Baseball is not entirely unpredictable, despite what the saying that suggests otherwise. I am absolutely certain that, in 2016, Daniel Descalso won’t have a season at the plate like Nolan Arenado did in 2015. I’m just as confident in that prediction as I am that Arenado’s 2016 will not be anywhere near as bad as Descalso’s 2015. These two things are extremely predictable. It is, however, possible that Arenado has a bad year by his standards; just like it’s possible Descalso has a good year by his. The "bad" and the "good" have to be viewed relative to what the individual player is capable of. Each player operates between his own peak and valley.
Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA projection system provides player projections within each player’s range, from a 90th percentile peak to a 10th percentile valley. One of the most entertaining things one can do with these projections is run a simple simulation for the Rockies’ 2016 season. So let’s do that. This is what we did: using a random number generator, we created a list with two of 10/20/80/90 and three of 30/40/50/60/70, then had a random number generator assign a random number from a list of 29 players, 14 position players and 15 pitchers.
The results are equal parts undesirable and preemptively depressing.
Let’s look at some lowlights from this simulation. There’s no better place to start than at the top. According to our simulation, the only Rockies player to reach his 90th percentile projection also ended up as the most valuable player for the Rockies. And it’s Ben Paulsen. A 90th percentile projection for Paulsen looks like a .293/.353/.511 triple slash, and it’s worth 2.9 Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP). In isolation, I would love for Paulsen to have this type of season. It’s a great year! And it’s possible, even if it’s not his most likely season outcome. But if Ben Paulsen leads the team in position player value, what he does in isolation isn’t going to matter a whit.
While just one position player was fortunate enough to reach peak potential, two Rockies in this simulation were stuck with valleys: Nolan Arenado and Carlos González. Aside from injuries, this would be among the worst case scenarios among position players for 2016. CarGo’s 10th percentile projection is ugly: .245/.302/.450 and a 0.2 WARP that is, essentially, replacement level. This would essentially be CarGo’s injury riddled, and horrid, 2014 extrapolated over roughly an entire season.
Arenado’s valley is strangely hopeful. Nobody wants it, but it’s nice to realize that Arenado’s floor is about league average: .253/.286/.448 with a 2.1 WARP. In other words, it’s not that far off from Paulsen’s 90th percentile projection. Still, this type of season from Arenado would be considered nothing less than a huge disappointment, especially if his on base percentage dips below .300. Still, only the best players in baseball have low-end projections that are roughly league average.
The pitching didn’t turn out so bad, if only because the Rockies don’t have any pitchers with ceilings quite as high as Arenado and CarGo. Again, the Rockies only had one player get a peak projection, but it’s definitely one we’d like to see: Chad Bettis. Bettis’s 90th percentile projection includes a 3.30 ERA and an adjusted 3.33 Deserved Run Average (DRA). This season would be good for a 2.7 WARP, easily making him the most valuable Rockies pitcher for the season.
Most of the other rotation members ended up somewhere in the middle, which is about where they are most likely to end up when they actually play the games. Jorge De La Rosa got a 60th percentile projection, which is good for a 4.06 ERA, a 4.13 DRA, and 1.7 WARP. Landing right at his median projection, Jon Gray has a 4.09 ERA to go with a 4.17 DRA and 1.2 WARP. Finally, Jordan Lyles gets a 40th percentile projection for a 4.56 ERA, 4.63 DRA, and 0.7 WARP.
This simulation wasn’t as kind to Tyler Chatwood, who landed at the bottom. That would mean something like a 5.25 ERA, a 5.35 DRA, and -0.6 WARP. This is the type of performance that would be unfortunate, but ultimately unimportant. The Rockies 2016 doesn’t rely on Chatwood. The most important thing for him in 2016 is establishing his return from Tommy John surgery and embedding himself at the back end of the Rockies rotation.
The projections in isolation don’t tell us much about the Rockies. As a whole, they indicate that a bunch of median projections with a sprinkling of over and underperformers, which is the most likely outcome, will yield a team that won’t be very good in 2016. To get a sense of that, let’s look at the tables for the 28 players we used in this simulation:
|Jorge De La Rosa||60||175||4.06||1.7|
If the Rockies end up with 7.5 WARP from position players and 6.4 from pitchers, it would be equivalent to the 2015 Phillies position players and the pitching staff of the 2015…Rockies.
If you’re response to all of this is to heartily exclaim, "Bollox! I don’t care!" Well, I’m with you. I know the Rockies will probably be bad this year. The season can unfold in millions of different ways, and the vast majority of those will result in a poor season.
Knowing one of the millions of ways the season can go for the Rockies just means we know one way it probably won’t go. The projections above? Get them out of your head. There’s baseball to be played—and soon.
Thanks to Ryan Freemyer for research assistance.