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PECOTA Rockies Projections
Record: 76-86
Runs Scored: 729
Runs Allowed: 777
AVG/OBP/SLG (TAv): .264/.316/.440 (.248)
Total WARP: 20.9 (8.6 pitching, 12.3 non-pitching)

We remember every Rockies season the exact same every year. Colorado’s fortunes share an annual consistency that is unmatched by … well, just maybe any other franchise. They can’t help it. It’s in their blood, cold as the coldest cold beer that’s cold because the Rocky Mountains are cold.

The problem is greater than simply the location of the team’s labor, however. The physiological advantages Rockies players have, as athletes defending their home terrain, are minimized by the game they play. It sucks to play football in Denver. Ask Bill Belichick about that. The athletes are bigger, they’re asked to run at max effort pretty constantly, and they get hit harder. They expend vast reserves of energy over a sustained period of play. If a body is not used to it, if it hasn’t trained in it, it can be hard to overcome the physical demands of a sport like football. Starters begin to lose their wind about midway through the third quarter on the hardwood, too. As someone who once tried to run in a Rocky Mountain pickup game after several months of inactivity, I can confirm that it sucks to play basketball there, too. Running at a pace, that’s no good in general. Biking? Nah, not that, either.

Pretty much anything that requires endurance sucks to do in altitude. But baseball, man, baseball is a leisurely affair, isn’t it? It’s a leisurely affair with great bursts of sound and fury, sporadic pops of energy that fizz in the thin atmosphere. The ball travels faster, it booms bigger, it hurtles harder, and it gets down quick into them gaps, boy. And thanks to ample recovery time between those violent bubbles, players are able to perform amplified feats of strength regardless of their laundry or their physical training regimens.

It is a foolish dog, Bob Marley once told us, who barks at a flying bird. And Denver, we know, stretches its legs across the High Plains, a mile above the nearest ocean. Coors Field sits more than 4,000 feet above the next-highest major-league ballpark, and while it doesn’t always play as the most extreme park in the game for righties and lefties alike, it’s been pretty darn consistent throughout its shelf life.

There is a well-documented and fairly profound correlation between the sea-level elevation of one’s atmosphere and run scoring, and given the environmental handicap, conventional wisdom is comfortable with its conclusion that it is perfectly rational to throw up the hands and forget it all. The Rockies are always going to give up a lot of runs, and then they’ll probably give up a few more for good measure because the Rocky Mountains are never satiated by their tribute. They always need more.

Colorado has struggled for a long time, really since the birth of its big-league nation, to figure out the right formula for a life hack to overcome its lot. And they’ve really only managed to break on through for a couple fine days in the life of the franchise. In 2007, the National League champions gave up 758 runs, which tied for the 13th-fewest across the majors. Excluding the team’s abbreviated second run before the Great Strike of 1994, that number marked the third-lowest run total it has ever allowed in a season.

The squad improved and peaked across the 2009 and 2010 seasons, with the former marking the only time in team history that a bunch of Rockies managed to come together and crack the top 10 in baseball in Defensive Efficiency. That 2009 team, led by Clint Barmes’ 12.6 FRAA at second base, allowed just 715 runs en route to winning a franchise-best 92 games. But a funny thing has happened to the Rockies since the close of the aughts and the dawn of a new decade. Here are Colorado’s league rankings in overall team Defensive Efficiency during the last six years:













Yikes. That right there is a real motley crew of numbers. And before you ask, yes, they rate just as poorly in ballpark-adjusted DE. Whether with overt intent, or perhaps as inevitable subsidiary to the club’s prioritization of an offense that can hang, the Rockies have consistently run one of the least efficient defensive units in baseball out onto that massive field of theirs every day for the majority of a decade now. If you knew nothing of recent baseball history you might suspect that to be a poor strategy for winning games, and you’d be right, of course: the club has averaged 70 wins during this most recent stretch of futility, with last year’s 75 marking a high-water mark since 2010.

And that leads to the question of whether last season’s plus-seven jump might just mark the first step in a longer journey out of the Western Division wilderness or whether it was just a small-sample stumble into a lesser degree of bad. We know that the bats’ll be there, they always are. And there are some fun arms littering their rotation. But if history is to be believed, it is the group’s proficiency with the leather that’ll be most determinant.

To this end the defensive outlook for these Rockies is … not that different? But maybe it is! PECOTA projects this incarnation to allow the third-most runs in the majors, naturally. Yet this year projects to see fewer of those runs coming by the team’s own hands. And that, for a change, is actually kind of interesting. The defense projects to a collective -1.7 FRAA, good for a jaw-briefly-wavering 17th in the majors.

Now, let’s be clear up front about this: 17th is really, really good relative to the recent standards. Caution suggests we note that on paper there is at least a little of the same ol’ problem, where it’s an awfully top-heavy team-wide probability—and therefore a tenuous one. Nolan Arenado has been the best defensive third baseman in the game over the past four years by FRAA’s count, and that certainly gives the rest of the starting nine some much-needed cover. And they’re probably going to need it: key defensive contributors like Trevor Story (-3.3 runs), Charlie Blackmon (-4.2), and Carlos Gonzalez (-5.3) are all projected drags on the bottom line.

The jury’s also still out on David Dahl, who racked up -6.9 runs in his debut last season, and Ian Desmond, who was below-average last year in the outfield and has never played his future position before. But unlike previous years there may just be some options for a better way, a beacon on a far-away peak. If Cargo plays some first base (look away, Ron Washington), and they figure out where to comfortably attach Desmond, and the young kids improve, and Tom Murphy isn’t really as bad as PECOTA thinks he’ll be, and some other kids who are alright join the fight along the way … it’s admittedly a lot of dominoes in need of a coordinated fall, but you never know, do you?

You would know, however. And you would very definitely remember all about this Rockies team if the gloves did all manage to come together.

Thank you for reading

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Defensive metrics have usually looked at Rockies players a bit weird. I think, outfielder-wise, only Juan Pierre has ever been rated as a league average centerfielder in terms of DRS and most of the corner outfielders have rated negatively. Part of that may be that so many hits are given up at Coors Field that the overall defensive efficiency takes a hit and whether the park adjustments correctly account for that or not. On the other hand, the Rockies have had pretty bad defensive holes in left field and catcher for the last five years which doesn't help.