The Record-Setting 2014 Rockies

As the headline notes, the Colorado Rockies set a record this year, but it’s not the kind that they’re going to want to celebrate: they tied the 2006 Indians for the biggest negative difference between their BaseRuns expected record and their actual finish, at least for the years in which we have BaseRuns data, which covers 2002-2014.

Their actual record was 66-96, good for just a .407 winning percentage. Their expected record by BaseRuns was 77-85, a mediocre-but-not-awful .476 winning percentage. By actual record, the Rockies were the second worst team in baseball, but by BaseRuns, they were “only” the 10th worst team. What went wrong?

Differences between actual results and BaseRuns expectations are due to the sequencing of events, with either a team not turning their baserunners into runs (or allowing too many runners to score), or failing to turn the runs they did score and allow into wins due to an abnormal distribution of when those runs were scored and allowed. The easiest way to tell which of the sequencing factors applied to a specific team is to look at the difference between their BaseRuns record and their pythag record.

A team that struggled with the baserunners to runs conversion will have a very large difference between BaseRuns and pythag, since the latter is based on runs scored and allowed. A team that simply didn’t time their runs correctly will have a very small difference between the two. As you can see on our BaseRuns Standings page, the Rockies underperformed their pythag record by nine wins, almost the entirety of their 11 run difference between actual record and BaseRuns. Their problem was much more on the timing of run scoring, rather than simply the runners-to-runs conversion.

The biggest contributors to the team’s lack of clutch performance? Troy Tulowitzki (-1.53), Charlie Blackmon (-1.33), Chad Bettis (-1.21), Yohan Flande (-1.24), and Matt Belisle (-1.18) all each cost the team more than a win with their negative performances in high leverage situations, while Michael McKenry and Carlos Gonzalez were both at -0.9 wins, so they just missed the arbitrary cutoff for being shamed on that list. There was no single culprit; this was a team effort.

But this is also good news for the Rockies, even though it probably didn’t feel like good news watching it. Here are the other five teams since 2002 who underperformed their BaseRuns record by at least eight wins, along with their performance in the next season.

2011 Padres: 71-91, 79-83 expected record: 76-86 in 2012
2005 Blue Jays: 80-82, 88-74 expected record: 87-75 in 2006
2002 Cubs: 67-95, 75-87 expected record: 88-74 in 2003
2009 Blue Jays: 75-87, 84-76 expected record: 85-77 in 2010
2006 Indians: 78-84, 89-73 expected record: 96-66 in 2007

These five teams averaged 74 wins per season in their underperforming year, and then 86 wins in the next season. We bang the regression to the mean drum a lot around here, but that’s because it remains one of the most powerful forces in baseball. The 2014 Rockies weren’t a good team by any stretch of the imagination, but the things that drove their record down aren’t likely to carry over to 2015.

That doesn’t mean the Rockies shouldn’t make serious changes this winter, and even with expected regression, they probably still won’t be contenders next year. But don’t be too shocked if the 2015 Rockies are one of the most improved teams in baseball by winning percentage next year, because they just weren’t as bad as their record this year suggests.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Is it possible that the baseruns formula for the Rockies is being thrown off by a Divide by Terrible exception caused by their pitching?


Not unless their pitchers were pitching to their batters while their baserunners were failing to score runs