The Rockies As A 2015 Sleeper Team

The Rockies are always in a weird spot. No matter what they do or don’t do, no one ever really seems to care about them. They’re just kind of there. They maintain a low profile, and even if they never spend big, their payroll is not so low that it sticks out. Most stories that gain traction are “oh, those crazy Rockies” sorts of stories. The Four-man rotation, the GM with an office in the clubhouse, the two-headed GM, the humidor, the Giants whining about the humidor, and altitude, altitude, altitude. Rarely do we just focus on what’s going on in between the lines with the Rockies. But this season, that may change, as there is a legit case to be made for the Rockies as sleeper team.

Based on our projected standings, which are a combination of Steamer’s projections and our playing time manipulations from our depth charts, there are two definitively good National League teams — the Dodgers and Nationals. At 91 wins apiece, they pace not just the NL but all of baseball in our projected standings. But aside from them, the league doesn’t have any real standouts, and the teams sort of congeal around two spots on the win curve:

  • 83-86 wins: Cardinals, Cubs, Giants, Pirates
  • 81 wins: Marlins
  • 76-79 wins: Brewers, Padres, Mets, Reds, Rockies

So, if we accept that two playoff spots are tied up by LA and Washington (a big assumption, obviously, but go with it for now) then these 10 teams are vying for the other three. To be clear, the Rockies are pegged at 77 wins. You might think that sounds about right, or even generous. But, let’s roll through a few reasons why the Rockies could clear that bar and swaddle themselves in the middle of the playoff pack.

Tyler Matzek
Once upon a time, Matzek was the next big thing. His minor league career sort of ran off the rails though. Like, far off the rails. But he snapped open some eyes with his big league debut. His 88 FIP- (86 as a starter) was easily the best in the Rockies starting rotation, and his strikeout rate jumped up in each month he was in the majors. If he can be that guy for six months, the Rockies just might have a four-win pitcher on their hands.

Eddie Butler and Jon Gray
The pair of top 20 prospects have very little ground left to cover, if any, in the minors. It’s new ground for the Rockies to have a duo of highly touted pitching prospects. Highly touted though they are though, they are still Rockies prospects, and so their projections are quite modest — both from a performance and innings pitched standpoint. Together, they are slotted in for just 167 innings in 2015. And, if they pitch the way they are projected to, that will probably all they deserve. But if they pitch to their pedigrees, they might double that total and significantly upgrade the rotation in the process. Only time will tell, but outside of the Cubs, there are few teams with this source of untapped potential ready to burst onto the scene in 2015.

Staying out of the trainers room
Rockies trainers Keith Dugger and Scotty Gehret have been busy little bees the last few seasons. And usually it has been tending to the team’s best players. Some have been freak things (Nolan Arenado), but others have been chronic or recurring (Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Jhoulys Chacin). It’s the latter trio that the Rockies have to count on rebounds from. Two of the three collectively gave the team nothing last season, and no matter how much Tulowitzki gives the team, they always need more from him. That’s the burden of being one of the 10 best players in the game. Should they be healthy to suit up for 600 plate appearances and 200 innings apiece, it’ll go a long way to putting the Rockies in the right space to contend. (Boone Logan recovering from the bone spurs in his elbow and not being a total disaster would be nice too.)

Jairo Diaz
In his first four professional seasons, the right-hander struck out just 17.2 percent of the batters he faced. Last season, facing tougher competition for much of the season, he struck out 31.2 percent of the batters he faced. That’s a 14 percent difference, if you’re scoring at home. Just 5.2 of those innings were in the majors, but Diaz pumps 97 mph cheese, and if him making the leap last season was for real then the Rockies may just have a brand new relief ace on their hands.

Depth/Wiggle Room
Generally, the Rockies walk a tightrope of having just enough depth, just enough payroll room to survive a full season if nothing goes wrong. If everything is magic, the team sees Rocktober. That is generally not how things work, and so new general manager Jeff Bridich has done his best to quietly line up contingencies. The team has filled up its cupboard, but there is still wiggle room to add a veteran pitcher or two in free agency. There is also some intriguing prospects that the team could dangle. Ryan McMahon could slide over to first base if and when he reaches the majors, but his value may never be higher than it is now, and if he sticks at third base…well, he’s not sticking at third base in Colorado. That’s Arenado’s turf. David Dahl and Raimel Tapia similarly both can’t play center field, and as long as Gonzalez and Corey Dickerson are around, there will be an odd man out. If the Rockies are determined to make some headway in the trade market to improve the 2015 club, they have some nice chips that they can deal relatively guilt free.

Random Variation
Last year at this time, the Orioles were a 78-win team. Stuff happens, and it’s been awhile since good stuff happened to the Rockies. Maybe LaTroy Hawkins really pimps out the final season of his subtly awesome career. Maybe Rex Brothers remembers how to pitch. Maybe Jordan Lyles was for real last year. Maybe DJ LeMahieu has one of those slappy, .310/.340/.415 seasons in him. Maybe Michael McKenry has another 141 wRC+ in him. In other words, the Rockies have a lot of guys who look mediocre or worse on paper, but who have the talent for that one great season in them. Most teams do, actually. But perhaps it’s the Rockies turn.

After the Dodgers and Nationals, the NL is pretty tightly bunched. Fans of teams that want their team to acquire Troy Tulowitzki think the Rockies should be in fire sale mode, and perhaps they’re not wrong. But on paper the Rockies are a 77-win team that with a few breaks could easily be an 86-win team, and these days that’s good enough. The team could certainly be doing more, but as constituted, there’s a chance they could be a sleeper in 2015.





Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

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Matthew
7 years ago

Tyler Matzek is a one trick pony though, He has a nice slider, a bad fastball, and a terrible changeup. I’m not optimistic on him.