Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ranking NL Central Starting Rotations

Now that free agent pitcher James Shields is officially off the market (signing a four-year deal with the San Diego Padres), we now have a clearer picture of how the starting rotations of the five NL Central teams will be staffed - at least for now.  Once the season begins, there may be some changes - particularly at the lower end of the rotations, where the competition for the fifth spot usually has a good number of candidates - from aging veterans to unproven rookies.

For rating purposes, we'll compare each team's Number One Starter, their Number Twos, and so on and so forth.  Included will be a brief picture of last season's performance and any significant issues that may be pertinent, such as the relative risk for arm/shoulder/elbow trouble.

Here we go:


1 - Cueto (CIN) 20-9 - 2.25 ERA - 243.2 IP - 160 ERA+ (Age 28) - After an injury-plagued 2013 season, he was the second-best pitcher in the NL last season.

2 - Wainwright (STL) 20-9 - 2.38 ERA - 227.0 IP - 154 ERA+ (Age 32) - Had a "dead arm" phase in the second half - Had minor off season elbow surgery which is a concern heading into the new season.  When healthy, he's among the top 4 or 5 pitchers in MLB.

3 - Lester (CHI) 16-11 - 2.46 ERA - 219.2 IP - 155 ERA + (Age 30) - Had his finest season in 2014, but pitching for Oakland, inexplicably failed to hold the Royals at bay in the AL Wild Card game.  Not a good way to end a season.

4 - Liriano (PIT) 7-10 - 3.38 ERA - 162.1 IP - 117 ERA+ (Age 30) - Health issues last year - could be a problem again in 2015.  

5 - Garza (MIL) 8-8 - 3.64 ERA - 163.1 IP - 104 ERA+ (Age 30) - Durability and a volatile demeanor could be troublesome in 2015.


1 - Lynn (STL) 15-10 - 2.74 ERA - 203.2 IP - 134 ERA+ (Age 27) - Had his finest season, by far, in 2014, although pitching with low run support cost him some wins - Should be just as good - if not better - in 2015.

2 - Arrieta (CHI) 10-5 - 2.53 ERA - 156.2 IP - 151 ERA+ (Age 28) - Pitched extremely well last season with a relatively light workload - Will need to post similar results while eclipsing 200 IP to give team a reasonable shot at postseason play.

3 - Peralta (MIL) 17-11 - 3.53 ERA - 198.2 IP - 107 ERA+ (Age 25) - Thanks to getting a lot of run support, actually won more games than any NL Central pitcher not named Cueto or Wainwright in 2014 - Will he be so fortunate in 2015?

4 - Bailey (CIN) 9-5 - 3.71 ERA - 145.2 IP - 97 ERA+ (Age 28) - Will need to bounce back from a mediocre 2014 - Lower the ERA, increase the workload - Otherwise, it could be another painful season for the Reds.

5 - Cole (PIT) 11-5 - 3.65 ERA - 138.0 IP - 98 ERA+ (Age 23) - Has potential to have breakout season in 2015, but needs to work more than 200 IP to give Pirates a reasonable shot at a division title.


1 - Wacha (STL) 5-6 - 3.20 ERA - 107.0 IP - 115 ERA+ (Age 22) - If he's fully recovered from his shoulder problems, he should be able to dominate opposing lineups like he did late in the 2013 season (and postseason) - His workload will probably be limited by a cautious brain trust - still, 150+ IP would be a welcome asset to the pitching staff.

2 - Lohse (MIL) 13-9 - 3.54 ERA - 198.1 IP - 107 ERA+ (Age 35) - Not overpowering, but reliable - Age may start becoming a bit of a factor, especially if his not-so-fast-fastball loses some velocity in 2015.

3 - Leake (CIN) 11-13 - 3.70 ERA - 214.1 IP - 97 ERA+ (Age 26) - A steady workhorse - Should give Reds another 200+ IP in 2015.

4 - Hammel (CHI) 8-5 - 2.58 ERA - 108.2 IP - 128 ERA+ (Age 31) - Pitched well with a limited workload last season - Needs to double the output in 2015 to give Cubs any postseason hopes.

5 - Burnett (PIT) 8-18 - 4.59 ERA - 213.2 IP - 81 ERA+ (Age 37) - Pitching for a miserable Phillies team last season - Still durable after all those years, but age-related decline likely to continue - Probably should retire - Would be no surprise to see him released by the All Star break.


1 - Worley (PIT) 8-4 - 2.85 ERA - 110.2 IP - 125 ERA+ (Age 26) - Good numbers in limited action last season - It may not take long for this guy to supplant Burnett in the number three slot in the rotation.

2 - Fiers (MIL) 6-5 - 2.13 ERA - 71.2 IP - 178 ERA+ (Age 29) - Had the highest ERA+ in the division last season - but needs to at least double his innings pitched in 2015 to give rotation the necessary boost to stay in the race.

3 - Lackey (STL) 3-3 - 4.30 ERA - 60.2 IP - 86 ERA+ (Age 35) - Acquired from Boston prior to the trade deadline last season - Struggled in limited action - Whether or not he can bounce back in 2015 remains to be seen.

4 - Wood (CHI) 8-13 - 5.03 ERA - 173.2 IP - 76 ERA+ (Age 27) - Durable, but ineffective last season - He may not be able to improve in 2015 - The Cubs will be in trouble if he doesn't pitch more effectively this season.

5 - Cingrani (CIN) 2-8 - 4.55 ERA - 63.1 IP - 79 ERA+ (Age 24) - After showing flashes of brilliance when first called up in 2013, regressed significantly last season - Without vast improvement this season, the Reds will have serious issues.


1 - Hendricks (CHI) 7-2 - 2.46 ERA - 80.1 IP - 155 ERA+ (Age 24) - Encouraging results in limited exposure last season - If he can come close to duplicating this performance with 160+ IP, Cubs should easily escape the cellar.

2 - Locke (PIT) 7-6 - 3.91 ERA - 131.1 IP - 91 ERA+ (Age 26) - Assuming Burnett flops for the Pirates in 2015, the team will desperately need this guy to pitch better than last year - and work closer to 200 IP.

3 - Martinez (STL) 2-4 - 4.03 ERA - 89.1 IP - 91 ERA+ (Age 22) - Has the raw talent to develop into a top end of the rotation starter - If he does, Cards could run away with division title.

4 - Nelson (MIL) 2-9 - 4.83 ERA - 69.1 IP - 77 ERA+ (Age 25) - Expected to improve this season - Nowhere to go but up.

5 - Desclafani (CIN) 2-2 - 6.27 ERA - 33.0 IP - 61 ERA+ (Age 24) - Posted a decent 3.78 ERA in the minors last season - Significant improvement is critical in the fifth spot in the rotation if the Reds hope to have any chance at all in the division race.


1 - St Louis Cardinals - The combination of Wainwright, Lynn and Wacha should be dominant in 2015.

2 - Chicago Cubs - The addition of Lester and the continued development of their younger talent brings some measure of credibility to a franchise desperate to win.

3 - Milwaukee Brewers - Lacking a true "ace", but still capable of keeping their team in most games.

4 - Pittsburgh Pirates - A shaky rotation with the potential to be a total disaster.

5 - Cincinnati Reds - After Cueto, a lot of question marks.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Ranking NL Central Position Players

After months of careful study and analysis, using advanced metrics and common sense, I've ranked all the position players in the NL Central who are most likely to be in the starting lineup on a regular basis - at least, at the beginning of the season.

However, there could be significant changes as early as May - at least for one team:  The Chicago Cubs.  Around that time, their highly touted third base prospect - Kris Bryant - will probably be called up from the minors to add much needed offensive firepower for a team expected to contend for a division title (Las Vegas odds makers list them at 12 to 1 to win the World Series; along with the Cardinals!).  One thing is certain:  The Cubs will not win the NL Central - let alone even qualify for a wild card berth with their current projected lineup (even with five Jon Lesters in the starting rotation).

A comparison of the five NL Central teams' primary position players sheds some light on who are legitimate contenders - and who are the pretenders:


In the wake of an injury-plagued season in '14 (only 110 games played), the Cardinals' Yadier Molina has reportedly shed twenty pounds, hoping to take some pressure off a bum knee.  If he can stay reasonably healthy this season, he should be able to outperform Milwaukee's Jonathan Lucroy (#2) who had his best season last year (.301/.373/.465 with a NL-most 53 doubles).

Cincinnati's Devin Mesoraco (#3) who hit 25 HR (most by any MLB catcher) in just 114 games appears to be a rising star.

Pittsburgh is going to miss Russell Martin (now with Toronto), although his replacement - Francisco Cervelli (#4) - should be adequate.  Unfortunately for the Pirates, "adequate" may not be good enough to help nurture a mediocre pitching staff through a challenging season.

The Cubs acquired Miguel Montero (#5) from Arizona for his "pitch framing" ability; somehow overlooking his sharp offensive decline in the past two seasons - a trend that will likely continue in 2015.  As far as "pitch framing" goes, it didn't really help the D-Backs' atrocious pitching staff last year (4.26 ERA was 2nd-worst in the league, behind Colorado's 4.86 ERA).

First Base

Chicago's Anthony Rizzo, after a breakout season, appears to have overtaken the Reds' Joey Votto (#2), who will be trying to return to form after a couple of seasons of nagging injuries which dramatically hurt his production (only 62 games played last season).

The Cardinals are hoping Matt Adams (#3) will regain that power stroke he had in '13 when he hit 17 HR in 319 PA.  If he does, he could surpass Votto and possibly Rizzo.

Milwaukee's newest addition - Adam Lind (#4) - could be an offensive weapon (.321/.381/.479 in 96 games) - although somewhat of a defensive liability.

Meanwhile, the Pirates are desperately hoping Pedro Alvarez (#5) rebounds after a disappointing '14 - when he hit just 18 HR - half the total from '13.

Second Base

Pittsburgh's Neil Walker (.271/.342/.467 with 23 HR) is an All Star caliber player who is just entering his prime.  If anyone's going to challenge him, it could well be the Cardinals' Kolten Wong (#2), who not only has excellent defensive skills, his hitting should be greatly improved in '14.

Third ranked Scooter Gennett (.289/.320/.434) of Milwaukee has a decent bat but needs work on the defense to reach All Star status.

The Reds' fourth ranked Brandon Phillips (.266/.306/.372) nearly punched out a Cincinnati beat reporter a couple of years ago for noticing his OBP sucked.  It still does, and his defensive skills are slipping for the aging hot dog, as well.

The Cubs are praying that fifth ranked Javier Baez (.164/.227/.324) will cut down on his strikeouts (95 in 229 PA).  Otherwise their postseason hopes get very dim.

Third Base

The Reds' Todd Frazier had a breakout season in '14 (.273/.336/.458 with 29 HR) - and he's good with the glove to rank a notch ahead of the Redbirds' Matt Carpenter (NL-most 95 BB), who displayed remarkable postseason power (4 HR in 39 PA) after hitting just 8 HR in the regular season.

Pittsburgh's third ranked Josh Harrison (.315/.347/.490) had a career year in '14 - will likely regress a bit in '15.

Aging Aramis Ramirez (#4) of Milwaukee (.285/.330/.427) posted his lowest SLG since '02 - and his glove is suspect at the hot corner, as well.

Either Mike Olt or Tommy La Stella (#5 & 5A) will likely be in the lineup for the Cubs on Opening Day - and neither one is going to do much to enhance Chicago's postseason dream.  Maybe rookie Kris Bryant will get called up by May and have a monster season - because that's what they need to be competitive.


Jhonny Peralta (club record 21 HR for SS) was better than expected last year for St Louis, when he was arguably, the best shortstop in either league.  He'll likely regress a bit in '15, but should still be better than Starlin Castro (#2) who hit well (.272/.339/.438) but still has defensive issues.

Pittsburgh's Jordy Mercer (#3) is a solid defensive player with a decent bat, while the Reds' Zack Cozart (#4) is a very good defensive player with a weak bat (.221/.268/.300).

The Brewers' Jean Segura (#5) is a good defensive player whose production fell off considerably in '14 (.246/.289/.326) compared to '13 (.274/.329/.423) when he was an All Star.  If he doesn't improve this season, the Brewers could be in serious trouble, along with the Cubs.

Left Field

Pittsburgh's Starling Marte (.291/.356/.453) is a five tool player who will only get better in '15 and beyond.  Matt Holldiay (#2) is starting to show some age-related regression, with a career low .441 SLG last season.  If he can hit 20 HR and drive in 90 again, the Cards should return to the postseason for a record fifth straight season.

The Brewers' third ranked Khris Davis (.244/.299/.457 with 22 HR) should post better offensive numbers in '15, but his defense is still suspect.

Marlon Byrd (#4) - the new addition to the Reds' lineup - hit a career high 25 HR with the Phillies last season, but at the age of 37, may show some regression this season.

The Cubs' Chris Coghlan (#5) is a pretty good hitter (.283/.352/.452) but an atrocious defensive player.

Center Field

Andrew McCutchen (.314/.410/.542) is the best player on an improving Pirates' franchise, although he's overrated, defensively.  Two seasons ago, Milwaukee's Carlos Gomez (#2) played a spectacular defensive CF, regressing slightly last year, but his hitting was nearly a carbon copy (.284/.356/.477 with 23 HR).

After a lackluster '13, third ranked Jon Jay (.295/.359/.396) rebounded nicely for the Cardinals in '14 - especially defensively.

Cincinnati's speedy Billy Hamilton (.250/.292/.355) is ranked at #4, but will likely show overall improvement as his career progresses.

Dexter Fowler's (#5) ability to get on base (.375 last season) will help the Cubs' offense this season, but defensively, he's a liability.  In other words, he's got lots of company in Chicago.

Right Field

The Cardinals' big acquisition this off season - Jason Heyward - will solve the team's biggest weakness last season - although duplicating a 7.0 WAR may be a difficult assignment.  However, if he can find his niche in the St Louis lineup, he could have his best offensive season in '15 - and the Cards should cruise to another division title.

The Brewers' injury-plagued Ryan Braun (#2) discovered that playing without his special vitamins wasn't so easy last year - posting career lows in his entire slash line (.266/.324/.453).  He's bound to improve on those numbers in '15, but he'll never get back to that PED-enhanced production from a few years ago.  Defensively, a liability.

The Cubs' hot rookie sensation - third ranked Jorge Soler (.292/.330/.573 in 97 PA) - may continue where he left off last season - or he may find out that big league pitching isn't so easy to hit this year.  If he flops, more trauma at Wrigley Field for another painful year.

The Pirates are counting on rookie Gregory Polanco (#4) to improve on last season's 89 game introduction to the major leagues (.235/.307/.343).  If he struggles once again, it's going to be tough for Pittsburgh to reach the postseason for a third straight year.

How bad was Jay Bruce (.217/.281/.373) last season for the Reds?  So bad, that even a couple of relatively untested rookies from Chicago and Pittsburgh are already ranked ahead of him.  He's got to get better in '15.  There's nowhere to go but up from a negative 1.1 WAR.


The Cardinals and Pirates - with three players each ranked number one at their positions - figure to have the best overall lineups in the NL Central.  The difference between those two teams seems to be pitching - the Cardinals have the advantage - barring any significant injuries.

It would be a mistake to count any team out of the race for the division title (even the Cubs).  If Votto returns to form this season, the Reds could be much better.  The same goes for the Brewers with their former golden boy, Braunie.

For the Cubs, they need three relatively unproven rookies to rise to the occasion, if they hope to rise in the standings - which may be asking too much, too soon.  


St Louis should win division title again
Second place could be a tight race between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati - even Milwaukee or Chicago could sneak up there if all their pieces fall into place
In other words, second through fifth place is almost a toss up between four teams

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Are the Cubs Really Going to Challenge the Cardinals?

Apparently, the Las Vegas odds makers believe the Chicago Cubs are for real - giving the franchise that hasn't won a World Series in 106 years a legitimate shot to win it all in 2015 (12 to 1).  Only the Washington Nationals (11 to 2) and Los Angeles Dodgers (8 to 1) are considered to have a better shot at becoming World Champions.

Joining the Cubs at 12 to 1 are the Boston Red Sox, LA Angels of Anaheim and the St Louis Cardinals.  In other words, the Cubs have made such an off-season splash, they're perceived to be on equal footing with the Cardinals, heading into the new season.  Technically, they will be tied for first place prior to Opening Day.  That's the good news.  The bad news:  They have to play 162 games.

I'm not just mocking the Cubs because of their past history of ineptitude.  Actually, their immediate future - this season - is destined to disappoint their delusional fan base for the 107th consecutive year; but who's counting?

Here's a comparison of each team's anticipated lineups for the upcoming season.  These are the  position players expected to start most of the games (along with last season's WAR & projected WAR for this season):

C     Yadier Molina (2.3 WAR - Projected 5.5)     Miguel Montero (0.6 WAR - Projected 1.5)
1B   Matt Adams (2.2 WAR - Projected 3.5)        Anthony Rizzo (4.9 WAR - Projected 5.5)
2B   Kolten Wong (2.1 WAR - Projected 4.5)       Javier Baez (-1.1 WAR - Projected 1.5)
3B   Matt Carpenter (2.8 WAR - Projected 3.5)    Tommy La Stella (-0.4 WAR - Projected 1.5)
SS    Jhonny Peralta (5.7 WAR - Projected 3.5)     Starlin Castro (1.9 WAR - Projected 3.5)
LF    Matt Holliday (4.0 WAR - Projected 4.5)      Chris Coghlan (0.6 WAR - Projected 1.0)
CF    Jon Jay (2.8 WAR - Projected 2.5)                Dexter Fowler (1.5 WAR - Projected 2.5)
RF    Jason Heyward (7.0 WAR - Projected 5.5)    Jorge Soler (1.1 WAR - Projected 3.5)

Total Cardinals (28.9 WAR - Projected 33.0)         Total Cubs (9.1 WAR - Projected 20.5)

For the Cubs, their third baseman of the future - Kris Bryant - may be called up early enough in the season to have a positive impact on the team's fortunes.  There is very little doubt he'll be an elite player - possibly near "Mike Trout" levels of performance, once he gets acclimated to the major leagues.  Let's say he's called up early enough and performs at a ridiculously high rate to produce a 10.0 WAR.  We'll remove La Stella's projected 1.5 WAR and insert Bryant's projected 10.0 WAR to change the team projection to a 29.0 WAR.  Even then, it's probably not going to be enough to catch the Cardinals - who also have better pitching than their arch-rivals.

The bottom line:  Those 12 to 1 odds may be appropriate for the Cardinals.  But it's a sucker bet for the Cubs.