Feature article: ZiPS 2021 Projections: Colorado Rockies | FanGraphs
Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have established themselves as an offseason staple over the past several years. His 2020 rendition for the Colorado Rockies features a handful of surprises, along with some thought-provoking ideas and some brutal honesty.
While the ZiPS projections are extremely comprehensive, there remains some interesting insights to break down. Let’s start with the position players:
“The team’s offense is largely reliant on having two-to-three players in any given season being MVP candidates, with Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story likely being those two players again in 2020.”
Szymborski wastes no time in describing the Rockies’ offense as “one of the worst teams in the majors.” Several of his descriptions are not for the faint of heart Rockies fan, but there is still some optimism.
Of little surprise, Story and Arenado are projected to lead the Rockies in offensive WAR (4.0 and 3.8). Those two are then followed by a steep cliff. Projected third is Colton Welker; it appears a facet of his .313/.364/.469 career minor league slash is calling for him to have a breakout season. Welker has yet to appear in a Triple-A ballgame, let alone the big leagues. His production could be timely, however, as the corner infield for the Rockies could face some uncertainty.
Szymborski says the Rockies have been “casually disinterested” in putting Brendan Rodgers in the field. This could be a reflection of cautiousness after Rodgers underwent shoulder surgery in July 2019, but his .095/.095/.143 slash in 2020 dismisses that idea in a hurry. Rodgers is “at risk of going the way of Ryan McMahon,” but it could also be Garrett Hampson mixed into second base. In 2020, McMahon slashed a left-handed .215/.295/.419 to Hampson’s right-handed .234/.287/.383. (Szymborski’s graphic has ‘McHamphon’ listed at second.) This could indeed show that Rodgers is less touted than we first thought, but a 60-game season after labrum surgery is a limited reflection for such a revered prospect. Rodgers had 21 at-bats in 2020.
In the 2020 projection (last December), Sam Hilliard, David Dahl and Charlie Blackmon made Szymborski’s graphic as starting outfielders. Five names crowd the graphic this year as Ian Desmond and Raimel Tapia are included. Tapia is projected to be one of the Rockies’ top performers by WAR, but Yonathan Daza actually edges Tapia’s projection by a narrow margin. (Szymborski notes that ZiPS projections aren’t adjusted for playing time, which explains how Daza—and Welker—can rack up such a WAR figure.)
The trade potential for Arenado and Story is addressed, but Szymborski thinks they aren’t even the best Rockies to trade: “Signed through 2023 with an option for ’24, I think [Germán] Márquez would actually fetch more on the market.” Such a perspective further reveals how teams trade contracts and not players.
“While [the bullpen] stunk in 2019, I’d argue the problem is the pitchers the Rockies decide they want in their bullpen.”
It can be difficult to project Daniel Bard for 2021 after he went seven years without playing. It can be difficult to project any reliever after all, but at least the Rockies haven’t “paid retail” for a swarm of bullpen arms again. Even if the 2021 relievers match the abysmal 2020 bullpen ERA, at least the payroll can take a breather.
The 2021 projections aren’t too favorable for even Colorado’s best bullpen arms in 2020. Ashton Goudeau has a higher WAR projection than both Bard and Yency Almonte. Goudeau isn’t even on the team anymore after the Pirates scored him off waivers.
In the ZiPS table, Almonte is tied for 24th in projected WAR out of all Colorado pitchers on the list. This comes after Almonte ranked ninth out of all Rockies in Purple Row’s 2020 “Ranking the Rockies” series. Relievers will understandably have lower WAR projections than starters, of course, but it appears Almonte’s strong 2020 campaign has been largely disregarded by the ZiPS projections. They could easily take into account his peaks and valleys in career ERA: he’s featured season figures of 1.84, 5.56 and 2.93 since his 2018 debut. Almonte’s 2021 projection is similar to his 2020 forecast, so here’s to the 26-year-old proving those numbers wrong once again.
Despite not pitching in 2020, Scott Oberg has the lowest projected ERA and FIP out of all Rockies for 2021. His absence was certainly felt this year, and we can only hope his health will allow him to toe the rubber again in the coming months.
“ZiPS expects [Germán] Marquez’s FIP vs. ERA margin to shrink and for him to have a general return to form.” This would play especially well for a Rockies rotation that saw a huge increase in productivity from Antonio Senzatela. Kyle Freeland looked more like his 2018 self, too. ZiPS projects Márquez with the best WAR of all Colorado pitchers (3.5), and by a wide margin. Freeland ranks second (1.8) and Jon Gray (1.7) actually edges out Senzatela (1.3). Meanwhile, Ryan Castellani’s projection ranks him dead last out of all Rockies pitchers—for the second consecutive season.
The high trade value for Márquez was mentioned earlier; it isn’t to say the Rockies should part ways with “the perfect pitcher for Coors Field,” but how far would the Rockies go if they decided to push in their chips and go for the long-term? If such a huge WAR projection for 2021 gives Márquez an even higher yield, is now the time to actually do it?
Ryan Rolison’s projected WAR ranks eighth among Rockies pitchers. Brandon Gold also receives high prospect praise, raking ninth in WAR projections. It will be interesting to see how both can follow up their 2019 work after not appearing in a game this year.
For the time being, we can worry less knowing that Rockies pitching could be a (relatively) bright spot going into 2021. The underlying message from these projections can be grim, but at least some form of optimism is there.
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One such pitcher was not included in Colorado’s ZiPS projections on Wednesday for obvious reasons. Robert Stephenson has seen a roller coaster ERA in his past several years with Cincinnati, so his projection can also be inconsistent.
Stephenson was acquired by Colorado on Wednesday in the deal that sent Jeff Hoffman to Cincinnati. Kevin Henry of Rox Pile talks about several key points that may have led to Stephenson’s ups and downs over the past few years. Most recently, Stephenson fought a back strain that forced him onto the injured list for part of the abbreviated 2020 season. Also mentioned is how Stephenson’s fly balls turned into home runs this year. He allowed eight in 10 innings; Rockies fans will thereby prefer his xFIP figure to his FIP.
If you’re interested in an outsider perspective for a trade deal—not involving Story or Arenado—look no further. Márquez’s coveted contract seems to have caught the attention of Detroit Tigers fans.
Fresno Grizzlies given ultimatum to accept demotion or have no team for upcoming season | ABC 30 (Fresno, Calif.)
Stay tuned as for whether the Fresno Grizzlies will become the Rockies’ newest Single-A affiliate. Fresno has been a Triple-A affiliate for years, and the Single-A ultimatum has come with serious pushback from the organization and the city.
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