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A simulation of one way the Colorado Rockies' 2015 season can turn out

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What does a 2015 Rockies season with a mixed bag of excellent, not so excellent, and middle-of-the-road performances look like?

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

We know that we don’t know what’s going to happen in 2015. But we have intelligent guesses based on our eyes, ears, memories, and consumption of information. We accept that our guesses might be off, but we can be relatively sure that we’ll come relatively close. If you will, we’ll be able to ballpark it. We also know that computers provide guesses as well. They do so with memories and information, but without eyes and ears. The computers, too, make intelligent guesses. They, too, know that the guesses might be off. And finally, computers also are relatively sure that the guesses will, at the very least, be accurate within a reasonable range—the computers also ballpark it.

This is another article about projections. But it’s not another article about projections. One of the most interesting features of Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA projection system is that it offers (subscribers) a range of projections, from the near worst case scenario 10th percentile projection to the near best case scenario 90th. Most often, you see only the median projection (50th percentile). I’ve written two articles about where players from the 2014 version of the Rockies landed on the scale. Only a few ended up on the extremes of excellence and putridity. While neither computer nor human being truly knows where the 2015 Rockies will settle with regard to the projections, I do know that some players will be in their upper echelon, while others will be in their lower one, and still others will hover around their median.

Below, you’ll find one way the 2015 season might go by way of an extremely rudimentary season simulation. I chose 23 players (eight pitchers, five starters) whom I expect to get a fair amount of playing time in 2015. Then, I wrote their names on a piece of paper and put them in a hat. In another hat, I placed pieces of paper with numbers on them: two each of 90, 80, 10, and 20, and three each from 30 to 70. Paper from hat one then met paper from hat two, and I came up with a season scenario for 2015.

Here is how it turned out.

★★★

The Bottom

Which paper players got the dreaded 10th and 20th percentile seasons? It would be lovely if we could just place all of the players we expect to be bad in this group. That way, the bad players will just be really bad. But that’s not how things work based on the rules I made up for this exercise. It’s also not how things work in real life.

Player Percentile PA AVG/OBP/SLG WARP
Carlos Gonzalez 10 507 .253/.307/.449 0.5
Wilin Rosario 10 216 .231/.261/.406 -0.2
Nick Hundley 20 279 .224/.272/.363 -0.2
D.J. LeMahieu 20 397 .257/.289/.345 0.3

Uh…that’s not what we meant when we asked for 500 plate appearances from Carlos Gonzalez. Although this near worst case scenario version of Carlos Gonzalez is still better all around than CarGo’s 2014, this is an enormously disappointing start.

With Rosario splitting time between catcher and first base, Rosario hit his floor as a replacement level player with an unimpressive slugging percentage for an ostensible power hitter. Rosario’s playing time behind the plate was necessitated by Hundley’s ineffectiveness. For someone who doesn’t have a high ceiling to begin with, Hundley’s 20th percentile performance makes even a reasonable two-year $6 million contract look like a bad idea.

D.J. LeMahieu's low end 2015 isn’t far off from his 2014. That’s a good sign, as it suggests he still has room to improve.

The Bulky Middle, Position Players

Most players fall somewhere between their 30th and 70th percentile projection. The 2015 outlook for position players:

Player Percentile PA AVG/OBP/SLG WARP
Daniel Descalso 30 225 .242/.302/.354 0.2
Drew Stubbs 30 343 .236/.300/.375 0.1
Justin Morneau 30 559 .268/.328/.428 -0.3
Brandon Barnes 40 239 .252/.294/.402 0.5
Michael McKenry 50 250 .254/.319/.431 0.6
Kyle Parker 50 250 .264/.314/.442 0.3
Charlie Blackmon 60 638 .284/.332/.433 1.1
Nolan Arenado 60 574 .288/.325/.461 3.2
Corey Dickerson 60 589 .300/.346/.521 2.6

That line for Descalso approximates Josh Rutledge’s from 2014—except there’s less hitting acumen and better defense added in. The result is "meh" however you slice it.

That’s what Drew Stubbs regressing looks like—it also looks like his 2013 season. That’s what an under-platooned Justin Morneau, with some bad luck added in, looks like. That’s what Brandon Barnes and Kyle Parker look like in real life—fifth outfielders. And that’s what Charlie Blackmon’s 2014 looked like, even though it might seem disappointing at first blush.

With Hundley and Rosario giving nothing other than emptiness, McKenry’s season looks mighty fine. The disappointing part is the lack of plate appearances.

Thank you for living up to expectations, Nolan Arenado and Corey Dickerson. The Arenado line is the product of persistently excellent defense and offense roughly consistent with what he did in 2014. Dickerson’s offensively powered line also resembles his 2014.

The Bulky Middle, Pitchers

The fate of the pitchers turned out fortuitous—not that the higher end of projections that start from a bad spot are all that great.

Player Percentile IP ERA WARP
Jhoulys Chacin 40 155 4.50 1.1
Jordan Lyles 40 150 5.22 -0.6
Rex Brothers 50 64 3.83 0.9
LaTroy Hawkins 70 71 3.92 0.8
Adam Ottavino 70 71 3.91 0.8
Jorge De La Rosa 70 173 4.14 1.9

You’ll take a slightly underperforming Jhoulys Chacin and you will like it. Jordan Lyles’s 40th percentile performance doesn’t look nearly as good as Chacin’s 40th, and that says something about both Chacin and Lyles.

We have nice outings from three relievers. The ERAs don’t shine, but they do what they need to do to provide value to the team. LaTroy Hawkins finishes his career with exactly 1500 innings pitched. And here is Jorge De La Rosa proving to everyone that his two year $25 million extension was worth it.

The Top

Finally! The fun ones! Right?!

Player Percentile PA/IP AVG/OBP/SLG/ERA WARP
Kyle Kendrick 80 186 4.32 1.4
Troy Tulowitzki 80 555 .330/.406/.580 6.3
Tyler Matzek 90 155 4.37 1.2
Charlie Culberson 90 330 .294/.329/.468 1.9

Kyle Kendrick’s high-end 80th percentile performance might not strike you in terms of ERA, but those innings and value make his one-year deal look great. The worst possible outcome here is that it causes the Rockies to re-sign Kendrick for 2016.

Oh the joy of linking Tulowitzki with an 80th percentile performance. The WARP figure is possibly too low because of the even rating it gives his defense. He neither added nor subtracted value on defense. We know he’s better than that, and the fact that all of the playing time comes at shortstop, one of the most valuable defensive positions, is another boost.

Tyler Matzek’s 90th percentile performance is not even as good as his 2014 season. Nevertheless, there is really not a lot more one can ask from the sophomore season of a 24-year-old starting pitcher. This is the only season in this exercise that, for me, does not compute with regard to the percentile projection. A 90th percentile season from Matzek is at least worth three wins.

Dammit Charlie what are you doing up here?! I kid. I’ll gladly take this season line, as long as it came at second base and not at any of the other infield positions. Given the results from the other spots of the infield, that’s a safe assumption to make. This goes to show that you can’t pick and choose which players are going to perform beyond expectations, however much we want to.

★★★

Rounded out, this is not a good season for the Rockies. And it even includes an exceptional performance from Troy Tulowitzki. The composite WARP amounts to just 24.2. A very rough estimation for team wins with that much player WARP is 74 or so. That figure is imprecise, but a Rockies team with the performances above isn’t likely to win any more than 81 games.

The 2015 Rockies will have a season like the one above: Some things will go better than expected. Other things will turn out to be worse than expected. And yet more things will be unexpected altogether. While it doesn’t feel like it, that’s also what the 2014 season was like.

There are still things missing here. There are 1025 innings pitched accounted for, which is about 400 innings short of a full season. But those would be filled by middle relief innings and starts from rotation depth options such as David Hale, Chad Bettis, Christian Bergman, John Lannan, and Yohan Flande. The ceilings for each are low. Despite possibly putting up quality innings, even if they each put up seasons in the 90th percentile of their projections, it wouldn't move the needle.

One final observation. We all know the refrains: "If Tulo and CarGo are healthy..."; "The Rockies go as Tulo goes..." In this simulation, an incredible, MVP-level season from Tulowitzki doesn't look like it can propel the team forward all that much. Tulo, in fact, goes as the Rockies go because he's a member of that team.

One thing that total value statistics such as WARP show us is that individual players can only do so much for a team. Indeed, you can ignore WARP altogether and the simulated season above still doesn't look great for the Rockies. If you switch Culberson and Gonzalez and give the former a 10th percentile season and the latter a 90th, this is what it would do: Confirmed will be your idea of Charlie Culberson's baseball talent, your desires for Carlos Gonzalez to be great and healthy realized, and the team still doesn't look all that great.

But let's not close on a pessimistic note. This was a fun exercise. I’ll revisit this again at the end of the season. And that will be fun, too. But neither will be as much fun as watching the Rockies put the lie to the simulation above. And that, truly, mean anything.