It’s almost hard to believe that the Rockies almost won the NL West last season. They famously had to play a one-game tie breaker against the Dodgers at the end of the season to determine the division. This season, the Dodgers are juggernauts with a nearly 20-game lead in the division and are projected to win 104 games. The Rockies, a year after finishing with 91 wins, are only 59-73 and in last place in the division. In fact, they have one of the worst records in the NL. Moreover, the Dodgers and Rockies have largely the same teams this year as last.
Last season, it seemed that many analysts thought that the Rockies would regress after a surprising playoff berth the year before. FanGraphs projected them to win only 79 games the year after winning 87, and gave them only an 18.8 percent chance to win the division.
What people need to bear in mind about projections is that they only give you the 50 percent regression point, not the entire bell curve. PECOTA gives you more information on individual players, but that is the only example I am aware of concerning a projection system giving more than the 50 percent regression point. With 91 wins, I am guessing the Rockies cracked their 90th percentile projections.
Everything just went right for the Rockies last year. Kyle Freeland was at the forefront of the best year in the history of Rockies’ starting pitching. He had mediocre peripherals but turned in a stellar 2.85 RA9 and 8.4 WAR in a Cy Young-caliber season. Germán Márquez was quite good, too.
It was really the rotation that was carrying the team, because the offense was not good. They ranked as the fifth-worst offense by wRC+, tied with the Orioles. Only Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, and Charlie Blackmon really hit. Ironically, DJ LaMahieu had a lowly 86 wRC+ last year, and this year he is at worst a top ten position player in the AL.
The Rockies simply got really lucky last year, which should not be surprising given their projections. They only had a +35 run differential, which is roughly that of an 85-win team. Furthermore, their record in one-run games was pretty lopsided at 26-15.
When writers say someone is going to regress to the mean, it means just that. If a .300 hitter is hitting .350 for a month, he is not going to start hitting .250 to even it out. He will simply turn back into a .300 hitter. In his example, however, the Rockies are hitting .250, because just as much has gone wrong this year as has gone right last year. They were projected to win 79 games this year but are now projected to win 72.
Just as Kyle Freeland blew away the most optimistic expectation of him going into 2018, the complete opposite has happened this year. He has been so bad that the Rockies actually demoted him a few months ago. No park adjustments will make a 7.61 RA9 to make it look better, and he has been worth nearly a full win below replacement.
Márquez is still pretty good, actually. A 4.97 RA9 might not look too good, but it works in Coors Field. His walk rate is below five percent, and he actually has 3.7 WAR so far. The inscrutable Jon Gray has really bounced back with a 4.20 RA9 that is over a run better than last year, and he has 4.6 WAR. Strangely, his peripherals are a touch worse than they were last year. Unfortunately, as for the rest of the starters who have pitched at least 70 innings, nobody has an RA9 below 6.00.
As for the offense, it has not gotten any better. In fact, it might have gotten a touch worse. Their 84 wRC+ is the fourth-worst in baseball, with only the lowly Royals, Tigers, and Marlins worse off. Coincidentally, Arenado and Story have nearly identical batting lines and are still hitting pretty well, but by wRC+ they have taken a small step back. Not that he was bad last year, but Blackmon is having a great bounce back season, hitting .317/.363/.585, good for a 126 wRC+. The Rockies have mercifully taken him out of center field, but the defensive metrics do not like him too much in right.
One of the few positive offensive contributors for the Rockies has been David Dahl, and it is great to finally see the promising player put in a mostly healthy season. He is hitting .302/.353/.524, but his outfield defense could use some work.
Despite the problems that the Rockies have, honestly, they should not be sellers this winter. If anything, they should be buyers! If they don’t go for it with this core now, they are not going to have another chance for a long time. If I were the GM, I would go all in for 2020 and hope for some 2018 luck.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.