The Super Bowl is over. Pitchers and catchers don’t report for another week, and spring training games are even further away. Save for some regular season NHL, NBA, or NCAA basketball games, the sporting landscape is a desolate place.
Fortunately, in this Dead Zone of Sports, we have PECOTA Day. Released every year in conjunction with the Baseball Prospectus Annual, PECOTA is the standard bearer in baseball projection systems, sparking debate far and wide. Last week we noted the Rockies had received a positive outlook from the other most popular projection system, Dan Syzmborski’s ZiPS, and there was hope that PECOTA would similarly inspire hope. Alas.
Baseball Prospectus’ projection system has slotted the Colorado Rockies as the fourth best team in the National League West, projected to finish with a record of 74-88, two games behind the Diamondbacks, and well behind the Dodgers. There are two main takeaways from this news.
1. Maybe we should temper our optimism about the Rockies in 2017
At the risk of joining a long line of baseball fans who get mad at PECOTA for projecting their team to be not great (or setting off such reactions in the comments), the Rockies look to be in a precarious place in 2017. The offseason has been focused on making some “win-now” moves, like giving up the 11th pick in the upcoming draft to sign Ian Desmond to learn to play first base, or giving LOOGY Mike Dunn $19 million over three years. In turn we, among many others around the internet, have been hailing that this could be the opening of the Rockies next contention window.
PECOTA is not convinced. The projection system currently has the Rockies finishing one game worse than they were in 2016. The reasons why are in some cases defensible and in others overly cautious, which we will get into later this week.
2. The NL West is going to be tough to win
The Los Angeles Dodgers have built a perennial juggernaut and taking them down will require an incredible amount of talent and luck. Last year, despite setting a record for most time lost to the disabled list, they won the NL West by four games, their fourth consecutive division title. This year they are projected to win 97 games, a full five wins more than any other team in baseball. Last year PECOTA had the Cubs as the best team in baseball with 95 wins; they won 103. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants are projected to win 84 games, slotting in as the second Wild Card team, which of course means they will avenge their failure to continue their even-year dominance by winning the Wild Card game on the road (again) en route to a 12-0 postseason run to win yet another World Series.
Sorry, I’ve been reading a lot of dystopian fiction recently. The point is the Rockies do not exist in a vaccuum; no matter how much improvement they hope to see out of their young corps or their offseason acquisitions, they still have to compete with the Dodgers and Giants. If the Rockies hope to contend this year, they are going to have to do so against heavy divisional odds.
We’ll have much more this week unpacking projections and whetting our collective appetite for real life baseball.