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Rockies lessons learned from the Baseball Prospectus Annual 2016

As spring approaches, Baseball Prospectus has shipped its 2016 annual. Here are some interesting Rockies' tidbits from the newest volume of the essential baseball guide.

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The best part of the offseason is receiving my Baseball Prospectus annual in the mail. In a way, it’s the first real end to the offseason. It’s a forward-looking book that provides essential insight into each team and hundreds of players that will consume our lives for the next eight months. More importantly, it helps consume the time between now and the start of meaningful baseball games. It's a beautiful bridge with hundreds of pages of information, and you should buy it.

The first thing I did upon receiving my Baseball Prospectus 2016, of course, was read every bit about the Rockies. (Just as Grant Brisbee did about the Giants; he wrote a piece that this one is entirely and shamelessly modeled after; read that, too.) Here are some of the interesting, fun, and compelling things worth noting and passing on.

1. Nolan Arenado was a Top-10 position player by WARP in 2015

Nolan Arenado finished the season with 7.47 WARP, which ranked sixth among position players. WARP is Baseball Prospectus’s Wins Above Replacement model—theirs has a "Player" at the end. During the season, some folks wondered why in the world Arenado ranked so low on FanGraphs’ WAR leaderboard. There were a few ways to respond to this. One was that his WAR was kept low due to his low On Base Percentage. Another response might be to point out that the decimals don’t matter very much in WAR, so it’s best to think of him within a tier rather than an isolated ranking.

Yet another response would be to say, "look at WARP and you’ll feel better." Even if we apply the same "ignore the decimal" principal to this ranking, he was firmly in the second tier of position players in baseball. The first tier included just Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, and Paul Goldschmidt, and Arenado is joined by the likes of Buster Posey, Josh Donaldson, Joey Votto, Manny Machado, Lorenzo Cain, and Yoenis Cespedes.

For what it's worth, Arenado finished 28th in FanGraphs' WAR. In 2016, I'd expect the gap to close a bit between the two models.

2. Charlie Blackmon: the most passive hitter in baseball in 2015.

Well, we determined this summer that he was swinging less, which increased his walk rate and made him better, but it turns out he was swinging a whole lot less. Blackmon’s player comment also indicates that the league responded by throwing him more fastballs. If he’s not going to swing, pitchers might as well throw an easy strike. Doing that, of course, can backfire since fastballs in the zone are more hittable. But then again, Blackmon had the lowest batted ball velocity of any Rockies player in 2016.

The takeaway from all of that is that Blackmon will be a really intriguing player in 2016.

3. CarGo: lowest OPS split with two strikes relative to other counts

Carlos González was not very good at all with two strikes in 2016. That might seem odd, considering he went on a monster tear in the second half of the season. He did so, however, because he started swinging a lot more. By being aggressive early in counts, CarGo avoided the two-strike counts that afflicted him. If CarGo can’t make hard contact early in counts, he’s going to be in trouble at the plate.

4. Ben Paulsen is biblical

Ben Paulsen had a "shaving mishap" last season. Without any further details, we’re left to assume that he sneezed while shaving, resulting in a degree of lost beard that couldn’t be salvaged with creative shaping. What we do know, however, is that "a clean-shaven Paulsen hit just .264/.301/.425" after going beardless, "compared to his .282/.335/.475 bearded line . . . Paulsen’s season makes the case that [Baseball Prospectus’s projection system] PECOTA should quit ignoring the Samson effect."

5. Rafael Ynoa needs a new nickname

Walt Weiss was rightly bridled last season for saying that utility infielder Rafael Ynoa was a "tough out." He was, in fact, a very easy out. It would be like calling Arenado "bumble-thumb." It doesn't fit. Weiss's naming led to many Rafael "Tough Out" Ynoa jokes. But it turns out that he might deserve a different nickname. Ynoa walked one fewer time than Chad Bettis—who is a pitcher—in four times the plate appearances. I submit Rafael "Tough Out, Tougher Walk" Ynoa for review.

6. Mark Reynolds is among 16 players to have homered 10 times in each year since 2007

That’s it. If healthy, he’ll extend that streak and the company in it will be trimmed. Alas, he will remain Mark Reynolds.

7. The Rockies are collecting Carlos Carrascos

BP’s PECOTA projection system matches each player with his three closest comparables. Age and position play a role in determining the comparisons. The most oft-cited pitcher comparison this year was Carlos Carrasco. In fact, three Rockies pitchers were compared to the hard throwing, right-handed, Cleveland starting pitcher. Carrasco's repertoire includes a familiar combination of fastball, slider, and changeup.

Two of the pitchers to land Carrasco comps, Jon Gray and Chad Bettis, are young and very likely to be in the Rockies’ starting rotation come Opening Day. Carrasco didn’t quite figure things out until his age 26-season, when he posted a 2.55 ERA, a 2.44 FIP, and struck out over a batter an inning. Gray is a couple years away from that, but Bettis is heading into his age 26 season in 2016. Antonio Senzatela was the third player who received a Carrasco comp, so the Rockies have Carrasco-like players in the majors as well as in the minors.

8. Daniel Descalso might be a superstar

If the last entry was the most hopeful set of comps, this one is the most confusing. Descalso, the Rockies utility infielder who hit 57 percent worse than league average in 2016, received the following comps: Alan Trammell, Edgar Renteria, Barry Larkin. In other words, Descalso's comps are a player who probably should be in the Hall of Fame, a reliable starting shortstop for more than a decade, and an actual Hall of Famer. Not only that, but each one of these players made an All-Star team in their age 29 seasons. Descalso will be 29 in 2016. If you’re searching for a possible player comp snafu, this is a very likely possibility.

9. Brandon Barnes’s No. 1 comp is Eric Byrnes


10. Spleens are optional, possibly impeding

On the fact that David Dahl actually improved his performance in Double-A after getting a splenectomy, they write that it "rais[es] the possibility that spleen removal should be either mandatory or illegal."

And that, in a nutshell, is why we are lucky to have Baseball Prospectus to tide us over before baseball arrives.