Maybe the Rockies Are Contenders in 2017 by Dave Cameron January 30, 2017 We’ve written a lot about the Rockies in the last week. David Laurila interviewed GM Jeff Bridich about how he sees the organization, we talked about their signing of Greg Holland, Jeff Sullivan covered their pitch-framing possibilities, and Travis Sawchik suggested they try something different with their pitching staff. Finally, this morning, we wrapped up unofficial Rockies week with the team’s ZIPS projections. That’s a lot of Rockies content, but all have it has been focused on specific parts of the team, while leaving mostly untouched the question that is central to their organization and the moves they made this winter: are the Rockies legitimate contenders this year? Based on the moves they’ve made this winter, it seems pretty clear that they think the answer is yes. They began the winter by giving Ian Desmond $70 million over five years, seemingly to play first base, and surrendered the 11th pick in next year’s draft in order to do so, making a clear future-for-present exchange in order to get a batter athlete at the biggest hole they had in the infield. The rest of their free agent money went to relievers, as they added lefty Mike Dunn before bringing in Holland last week, and guaranteed those two at least $13 million between them for 2017, plus giving Dunn two additional years and Holland a vesting player option as well. All of those moves are the kinds of transactions you make to finish off a roster you think can win next year. You don’t give up the most valuable draft pick that can be forfeited to sign a 31-year-old SS-turned-OF to play 1B as a long-term investment. You don’t throw $19 million at a not-so-special lefty specialist if you’re looking to the future. The moves say the organization is pushing in on 2017, but as the Padres and Diamondbacks have shown the last two years, you don’t win just because you want to, and make a few splashy acquisitions to bolster a squad that isn’t quite ready yet. And if you just look at our current projected standings, the 2017 Rockies look a lot like the 2016 Diamondbacks or 2015 Padres. We have them at 78-84 at the moment; that’s 17 games behind LA in the NL West, 10 games behind San Francisco for the top wild card position, and six games behind St. Louis for the second wild card spot. A projection that puts them a little under .500 doesn’t rule out a playoff run, but from that starting spot, you need a lot of things to break your way in order to end up in the postseason. But that forecast is currently based solely on the Steamer projections, and as of this morning, we know that ZIPS — which will be added into the depth charts in a bit, and will become part of our blended forecast — is significantly higher on several of the Rockies players than Steamer is. And these aren’t really minor disagreements; these are the kinds of differences that could shift the evaluation of how good the Rockies currently are. If you go to the Rockies depth chart page here on FG, you can see the Steamer projections for all their players, so you can see that Steamer isn’t all that on many of the team’s position players, besides Nolan Arenado. Particularly, Steamer doesn’t see the team getting much production from the outfield, with Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, and David Dahl combining for +3.3 WAR. ZIPS, on the other hand, projects those three to put up +7.9 WAR between them, and that’s actually in even fewer plate appearances than Steamer is projecting for the trio, so if they play as much as we’re forecasting on our depth charts, the combined production based on ZIPS’ estimates would be +8.3 WAR. Just in the outfield, there’s a five win disagreement between the two systems; if you added five wins to the Rockies current projection here on FG, they’d be tied with the Mets for the sixth-best projected record in the NL, and pretty clearly would be a contender for at least a wild card spot. ZIPS also likes the team’s rotation a bit more, giving Chad Bettis an extra win, and thinking the team actually has some decent rotation depth should any of the projected five starters falter. Steamer likes the bullpen a little more, especially Adam Ottavino, but overall ZIPS is a little more bullish on the Rockies pitching. And there aren’t really any other downward adjustments that offset these areas of optimism; basically everyone that Steamer likes on the Rockies is also equally liked by ZIPS, so Dan Szymborski’s system effectively just agrees with a bunch of Steamer’s forecasts, but thinks much more highly of the team’s outfield and a little more highly of the rotation. That difference looks to be on the order of about five or six wins, and depending on which forecast you put more emphasis on, would change your answer as to whether the Rockies look like legitimate contenders headed into the season. So, when looking at the competing ideas, the primary question we’re asking about the Rockies is how good we think their outfield will be next year. And given the choice between +8 WAR and +3 WAR, ZIPS certainly feels closer to what we’d expect, given that Blackmon was a +4 WAR player last year himself, and Gonzalez and Dahl aren’t replacement level scrubs. So what’s the deal? Why does Steamer hate the Rockies outfielders? Mostly, it appears to be weighting 2016 data significantly less heavily than ZIPS is. Blackmon was great last year, running a 130 wRC+, but prior to last year, his career wRC+ was 96 in 1,800 plate appearances. In his age-30 season, Blackmon destroyed what he’d done previously as a hitter, and Steamer is heavily regressing him back towards his career average, giving him a forecasted 97 wRC+ for 2017. ZIPS, on the other hand, is giving him a 114 OPS+, which translates to about a 116 wRC+ given the OBP/SLG make-up of his particular line, so ZIPS is putting much more stock in Blackmon’s breakout year. Likewise, ZIPS is way higher on David Dahl than Steamer is, projecting a 108 OPS+ compared to Steamer’s 85 wRC+. Dahl’s overall minor league track record isn’t amazing, but he hit well last year in both the minors and the majors, and ZIPS appears to be putting more emphasis on that than on his mediocre performances before, producing a two win difference between the two systems based on how heavily last year is factored in. If you think that Dahl is going to hit like he did in the big leagues last year, and you think Blackmon’s offensive breakout was for real, than the Rockies have one of the best outfields in the game; this is the ZIPS position. If you think Blackmon is more likely to produce like he did before last year, and you’re not sold on Dahl being an above-average big league hitter at 22, then there’s some weakness here, and the Rockies offense might not be good enough to keep up with the better teams in the NL. In general, the truth often lies somewhere between the extremes, which is why we blend two good projection systems together to make our forecasts. ZIPS and Steamer both have their strengths and weaknesses, and when combined, we’re probably going to end up with a forecast for the Rockies of roughly a .500 team, making them a bubble contender, but one who could certainly make some noise if enough things break their way. But when looking at the differences, and seeing how large of a regression Steamer is forecasting for Blackmon and Dahl, I have to say that I’d lean towards the ZIPS side of the forecasts; having Blackmon revert back entirely to his pre-breakout production doesn’t quite fit with what we know about how players develop, and that Dahl forecast looks remarkably harsh for a former first round pick with his offensive skills at this age. So, right now, our projected standings say that the Rockies are more pretenders than contenders, but give it a few weeks, and these pretty-rosy ZIPS forecasts will bring those numbers up a good bit, and I think you can argue for some optimism above and beyond just what adding ZIPS to Steamer will do. If Blackmon and Dahl hit anywhere near where they did last year, and if Wolters is as good at framing as he looked last year, the Rockies might very well be Wild Card contenders, despite what our official projected standings page say at this moment.