The Rockies played their 81st game of the season on Saturday. After it was over, they completed the first half of games for 2015. The halfway point is a good time to checkup on how well a handful of the Rockies’ most prominent players have performed vis-à-vis their pre-season projections. We’re not concerned with whether or not each player has "beaten" their pre-season projection—specifically, Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA projections—because players aren't projected to produce a single line of production. The line we usually see is the mean, but the mean exists within a range that is determined based on what the projection system knows about the player in question. A player’s 90th percentile projection represents the best case given the information available, while the 10th percentile projection is the worst case.
What the performances indicate is that some things have gone wrong for the Rockies—players have been at the low-end of their projections—but other things have gone right—players at the high end. I chose the eight position players who have the most playing time at each position. I accounted for offense only. While Brandon Barnes will very soon overtake Corey Dickerson for most innings in left field, Dickerson is under review here. On the pitching side, I chose the five pitchers with the most starts, which means we’ll look at Eddie Butler, who will likely return by the end of the season, as well as Jordan Lyles, who we’ll see next in 2016.
Four of the Rockies position players have performed above their mean projection, while the other four have been below. Nick Hundley, DJ LeMahieu, Nolan Arenado, and Charlie Blackmon. Hundley and Arenado have been the highest performers—they both reached their 90th percentile projection. Of course, that doesn’t mean the same thing. Nolan Arenado is a 24 year-old player in the midst of a breakout year, whereas Hundley is 31 and has a much longer track record. We and the projection systems are far more likely to recalibrate and adjust upward with regard to Arenado, while Hundley’s offensive production has probably been at its peak. In other words, Arenado’s half-season is more persuasive. Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu are the other position players performing above their mean projections, both fit in their 70th percentile.
Wilin Rosario—who has played more first base than anyone else for the Rockies this season—Corey Dickerson, Troy Tulowitzki, and Carlos Gonzalez are the four position players who sit under their pre-season PECOTA projection. When healthy, Dickerson hit a bit below his mean projection, and in place of Justin Morneau, Rosario has similarly been close to his mean projection but a touch below. The other two guys are the story though. After a very slow start, Tulo has picked up the offense as of late; however, he remains on the low end of what he’s capable of. While Tulo’s .358 OBP leads the team, it’s his lowest mark since 2008. His June resembled his 80th percentile projection. That won’t continue for the remaining 81 games, but it looks like Tulo will spend the rest of the season compensating for his poor start.
I don’t think the same can be said for Carlos Gonzalez. Note that CarGo’s first half is in the 10th percentile of his pre-season projection. His 2014 was the same. At this point, CarGo’s hot stretches feel like the anomalies. Over the past two calendar years, he’s been pretty similar to Brandon Barnes. Projection systems are slow to catch up. They have long memories. The good years for CarGo are possibly shaping the projections too much for a player to whom I’m no longer giving the benefit of the doubt.
One might expect the starting pitching to be a cliché fire of players in the -10th percentile or so of their projections, but that’s not the case. The starting pitching has been mostly bad, that much is for sure, but they haven’t been all that bad relative to how they were projected to perform prior to the season. Only one of the pitchers analyzed below, Kyle Kendrick, has performed below his pre-season mean projection, while one, Jorge De La Rosa, has landed pretty close to it, and the other three, Eddie Butler, Jordan Lyles, and Chad Bettis, have performed above their projections.
This chart deserves an explanation. The PECOTA projections are based on Baseball Prospectus’s pitching metric Fair Run Average. However, they’ve recently introduced a new—and by most accounts, better—statistic called Deserved Run Average. I placed the pitchers in their performance centile based on their ERA and WHIP, but I included their DRA as well. Because of the existence of DRA, there’s a lot of incongruence in the performances in the chart below, making it less telling than the one above.
|Jorge De La Rosa||4.59||1.48||4.23||50|
The bright spot is Chad Bettis, who has exceeded his pre-season projection with an ERA that is actually good. Not only that, but he has the best DRA on the team, which means that after accounting for nearly every conceivable bit of context (catcher, umpire, base running, opponent, and park), he’s been the Rockies’ best pitcher. For now, this chart comes with a big grain of salt because the projections are not based on DRA. Once the season is over, we’ll have a better grasp of pitcher value based on Baseball Prospectus’s DRA based pitcher Wins Above Replacement Player.
After a half-season of play, the Rockies have been both fortunate and unfortunate, at least viewed player-to-player. As a team, they’ve probably been more unfortunate. Getting performances better than pre-season mean projections from Nick Hundley and DJ LeMahieu isn’t nearly as valuable as getting the same from Troy Tulowitzki. It’s still conceivable to get that from Tulo, but other projections indicate that it still wouldn’t be enough to compensate for the rest of the team.