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Rockies fans have good reason to be optimistic about 2017

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The Rockies are poised to take a step forward in 2017.

In November 2015, I wrote that recent history supported the feeling that 2017 could be a turnaround season for the Rockies. It didn’t even take much squinting. Similar teams that had been mired in poor play for years but could rest hopes on strong farm systems formed the basis of the analysis. To measure strength of the farm system, I looked at Baseball Prospectus’s organizational rankings. I looked at three-year stretches that included a poor season followed by a strong organizational ranking. And then I looked at the developmental and turnaround seasons that came next.

Let’s revisit those teams and, more importantly, see how well the Rockies fit into the club I devised and put them in. The 2017 season, after all, has arrived.

Three-year path

Team and Path Year 1, Dumps Year Year 2, Developmental Year Year 3, Turnaround Year BP Org Ranking after Dumps Year
Team and Path Year 1, Dumps Year Year 2, Developmental Year Year 3, Turnaround Year BP Org Ranking after Dumps Year
Royals, 2011-2013 71-91 72-90 86-76 5
Pirates, 2011-2013 72-90 79-83 94-68 8
Astros, 2013-2015 51-111 70-92 86-76 5
Cubs, 2013-2015 66-96 73-89 97-76 2
Rockies, 2015-2017 68-94 75-87 ??? 3

From dumps to development, the Royals and Astros are the exceptions in completely different ways. The Royals only improved by one win in those years, and they saw their real gains in the turnaround year. The Astros’ putrid 51 win 2013 necessitated a huge leap, and they won 19 more games in their developmental year. The Rockies’ seven win improvement in 2016 more closely reflects the Pirates and the Cubs—in fact, it mirrors them. The Rockies’ 2016 saw a seven game improvement from 2015, which is the same win increase the 2012 Pirates and the 2014 Cubs saw from their dumps year.

The teams all took much larger leaps from development to turnaround. The Royals improved by 14 wins, the Pirates by 15, the Astros by 16, and the Cubs won 24 more games in 2015 than they did in 2014. These teams are all different, and their similar leaps might expose some selection bias here, but because of their similarly strong farm systems, it shouldn’t be too surprising if the Rockies win 10 more games in 2017 than they did in 2016.

The teams are similar in their farm system strength, and they are also similar in being lucky enough for having that strength be realized in the major leagues. Prospects have to realize their potential, and most often, they don’t. I wrote this about how the Rockies might need to fit the molds found in the other teams:

A lot needs to happen for the Rockies to pry open a window of contention in 2017. The Rockies need one of Jon Gray or Jeff Hoffman to be the team’s Gerrit Cole. They’ll also need one of Tyler Anderson, Kyle Freeland, or Antonio Senzatela to be, at least, a Kyle Hendricks. On the offensive side, it’s reasonable to look for David Dahl and Ryan McMahon to be the Kris Bryant and George Springer types—immediately valuable rookies. It would be nice for Brendan Rodgers to do a Carlos Correa, but that’s not something to count on, especially in 2017. Trevor Story will be there, and he looks like a Luis Valbuena. Eddie Butler already looks like he can be Luke Hochevar.

I’m just as surprised as you are that a lot of this has gone mostly to script. Jon Gray really has become the Gerrit Cole of the Rockies—a young starter leading the rotation with legitimate front-end talent. Jeff Hoffman hasn’t quite done that, but as I wrote, just one of the two needed to. When I wrote this, Kyle Hendricks wasn’t yet a Cy Young contender. He was a guy who contributed without overpowering stuff. Tyler Anderson has, indeed, become that. Both he and Gray have to have strong second acts. Kyle Freeland and Antonio Senzatela will begin the year in the rotation. If just one of them has a rookie season that even resembles Anderson’s, it will be a huge success.

David Dahl should contribute, as long as his injury doesn’t keep him out too long. While Ryan McMahon has stalled in Double-A, Trevor Story has turned out to be more than Luis Valbuena. In fact, he’s closer to providing the value Carlos Correa does. Eddie Butler has been shipped out of town, but the Rockies have a bullpen strong enough that he wouldn’t crack even if he were still with the team. I also suggested that Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu could be the Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar type role players—they might be even better.

The Rockies have the developmental core, and it remains easier now than before to see how they can take another step forward in 2017. That window of contention is cracking.

As before, choosing other teams would make for different conclusions. But the argument here is to simply demonstrate what can be, and that your optimism, if you have it, isn’t misplaced. The Rockies are well positioned to post their first above .500 season since 2010, and they are capable of more than that both this year and in the following couple of seasons.

And it all begins tonight.