The Colorado Rockies are a macrocosm of their star Troy Tulowitzki; a wide range of possible outcomes exist for them in 2015 based largely on health and luck.
It may be frustrating -- strike that -- infuriating to hear about injuries and luck ad nauseam, but their impacts remain nonetheless and cannot be understated, especially for a club whose three highest ceiling players are also top this list of the most volatile members of the team.
Not to start all high school term paper-y on you, but Merriam-Webster defines volatility as "likely to change in a very sudden or extreme way." Ladies and gentlemen, I give you your 2015 Colorado Rockies.
Forgetting for a moment about future windows of contention (where hopefully the luck factor has been minimized), the Rockies' record in 2015 is tied directly to nine players who, like the team itself, could end up near the bottom of the league in many categories or could surprise the masses on their way to contending for a playoff spot.
It is because each of these players has such a vast array of possible outcomes that the Rockies are difficult to get a consensus on among those who follow the team closely. No one should be surprised if Troy Tulowitzki gets into the MVP conversation and no one should be surprised if he loses an entire year to injury. The fortunes of the team itself are not all that dissimilar.
Believing that the Rockies will be terrible or terrific (or anything in between) comes down to how much faith one has in these players to land on one end of their personal spectrum or the other. Because they are so volatile, the team itself is volatile and being certain about one outcome becomes curious. Both winning and losing seasons could end up categorized as a type of confirmation bias.
How will the Rockies do in 2015? Nobody knows for sure because the team is stacked with guys who could produce at all-star -- or bush league -- levels.
9. Jon Gray: 2015 WAR range: 0-2, 2014: N/A, Steamer 2015: 0.5
Gray could end up not pitching a single inning for the Rockies in 2015 and still have a productive and promising season, which makes him unique on this list. A zero WAR campaign for Gray is not a net loss.
The likeliest scenario for the Rockies' most exciting fireballer since Ubaldo Jimenez is that he'll make his debut in September, when the Rockies are already out of contention for a playoff spot and whatever stats he accumulates end up being mostly negligible from a team perspective.
However, there is a non-zero chance that Gray's 2015 mirrors Tyler Matzek's 2014. Matzek put up 2 WAR in 117.2 innings pitched after making his debut last season and Gray is the much more highly touted prospect with stuff some scouts say is already good enough to play at the MLB level.
It may behoove the Rockies to resist the temptation to preemptively call upon their highest-rated prospect for both his and their long-term benefit, but that isn't mutually exclusive with the possibility that he might already be able to hold his own.
Gray may be called up earlier in the season out of necessity (injury); out of a desire to add to a surprisingly competitive team should the Rockies play well in April and May; by simply kicking the door down with domination of the Triple-A level; or through some cocktail of those events unfolding together in just the right way. If he does end up in the majors for more than a cup of coffee, you're going to need some tarot cards (or a palm reader? Miss Cleo?) to predict what will happen.
Gray's multitude of possible outcomes both in terms of how good he may be and when he actually debuts in MLB make him the perfect embodiment of the purpose of this list; he is a player that could give the Rockies significant production at a much-needed spot should everything go well for him between now and the end of May (and then hopefully after), or he could be a complete non-factor in 2015.
8. Boone Logan: 2015 WAR range: -0.3-0.5, 2014: -0.3, Steamer 2015: 0.5
Logan had by far his worst professional season of pitching in 2014. His 6.84 ERA and and -0.3 WAR were low marks by nearly double but there were still signs of hope. We will need to wait on some updated medical reports before speculating much further, but Logan maintained a high (11.52 per nine) strikeout rate and low xFIP (2.85) even amidst the madness.
The four consecutive sub-4 ERA seasons Logan had with the Yankees before arriving in Colorado probably speak more to the pitcher he actually is ... (all together now) if healthy.
At this point, in no small part due to his hefty contract, Logan is in the doghouse with the Rockies fan base. Very little is expected of him in 2015 and it's unlikely he lives up to the contract, but it's entirely possible that he takes a major swing from bullpen drag to asset.
7. Drew Stubbs: 2015 WAR range: 0-2.8, 2014: 2.5, Steamer 2015: 0.9
If this was a list of regression candidates, you might find Stubbs' name right at the top. There aren't many Rockies followers who expect Stubbs to improve or even maintain his production from last season. His 2.5 WAR mark was good enough for fifth best on the team.
Best case scenario is likely that he keeps that number but is leapfrogged by a few guys. And who doesn't love a game of leapfrog?
Given that his numbers from last year dwarfed his previous two seasons (1.0, 0.7 WAR) he may regress naturally through lower BABIP numbers and/or via less monster production at home. He could also be pushed out of the lineup a bit should the rest of the Rockies outfield (CarGo!) remain healthy.
It should be noted, however, that Stubbs may just be a perfect fit for Coors. His defense is unlikely to evaporate, and he does have a 3.6 WAR season on his resume, though that was five years ago. His power and speed combo have been consistent weapons throughout his career and he is still only 30. His glove has always been worth at least something and his bat plays at Coors Field, so the question in 2015 will be how much can he give and how much will the Rockies need him?
A 2.5 WAR bench/platoon player doesn't sound so bad and is a luxury a lot of teams don't have. But a possible world where Stubbs ends up being pressed into more time while simultaneously regressing back to his career averages is equally as possible.
6. Rex Brothers 2015 WAR range: -0.5-1.5, 2014: -0.4, Steamer 2015: 0.3
Will the real sexy Rexy please stand up?
Don't know what to make of Brothers? You are not alone! In 2012 and 2013 a case could be made that Rex was one of the best relievers (especially non-closers) in the National League. Last year, he was one of the worst and among the guiltiest culprits behind a season of doom and gloom for the purplers of the Mile High City.
Far beyond what is reflected in his WAR numbers -- which can be an odd stat for relievers to begin with -- it felt at times like Rex was actively searching for new ways to break Rockies fans' hearts in 2014.
The guy we thought could emerge as the most dominant closer in Rockies history -- pitchers like Brian Fuentes, Manny Corpas, Huston Street and LaTroy Hawkins relied more on craft than power -- evolved instead into a name that when mentioned in relation to pitching in high leverage situations was akin to running steel nails across a chalkboard inside the ears of Rockies fans everywhere.
One of the hardest things about baseball is that 24 of the 25 men on the active roster can play a great game but if the odd man out happens to be a relief pitcher who gives the other guys a late lead, it can nullify the efforts of everyone else and result in a loss.
Too often last season, Brothers was that guy who blew a game almost all by himself, and as a result, the value on him couldn't be much lower than it stands today. But everything's not lost (no more Chris Martin on the team so that isn't a pun); new pitching coach Darren Holmes was right on the money to prioritize a fixing of the young reliever. He thinks he can. He thinks ... and we hope.
If Rex can return to the guy he was before last season, he will provide a huge boost to what was a historically bad bullpen without the Rockies having to make any moves. If he is bad again, it could sabotage the whole pen and require someone like Jairo Diaz to step into a role he may not be ready for yet.
Rex is probably the one guy on this list who can be a major net gain from last season by just not being bad this time around.
5. Tyler Matzek: 2015 WAR range:-0.2-3.5, 2014: 2.0, Steamer 2015: 1.0
There are a lot of reasons for people who enjoy baseball (or happiness) to be excited about Matzek. If more national media pundits were inclined to invert their Coors Field logic, realizing that pitchers should tautologically be at exactly as much of a disadvantage as hitters in the environment are at an advantage, Matzek would have received some legitimate Rookie of the Year love in 2014.
Mostly symbolic gestures aside, Matzek stands as an interesting case study in 2015. Was his 2014 a flash in the pan? Will increased scouting reports (having the proverbial book written on him) allow hitters to adjust? Will his usually high, though ever decreasing, walk numbers catch up with him? Will he experience a sophomore slump?
Matzek and Tulowitzki are the two guys on this list (and on this team) whose 2014 numbers are right in the middle of what they could produce in 2015.
Maybe Matzek's strong finish to the season was a sign of even more good things to come. Maybe he takes another step and becomes the pitcher some scouts thought he might be when he was first drafted. Maybe just by virtue of being on the big league club for the entire season he can bump those WAR numbers up a bit. Or maybe it all comes crashing down, meaning he gets hurt or implodes. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone if Tyler Matzek's 2015 is either much better, or much worse, than his 2014.
4. Eddie Butler: 2015 WAR range: -0.5-2.5, 2014: 0, Steamer 2015: 0.4
If you know what is going to happen to Butler in 2015, you should probably be in Las Vegas instead of reading this article.
He could spend the whole season in the minors. He could spend the whole season in the majors. He could break out in a Matzek-like fashion or maybe even better. He could spend the entire season struggling to find himself, putting up poor numbers and hoping 2015 can be a learning experience for 2016 and beyond. He could be ruined by the early call-up or he could take the league by storm. He "could" do just about anything to minimal shock among the Purple Row staff.
One thing is for sure, though: if and when Butler begins to make regular starts in a big league uniform, Rockies fans will find themselves circling the days of his starts on their calendars. The acquisitions of David Hale and Kyle Kendrick move Butler out of the presumed fifth spot in the rotation, but before that happened he was slotted as both the biggest question mark and most exciting pitcher to watch (for dreaming of the future purposes) in the top five.
Even those who believe the Rockies should take their time with him -- and even the most jaded Rockies prospect disbelievers -- will have their eyes glued to the TV set when Butler toes the rubber. He could end up being the worst pitcher on the club numbers-wise next season, but if he finishes as the best, things have either gone stupendously well or tragically off-rails for the club. But seeing what he can do -- experiencing the journey of Butler -- may be the most interesting aspect of the entire 2015 Rockies season.
It has been since Ubaldo Jimenez's unforgettable 2010 that the team has had a pitcher where every five days a purple-clad fan can say, "I can't miss the game today, this dude is pitching and I have to see for myself." For better or for worse, this will be Butler in 2015. Anything "could" happen.
3. Carlos Gonzalez: 2015 WAR range: -0.3-5, 2014: -0.3, Steamer: 2.3
Going out on a limb here: Gonzalez will not produce a negative WAR in 2015. There are those of the opinion that his knee tendonitis combined with many other maladies (Cheeto alien!) mean CarGo could now be just be a shell of his former self.
Further injuries melded together with a few tough stretches could force a mirror of last season, but this scenario is incredibly unlikely. If he is never a star player again, one or two WAR should still be well within his reach even under less than ideal circumstances.
Family health issues from last year are the least understood reason behind his lack of production. Thomas Harding of MLB.com told a recent Rockies bloggers panel that Gonzalez was leaving the ballpark and going directly to the hospital most days, spending the night with his family.
With the mental and physical exhaustion of such events firmly behind him, perhaps Gonzalez can finally get back to focusing on baseball -- and setting his sights on proving lot of doubters wrong in 2015.
Maybe, just maybe, he can return to being the 5 WAR player he once was. We all know what he has done, but very few of us know what he can still do.
If CarGo can reclaim the title currently held by Nolan Arenado of the team's second-best player without the third baseman (and a handful of others) taking a big step back, the Rockies will easily have the most intimidating lineup in the NL.
2. Jhoulys Chacin: 2015 WAR range: 0-4.5, 2014: 0.4, Steamer: 1.1
Chacin is now the pitching version of Troy Tulowitzki; he'd be the best pitcher in Rockies history if he could just stay on the field. Last year was a nightmare for Chacin (yeah, you and us both, buddy) -- one plagued by injury, lack of velocity, and then injury again.
Before spring training started in 2014, some yahoo on Purple Row listed Chacin as the most off-limits trade piece on the Rockies roster, even ahead of Tulowitzki. Now, it looks like his entire career is hanging on like an extra in a superhero movie desperately praying some metahuman (or Batman) comes to the rescue.
Maybe Chacin's Batman will be the doctors and training staff and his career can be saved. But then again, maybe Batman isn't real.
Nah ... can't be.
He may no longer be the least tradeable Rockie, but Jhoulys Chacin may still be the most important.
He can be, and has been, the Rockies' ace. He can be, and has been, an afterthought. The difference between those two possible outcomes, especially considering the Rockies' current and historic issues in the rotation, represent the chasm between contending and not. You can't win if you can't pitch. Last year's team proved that. And we have no idea if Chacin can still pitch. Yet, he may be the Rockies best pitcher.
If he is 2013 Chacin, I think the team wins at least 80 games. If he pitches very little or not at all it could have a V for Vendetta-like cascading domino effect that derails his career along with the Rockies' rotation and likely their entire season.
1. Troy Tulowitzki: 0-8 WAR, 2014: 5.1, Steamer: 4.9
There is almost nothing more to say on the subject of Tulo and wide-ranging outcomes. To quote both the Talking Heads and a bad-ass piece done recently by our Rockies Zingers friend, Jake Shapirio, "same as it ever was."
From game to game, there is no other player in all of baseball who can contribute as much to a win as Tulowitzki. If he played 162 games a season, he would be the runaway best player of his generation, especially when you take into account how few healthy shortstops in history can match even an injured Tulo.
But he does not play 162 games a season.
When he plays 150, the Rockies make the playoffs. The difference between Tulo and not Tulo is so massive that it can account for far more wins than a WAR total would suggest because of positional scarcity and roster construction.
He could get injured in spring training and miss the whole season, all but guaranteeing the Rockies can't even sniff the playoffs ... or he could play 150 and we can put that theory to the test ... or any number of possibilities in between.
They say that democracy is how we choose who gets the blame. The same could be said for sports general managers.
Unless Dick Monfort invested in a top of the line crystal ball -- and we are talking the good stuff you get at Toys R Us Platinum -- the volatility of this roster may make counting the sprouting gray hairs on Jeff Bridich's head a game in-and-of-itself in 2015. Congratulations on the promotion, sir! Welcome to forecasting hell.