Sunday, January 25, 2015

2015 NL Central Projections: Cardinals Overwhelming Favorite?

With all the recent hype surrounding the Chicago Cubs (new manager, new left-handed pitching ace, new center fielder, bold new prediction from first baseman to "win the NL Central"), the Las Vegas odds makers have given the lovable losers a legitimate shot to win the World Series (around 12 to 1?).

At the same time, unimpressed with the off-season moves of the St Louis Cardinals, those same odds-makers have downgraded last year's division champions - giving them about the same chance of winning the World Series as last year's cellar-dwelling Cubs.

That's just f***ing ridiculous.

Assuming WAR actually means something (generally speaking, it does), let's take a look at the entire NL Central's off-season moves, from a Wins Above Replacement perspective.  This will tell us if a team's additions, along with their subtractions actually figures to help them win more games in 2015.

Obviously, there are still some free agents floating around out there that could alter these projections; not to mention a few blockbuster trades that may happen before the season begins.  For now, here's the way things have gone for each team:

CARDINALS - 16 players that spent all or part of the 2014 season on the roster are gone.  The most notable subtractions are reliever Pat Neshek (2.3 WAR) and starter Shelby Miller (1.7 WAR).  Neshek - a free agent who had a career year in '14 - signed with the Houston Astros; Miller was traded to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for right fielder Jason Heyward (7.0 WAR) - who becomes a free agent at the end of this season; so this deal is a long term risk, but a short term bonanza.

All of the remaining 14 players that are gone had slightly negative WARs.  In fact, the grand total of the 16 subtractions is NEGATIVE 1.2 WAR.  Branch Rickey used to call the act of dumping a player with declining skills "Addition by Subtraction" - and that concept seems to apply here.

Obviously, the Heyward acquisition is the most significant of the front office's additions during the off-season, but there were four others:  Jordan Walden (0.9 WAR), Mark Reynolds (0.6 WAR), Dean Anna (0.2 WAR) and Matt Belisle (0.1 WAR).

Total WAR for additions:  8.8 - Add in 1.2 WAR from subtractions - NET GAIN: 10.0 WAR

CUBS - 8 players that spent all or part of the 2014 season on the roster are gone.  The most notable subtractions:  Jeff Samardzija (1.8 WAR - now a starting pitcher for the White Sox) and former third baseman Luis Valbuena (1.4 WAR) who was traded to the Houston Astros for center fielder Dexter Fowler (1.8 WAR).  All told, the Cubs gave up a total WAR of 1.8 in their subtractions.

Additions:  The biggest coup in the free agent market - left-handed ace Jon Lester (5.2 WAR) was a step in the right direction for the franchise with the worst pitching in the division last season (707 runs allowed).  They also signed former Cards closer Jason Motte (-0.1 WAR) - trying to make a comeback after TJS - and reacquired starting pitcher Jason Hammel (3.1 WAR) - However, the Hammel signing doesn't add to the team's total WAR since his contribution was already factored in from last season.  Along with the previously mentioned Fowler, the other additions include catcher Miguel Montero (0.6 WAR) and utility outfielder Chris Denorfia (0.1 WAR).

Total WAR for additions:  7.6 - Lost 1.8 WAR from subtractions - NET GAIN:  5.8 WAR

The rest of the NL Central have either regressed or improved only slightly:

REDS - 11 subtractions and 4 additions equals 1.1 WAR 

PIRATES - 11 subtractions and 5 additions equals NEGATIVE 3.9 WAR

BREWERS - 13 subtractions and 4 additions equals NEGATIVE 4.3 WAR

NL Central Projections for 2015 - The "Starting Point" for each team is their Pythagorean Winning Percentage from 2014 (Based on Run Differential).  As we can see, four out of the five NL Central teams won more games than their run differential would normally produce (especially the Cardinals):

Team         W-L in '14 vs Pythagorean  - 2015 W-L Projection

Cardinals         90-72           83-79                   93-69
Pirates              88-74           87-75                   83-79
Reds                 76-86           79-83                    80-82
Cubs                 73-89           71-91                   77-85
Brewers            82-80           80-82                   76-86

It looks like it's going to be a tight race for last place in the NL Central in 2015.  It seems as though the Cubbies might be able to escape the cellar; but just by the slimmest of margins.  Certainly, this isn't what all those delusional Cubs fans are expecting for the upcoming season - not to mention those Las Vegas odds-makers.  Sorry.  Please accept my condolences for another season of futility.

Maybe 2016 will be better.  But don't count on it.


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