Welcome back to the Lunatic Fringe, where everything’s made up and the projections don’t matter. Two weeks ago, we turned the NL East upside down and awarded the division title to the Miami Marlins. It was a good and correct decision, as evidenced by their [looks up very important Spring Training standings] 5-10-3 record. Hmm. Okay, Spring Training records don’t matter anymore, thanks. Today, we’re moving on to the team that will end the Marlins 2017 playoff run, the 2017 National League Champion Colorado Rockies.
The strength of this team is the lineup, which is filled with Large Adult Men who would (and do) mash taters in any ballpark. That they happen to call Coors Field home only magnifies their abilities. Headlining the hitters is Nolan Arenado, a stupendous third baseman who one can call the best in the business if one wants to piss off literally everyone.
I love pissing off literally everyone, so I’ll say it: Nolan Arenado is the best third baseman on the planet. For one, he is incredibly handsome, a key part of Rockies blogger Connor Farrell’s groundbreaking NERDS system for evaluating players. Check out that photo up top. I mean, more like third bae-man, am I right? There are definitely no other handsome third basemen.
Arenado is also a preposterously talented defender with more web gems than a diamond-encrusted black widow. Then, of course, there’s his bat, which ranks among the league’s best at any position. He tied for the National League home run crown in 2016, hitting 41 dingers along with former Brewer first baseman Chris Carter, who should also be on the Rockies.
Besides the best third baseman in the world, the Rockies also boast the 2016 batting champion in second baseman DJ LeMahieu (I will talk about whichever stat supports my narrative, thanks), the powerful outfield combo of Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon, and Ian Desmond, who is going to man first base instead of playing where he could be of more use defensively (for instance, literally anywhere else) because of reasons. Desmond is out until mid-May, but they have a capable backup in Mark Reynolds, who you may know as a prodigious smacker of dongs.
They’ll also enjoy the return of Trevor Story, whose fairy tale (sorry, sorry, I’m trying to remove it) rookie season was cut short by a torn ligament in his thumb. His .380 wOBA (no, it’s not adjusted for park, hold your horses) was the highest for a rookie shortstop since Joe Sewell in 1921, and his 120 wRC+ ranked fourth among fulltime shortstops last season. He hit 27 dingers, which ranks third all time for rookie shortstops, despite getting less than 400 plate appearances.
Putting it all together, and assuming there aren’t any more major injuries, there is little to worry about as concerns the offense. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that Colorado has the best lineup in the league, a claim that will enrage Cubs fans and therefore one I’m happy to make. The question, as always for Colorado, is pitching.
One understands why free agent pitchers are loathe to come to Colorado, and why so many pitchers list them on no-trade lists. Coors Field is hazardous to the mental health, pocket books and advancement opportunities of all hurlers who dare (read: are forced to) enter. The two biggest free agent signings in Rockies history, Daryl Kile and Mike Hampton, were unmitigated disasters in Colorado who regained form after returning to sea level. The next Rockies pitcher to earn a first place vote for Cy Young will be the first one; only three Rockies have ever received even a single vote for the award, with 40 of the 44 vote points earned by Ubaldo Jimenez’ 2010 season.
Still, while the Rox will always be at a disadvantage acquiring major league talent on the bump, there is no reason they should be unable to find and develop talented pitchers in the minors and through the draft. Everyone knows the thin air helps batted balls move faster and carry farther, but its effect on pitch spin also makes certain pitches less effective and affects pitch selection. Players with plus sliders should be prioritized above those with great curveballs by scouts, since the former has been shown to be a much more effective breaking pitch at Coors Field, and curveballs should be de-emphasized in the game plan in general while pitchers are in the Rockies system.
The Rockies may have finally found their holy grail – a pitching prospect who can handle Coors – in the most unlikely of persons: Tyler Anderson. The 27-year-old debuted in 2016 after having never pitched above Double-A and missing the entire 2015 season due to a stress fracture in his elbow. Despite this, Anderson currently owns the lowest Coors Field ERA (3.00) of all time (min. 50 IP), ranking above Rockies greats like Jimenez and … well, Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw and Greg Maddux are also below Anderson on that list. Not bad for a guy with elbow issues in his throwing arm debuting on the wrong side of 25.
Of course, Anderson isn’t the headliner of the young Rockies pitching staff. That title belongs to Jon Gray, who posted a 4.61 ERA in 29 starts as a 24-year-old rookie. The ERA doesn’t sparkle (#Coors) but he led all rookie pitchers with a 3.7 fWAR (an iffy stat that currently serves at the pleasure of your author) and a 26.0 percent strikeout rate.
Also expected to join these young men are Jeff Hoffman and German Marquez, giving the Rockies the sort of young, talented and exciting staff that would be the talk of the league if the team were located in literally any other city.
I’m remiss if, in discussing the Rockies pitching staff, I don’t discuss Chad Bettis, another young man with promise who is now battling cancer for the second time. After having offseason surgery to eliminate the disease, it unexpectedly returned, and he’ll now undergo chemotherapy in another attempt to eradicate the disease. While I certainly hope he can return to the mound at 100 percent soon, his baseball career obviously takes a backseat as he deals with a life-threatening illness. Get well soon, Chad.
PECOTA has the Rockies pegged at 77 wins, 20 games back of the league-leading Dodgers. We know that that this is both bad and wrong; the Rockies are good and pretty, while the Dodgers are ugly and stupid (except for #PuigYourFriend). We don’t need anything extra from the lineup other than to stay healthy, unfortunately a trait they have not displayed thus far in Spring Training; hopefully, they’re simply getting all their injury bad luck out of the way early.
Still, we need to find those wins. PECOTA inexplicably sees huge regression for Arenado (-3.8 WARP), Blackmon (-3.5), LeMaheiu (-3), and Story (-1.5 in a full season). It’s like someone autocorrected for #Coors, but...they’re all still going to be in Colorado. If we ask nothing more than for those players to maintain their 2016 production, we’re already within eight games of the NL-leading Dodgers.
This is the Lunatic Fringe, though, so we’re going to need to get a little bit crazy. The talent in this rotation reminds me of a middle-class-man’s Mets, so they’re all getting real Brandon Belt with it and breaking out. PECOTA has some regression in mind for Gray (-1.6 WARP) and Anderson (-.9): we’re adding those wins to last year’s production instead of subtracting them, because get real, those dudes rule. Just three games back now, we only need two WARP each from Marquez and Hoffman to get the Rockies to 98 wins and the best record in baseball.
If it sounds crazy, it is. If it sounds plausible, it is. Baseball doesn't always bend to the will of probability. Embrace chaos.
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Travis Sarandos is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score, a nice and handsome Taylor Swift enthusiast and a very nice person. You can follow him on Twitter at @travis_mke, but you shouldn't.