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Colorado Rockies 2014 ZiPS Projections: Three questions about the lineup

Each year Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) puts together projections for each and every player on each and every team (provided on FanGraphs). Known as ZiPS Projections, they account for advanced metrics and predict, among other things, how many wins above replacement (zWAR) each player will be good for.

Instead of continuing to try and explain it myself, here is a piece of the disclaimer provided by Szymbrowski Carson Cistulli of FanGraphs about how ZiPS works:

ZiPS projections are computer-based projections of performance. Performances have not been allocated to predicted playing time in the majors — many of the players listed above are unlikely to play in the majors at all in 2014. ZiPS is projecting equivalent production — a .240 ZiPS projection may end up being .280 in AAA or .300 in AA, for example. Whether or not a player will play is one of many non-statistical factors one has to take into account when predicting the future.

The explanation continues, click here for the full projections and explanation.

The point of this post is not to summarize the projections; to read them all for yourself, click that link provided above. The point here is to take the projections and pose some questions about the Rockies’ lineup.

1. Will the Rockies regret keeping Michael Cuddyer in the outfield?

Before signing Justin Morneau, one of the options for the Rockies was to move Cuddy to first base on a full-time basis and seek help for the lineup in the outfield. ZiPS has Cuddyer batting .290/.348/.489 with a 113 OPS+, yet he is only projected to be a 0.8 zWAR player. So what gives? His defense, that’s what. His projected -10 defense rating is the worst of any Rockies position player listed.

Will this be the season that Cuddyer’s limits defensively start to significantly offset the vale he brings with his bat? And if it is, will the Rockies wish they could have a do-over on the Morneau signing?

2. Are Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez actually going to stay healthy?

ZiPS has CarGo logging 553 plate appearances. It has Tulo logging 529 plate appearances. Those numbers would likely involve some bumps, bruises, and other types of boo-boos along the way, but really, would any of us complain if we saw that much of the team’s two stars in 2014? For a point of reference, CarGo had 436 plate appearances in 2013 and Tulo had 512.

Tulo played 126 games. It would be nice to see those plate appearances go up even more than that, but we have to be realistic given his checkered injury history. In that context I feel like this projection for 2014 is realistically optimistic.

It also makes me want to respectfully suggest, yet again, that Weiss bat these guys second and third in the lineup when they do play to maximize their output. But hey, it will be a blast watching DJ LeMahieu bat 609 times in the #2 hole, right?

 3. Jordan Pacheco stinks at catching too, right?

I’m a huge fan of Pacheco’s, so please don’t misunderstand. Still, we have to call this what it is. He is a light-hitting guy who has to get on base a ton to even start making sense as a big league player. That was especially true when he played first and third base. As a back-up catcher, his bat might look a lot better:

As a first baseman, his projection is pretty miserable (-1.2 zWAR in 483 PAs), very probably owing to the large negative runs adjustment for that position. Which is to say, projected as a catcher (for which position he’d receive a large positive adjustment, provided his defense there isn’t atrocious), his forecasted value is likely quite a bit higher. Positive, even, maybe.

Here’s the problem: his defense there probably will be atrocious. Besides that being a problem for Pacheco by himself, I have to believe it will get in the way of the Rockies pitching staff to throw to him and Wilin Rosario all year. As I noted back in October, both catchers were near the very bottom of the league in defense in 2013.

I hope Pacheco proves us wrong, but I don’t think catching will make his projection any less dismal.

Click here to read the full 2014 ZiPS projections for the Rockies.

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  • Eric Garcia McKinley

    1) Unfortunately I think so. A while ago Paul Swydan wrote up a piece on Fangraphs about Dante Bichette’s 1999 season when he hit 289/354/541 with 34 home runs—and clocked in with -2 fWAR(!) on account of his defense. Cuddyer won’t be that bad, but the Morneau signing I think will
    have a negative ripple effect. I hope I’m proven wrong about it.

    2) If CarGo and Tulo can manage to exceed the projections and reach 600 PAs each, the chances of a winning season are immediately better. I think CarGo and Tulo should bat 1 and 2, but you’re right
    that DJLMh will get far too many at bats at the two hole, and Stubbs too many in the one hole.

    3) More and more it’s looking like the Rockies will be going with Rosario and Pacheco at catcher, which you’re right might end up being the worst defensive duo in Major League Baseball.

    4) Doesn’t it feel like the Rockies are one of the more difficult teams to project? LF and 2B can go in wildly different directions, and the projections for the pitching staff, particularly DLR and Anderson, might be short more than one hundred innings each and possibly four wins combined.

    5) Carson Cistulli, not Dan Szymbrowski, did the write up for Fangraphs.

    6) The projections for Butler and Hererra will infiltrate my dreams.

    7) Thanks for the quick analysis!

    • Hayden Kane

      Thanks for the comment Eric, and especially for the correction. I had even made a note to myself that Cistulli wrote it up, but apparently ignored myself with the actual writing of it! Anyhow, to your points…

      That is incredible about Bichette. I think I agree with you that Cuddy won’t be that bad, and watching him in right it seems like he does enough to sort of get by…but it still makes me pause. In terms of the Rockies being difficult to project, I couldn’t agree more. I am infinitely more hopeful about the starting rotation (something I’m planning to write about), and like you say, that could really swing things in either direction.

      • Eric Garcia McKinley

        Looking forward to the pitching write-up. If Jordan Lyles ends up leading the team in innings as projected, something will have went terribly wrong.

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