, so it’s well worth it to take a deep dive into what it says about the 2015 Rockies.
Let’s first get some qualifications out of the way. The forecasts in the charts below are median projections. They are essentially the 50th percentile prediction for each player. PECOTA assigns each player a different floor and ceiling. What’s nice about PECOTA is that, to my knowledge, it’s the only projection system that releases the range of projections for each player. However, those aren’t public yet, so we’ll just work with the median. At Rockies Zingers, I wrote about how the 2014 Rockies did vis-à-vis their median projections from before the season. Those articles can also serve as a primer. All that is to say: Some players will over perform their projections, and some players will under perform.
The figures should be read as foundations for expectation. That’s why they are interesting and useful. Valued Purple Row reader and tireless commenter PurpleToPurple wrote this a couple of days ago:
The reason I look at projections is to clarify and fine-tune the opinions I hold about a player’s immediate future. For me, what is happening and what just happened is always going to be the most interesting thing about baseball, at least during the season. But the component of baseball that is most fun is not necessarily the best guide for managing expectations. In this way, projections work as emotional checks.
For instance, the way Charlie Blackmon opened the 2014 season led at least one doofy blogger to overreact and all but declare Blackmon the center fielder of the future. A better response would have been to look up his pre-season projection. I’ve cited this before and will probably do so again in the future, but here it is: From April 27 until the end of the 2014 season, Charlie Blackmon’s triple slash was almost exactly what PECOTA said it would be before the season.
PECOTA’s median projection: .266/.320/.398
Blackmon after April 27: .269/.314/.401
You could have looked up the projection any day in April and put some numbers on the knowledge you already had that he wouldn’t continue at the pace he was going. And you could have done so while still having fun watching him get on base what seemed like every time he was up.
Let’s see what PECOTA tells us about the Rockies expected starters and platoon position players. True Average (TAv) is Baseball Prospectus’s catch-all offensive metric that accounts for the ability to reach base, whether by a hit or by a walk, and hitting for power. The statistic is also adjusted for league, a player’s home park, and the places he plays most of his road games. So for Rockies hitters, that means a home adjustment upward, but a downward adjustment for playing so many games in places like AT&T Park, Dodger Stadium, and Petco Park. For clarity, it is scaled to look like batting average. Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) is Baseball Prospectus’s version of WAR.
- PECOTA believes in the Rockies’ position players. I know PECOTA is supposed to be an unfeeling, non-sentient, being, but I can’t help but feel positive feelings from the figures above. It’s not quite love, but there’s a lot of like here.
- Troy Tulowitzki’s projection seems optimistic on the playing time side but conservative on the production side. He’s projected to have the fifth best TAv in the National League, behind Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Votto, Andrew McCutchen, and Paul Goldschmidt. He’s behind those players plus primarily glove-men Andrelton Simmons and Jason Heyward in terms of total value. However, the projected WARP differential isn’t much. There is little else in the world that I would like more than to see whether or not Tulo can beat these projections in 520 plate appearances.
- The system expects Arenado to maintain his excellent defense, but it also thinks he’s going to have a worse season with the bat in 2015 than he did in 2014.
- PECOTA still believes in Carlos Gonzalez, although I don’t believe the system has a "tentacled fatty mass" input.
- PECOTA thinks that Corey Dickerson’s breakout 2014 was for real. A .286 TAv would be a steep drop from his .304 TAv in 2014, but it is still excellent. And that slugging percentage over .500 is tantalizing.
- The system maintains that Charlie Blackmon is best suited to be a platoon player. A 0.7 WARP prediction in over 600 plate appearances leaves much to be desired from a starter.
- If Michael McKenry can produce 0.2 WARP in 61 plate appearances, he should probably get more. It’s surprising that Rosario is projected for a better season than recent signee Nick Hundley.
- Justin Morneau gets dinged because it doesn’t expect good baserunning or defense from him. I’ll take that line from him in 2015, though.
Where PECOTA’s feelings toward the Rockies position players go from like to like like is in the team's depth.
- We know that the bottom of the roster is every bit as important as the top. It would be a boon for the Rockies to have plus value from these guys. I especially like Daniel Descalso’s projection in limited playing time.
- Charlie Culberson! Not bad!
Recall the affectionate feelings of like and like like PECOTA showed toward Rockies position players? Well, when it comes to pitching, there’s less of that and a bunch more hate. FRA stands for Fair Runs Average, and it is Baseball Prospectus’s catch-all pitching metric. It accounts for pitcher value based on runs allowed (earned or otherwise) in addition to contextual factors such as pitch sequencing and team defense. Like TAv’s relationship to batting average, FRA is scaled to look like ERA.
|Jorge De La Rosa||165||3.2||7.0||4.58||4.97||1.0|
- The positive: I don’t think there’s any Rockies fan who wouldn’t take that line from Jhoulys Chacin after last season. But just like PECOTA has no fatty mass adjustment, it also doesn’t account for rotator cuff fraying. Still, here’s hoping that Chacin’s is the only on-target projection.
- Jorge De La Rosa’s line might not look inspiring, but it’s more or less his 2014 season. At the very least, it’s familiar.
- It gets ugly after Chacin and De La Rosa, although some important qualifiers apply. Of the final three, Eddie Butler has the shortest professional profile. While PECOTA remembers that Butler struck out eight batters per nine across minor league levels in 2013, it appears that it places more emphasis on his paltry four and a half strikeouts per nine innings numbers from Triple-A and MLB from 2014. I believe that’s why his projection is so bad.
- Matzek and Lyles give PECOTA more to work with. Matzek’s awful projection is likely due to expected walks. I can’t blame PECOTA. It’s a mystery to me how Matzek made his first season in the majors the best walks per nine season of his career—and that counts all levels dating back to 2010. Matzek’s a good bet to beat this projection easily, although I somehow feel queasy writing that.
- Lyles’s line reflects what he did in 280 innings over two seasons in Houston more than the 126 innings he’s pitched for Colorado. I’d wager that he outperforms this projection, but not by a whole lot.
- Chad Bettis’s projection is hopeful. If fans are looking for a sign to not give up on the 25-year-old righty just yet, this is as good as any.
- The Flande, Friedrich, Bergman triumvirate should serve as emergency starters or, in the case of Flande and Friedrich, possible bullpen arms. I’ll take a replacement level emergency starter. Problems arise when these types of players are enlisted to start every fifth day.
- Tyler Anderson’s pessimistic projection is likely due to his pitch-to-contact style. The projected 0 WARP strikes me as PECOTA not really knowing what to do with someone who relies heavily on command, induces contact, and has yet to face a major league hitter.
- David Hale’s projection is by far the worst, and these figures even predate his trade to the Rockies and are therefore not even adjusted for pitching at Coors Field. Like some other pitchers noted above, a culprit might be his lack of strikeouts. But he’s also projected for a 50% ground ball rate!
The Rockies' 2015 bullpen will be superior to the 2014 squad as long as it isn't historically bad in high leverage situations.
- If three of the top five names on this list reach their modestly good projections and the remainder are confined to low-leverage innings, then the bullpen will be fine. But for things to turn out that way, the rotation will have to also provide quality innings so that those guys don't have to pitch in the fifth inning.
- Jairo Diaz's projection is disappointing. His fastball averages about 98 miles per hour, and he couples that with a slider. Across High-A and Double-A he's struck out about ten batters per nine (he's never pitched in Triple-A), so his projection is confounding in addition to disappointing.
That just about covers all of the players who have a chance to break camp with the Rockies. There are many other notable projections, though. Tom Murphy, for instance, has a pretty rosy projection, with a .255 TAv and 0.7 WARP in 250 plate appearances. It’s better than Nick Hundley’s projection, in fact. Though word is Murphy still needs polishing behind the plate. It seems like a cruel joke, but Franklin Morales is still tagged as a Rockie in the projections. Crueler still, his projected pitching line would make him the third best pitcher in the rotation, behind only Chacin and De La Rosa. But like the qualifiers raised for guys like Tyler Matzek, the qualifier that applies to Morales is that we know him better than PECOTA does. I’ll take my chances with Eddie Butler, Jordan Lyles, and even David Hale, atrocious projection notwithstanding.
PECOTA also offers fun player comparisons. They tend to elicit a mix of "hell yeah!" and "oh man I hope not." Nolan Arenado? Mike Moustakas, Matt Dominguez, and Robinson Cano. Corey Dickerson? Eric Thames, Mike Carp, and Chase Headley. Wilin Rosario? Dan Graham, Jorge Cantu, and Carlton Fisk. One of Tom Murphy's comps is new Rockie Nick Hundley. Another of his comps is Travis d'Arnaud. And the third is someone named Dusty Ryan. Remember the short-lived Paul Janish experiment? Janish is Daniel Descalso's top comp. Charlie Culberson's most interesting comparison is definitely former shortstop Michael Morse.
It's the same for pitchers. How about Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez comps for Jhoulys Chacin? Sounds good until you remember the injury connection. His third comparison, Jair Jurrjens, is too close for comfort. One of Jon Gray's comps is Chad Bettis, but another is Drew Smyly. And finally, Tyler Matzek's top comp is Ubaldo Jimenez.
Once the season begins, we can use the projections above to either talk ourselves down from a hot start, or to console ourselves regarding an ice cold bat or a pitcher throwing meatballs. Until then, we can make use of another functional aspect of player projections: conversation fodder.