As I'm sure everyone here is aware, the Brewers have had a pretty big offseason, picking up Shawn Marcum from the Blue Jays and Zack Greinke from the Royals. The impression that I got prior to the Brewers' splash the last month was that the Cardinals were slight favorites over the Reds to win the NL Central, with all the other teams merely an afterthought. The exercise here is to see how perceptions have changed now that the Brewers, who have generally had a pretty solid offense, but were riddled with awful pitching, have shoved themselves into the conversation.
There are a few ways to approach the analysis of these different teams. My main goal in evaluating the two teams was consistency and objectivity. I considered taking the WAR totals of each of the players that are going to comprise the two teams and just lopping off a half a win and calling it good. The problem with that is that the Brewers have two pitchers coming to the NL Central from the American League and both teams have young players who are likely still on an upward trajectory. What I decided to do was to take the Bill James projections of all the players and minorly tweak them for things the system can't see (things like Shawn Marcum pitching against the Pirates when he would normally be pitching against the Red Sox or Yankees). I tried to focus on objectivity, but even a focus on objectivity could present inherent biases such as undervaluing players on my team or overvaluing players on their team, etc. I'll let you decide how sound my methodology and my results are. What I'm going to do, though, is take the starting rotations and the starting lineups for both teams and project each of those players' season WAR totals.
The projections will be based on Bill James' projections. There's a school of thought (of which I'm not a student) that Bill James' projection system is inherently and ridiculously optimistic. Whatever your stance on this is, it doesn't matter. I'm using Bill James for all the players, so they're all going to be subject to any systematic bias in the system that may or may not exist. In the end, we'll total everything up and see what the results are. Things like the bench and bullpen will not be considered because there are too many variables. It's to the point of being a futile exercise, especially considering that I know very little about the Brewers' bench and bullpen. Hell, I don't really even know who's going to be filling out the Cardinals' bench or bullpen in its entirety. But fuck it, let's do it.
Adam Wainwright has established himself as the clear ace of the staff after two consecutive excellent seasons. He's coming off 5.7 and 6.1 WAR seasons. James projects his FIP to jump to 3.32 -- almost .50 points higher than last season. He's also projected to toss about 20 fewer innings. Let's slot him in for 5.5 WAR.
Chris Carpenter is coming off a down season for him. His 5.6 WAR 2009 was followed by a 3.7 WAR 2010. His FIP jumped 0.91 points from '09 to '10, but his xFIP only rose 0.46 points. Take this and the nearly 5% jump in HR/FB% and we can probably take away that he had a disparity in luck between the two seasons. James projects his FIP to fall about 0.40 points while pitching the same 235 innings. I'll project him for 4.2 WAR.
Jaime Garcia is a tricky one to project. His first full season in the majors was his first full season since having Tommy John surgery. We all expected him to break down at any point, and he only tossed 163 innings -- still good for 3.2 WAR. It's hard to say what his sophomore season will be like. A lot of times, it seemed like he was benefiting from a lot of BABIP luck and unearned runs. Other times it looked like his pitches had so much movement that he was inches from figuring out his control and becoming Johan Santana. Regardless, James projects him to bump the FIP up from 3.41 to 3.87 while throwing about 10 more innings. I'm going to adjust this a bit and say that, if healthy, he throws about 190 innings. I'm projecting him for 3.8 WAR.
Jake Westbrook will slide in as the number four starter. He's coming off a 2.3 WAR season. James has him lopping 0.07 points off the FIP and tossing 7 more innings. This is another one that I'm going to adjust since he will be spending the full season in the NL Central as opposed to two months. All this is contingent on his health, which I think is a fairly safe bet. 2.7 WAR.
Kyle Lohse. Put away the pitchforks. This isn't that kind of establishment. We all know the story, here. Kyle Lohse has never been injured in his life, Kyle Lohse has motocross surgery, Kyle Lohse is half injured/half ineffective for the two years following the best season-and-a-month of his life. There's no easy way to project him. I think if he's healthy, he's capable of tossing up 3 WAR. Bill James thinks he's going to have a 4.36 FIP over 113 innings. Last season, he had a 4.42 FIP over 92 innings. That was good for 0.7 WAR. Let's call him (what I consider to be, assuming health, a very conservative) 1 WAR. If he really does only toss 100 innings, we're obviously going to be getting innings from another pitcher and possibly more value, but 6th starters are beyond the scope of this fanpost.
Cardinals' starting 5 2011 WAR - 17.2. I think "my" projection system may be optimistic for Carpenter and Garcia, but by the same token, I expect Wainwright and Lohse to lay on us about 1 WAR more than this system is projecting them for. Overall, I'm comfortable with the accuracy and objectivity of this total.
Here's the big'un - Zack Greinke. This man is the reason I'm spending my Sunday night writing a fanpost and using proper capitalization instead of diddling myself. Honestly, I think he's another one who's hard to project. I see three possible outcomes. 1) He pops off a 10 WAR season and unanimously wins the 2011 Cy Young Award. 2) He shows that '08 and '10 were more representative of his true talent and turns in 4.5-5 WAR. 3) Somewhere in between. Hard-hitting analysis. His last three seasons, starting with his most recent were 5.2, 9.4 and 4.9 WAR efforts. He turned in about 220 innings each season. '09 to '10 saw his FIP jump a full run from 2.33 to 3.34. His xFIP was less drastic: 3.15 to 3.76. James sees his '11 season being identical to his '10: 3.31 FIP over 222 IP. I have to adjust the projection, though, since he's moving from the AL to the NL Central. 5.5 WAR.
Next in line is Yovani Gallardo. I've always been high on him and I've also always loved that the Cardinals simply kick the crap out of him. He'll be 25-years-old all season and he's coming off a 4.6 WAR '10 which was an improvement on a solid 2.7 WAR '09. He's coming off a 3.02 FIP, but James, for whatever reason, thinks he's going to regress back to around 3.34 while only throwing 5 more innings. I'll stick with James' projected FIP, but I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt regarding IP and assuming that he'll toss an even 200. I'll slot him in around 4.3 WAR.
Shawn Marcum is the Other Guy the Brewers Traded for. Yeah, I've never heard of him, either. Apparently he's pretty good, but not Zack Greinke. Actually, I have heard of him, but I don't know much about him. He used to play in Canada. He must have been injured for all of 2009 because he didn't throw a single MLB pitch the whole season. Of course that didn't stop him from turning in a 3.5 WAR season based on 195 innings of 3.74 FIP ball for the Blue Jays in 2010. James expects about a half a run bump in his FIP for 2011. Gotta say, though, the man is moving from the best division in baseball to the worst. I'm going to say that he improves based solely on that. I'm giving him 3.8 WAR for difference of competition and slight injury risk. Healthy all season, he may put up 4+ WAR.
Randy Wolf is, yet another player who I find difficult to project. Who is the real Randy Wolf? He logged an excellent '09 for the Dodgers. 3 WAR to improve on his 2 WAR '09 despite only negligible improvements in xFIP. The Brewers, as they are wont to do, signed him to a big contract and he sucked it up. Hard. He had a 4.85 FIP and a matching xFIP over 215 IP. Good (bad?) for 0.7 WAR. I'm not too sure what to make of his 2010 season. In general, if Wolf pitches near 200 innings, he's a 2-3 WAR pitcher. But last season, he lost about 1 MPH off of all of his pitches. That's a dangerous endeavor when your previous average fastball velocity is 89 MPH. I still have a hard time believing that he's going to be as bad as he was last season. James thinks he's pretty good for a 0.40 point improvement in FIP. James doesn't know about stuff like fastball velocity, but I think that's fair. I'm going to give him a modest improvement and call him 1 WAR, which he could easily outperform if he returns to form. He could also continue his downward slide. We'll see.
Chris Narveson is, I guess, the guy slotted to fill out the ass end of this rotation. He tossed 167 innings of 4.22 ball, worth 1.7 WAR. I don't know enough about him to have anything to add to James' projected 4.49 FIP over 180 IP. 1.5 WAR.
Brewers' starting 5 2011 WAR - 16.1. I don't know these players as well as I know the players on my team. My inclination is to believe that this is a fair median projection, while there is a decent chance that it's outperformed. Greinke could easily bounce back with a switch to the NL and to a contending team. Wolf could return to form, also. Based on these projections, the Cardinals have about a 1 WAR advantage in starting pitching.
Last season the Brewers tandem of Kottaras and Lucroy handled most of the catching duties. Kottaras had a .311 wOBA over 250 PAs, good for 0.6 WAR. Lucroy had a .287 wOBA over almost 300 PAs and was worth 0.9 WAR. James likes Kottaras for a .332 wOBA and Lucroy for .310. I'm gonna call an improvement on 1.5 WAR for the catchers of Milwaukee to the tune of 2 WAR.
Yadier Molina's 2.99 wOBA was a steep drop off from his '09 season .337. His BABIP dropped .030 points, but it dropped to exactly his career average. Of course we all know about his glove. He rolled into the offseason with a 2.6 WAR 2010. James likes him to improve on his wOBA by about .010 points with a hadnful more PAs. 3 WAR.
Prince Fielder is a pretty good hitter. This is exemplified by his last two seasons which were good for a .380 and .420 wOBA. You've gotta be disappointed as a Brewers' fan with a meager 4.1 WAR 2010, though, especially when somewhere, someone exactly like me is about to make the exact same comparison I'm about to make. Still yet, his 4.1 WAR '10 was a follow up to an excellent '09: 6.9 WAR. James likes him for a .401 wOBA, pretty much halfway between the two seasons. I'm gonna average his last three seasons of UZR and call him a -5 run defender. This puts him at about 5.7 WAR.
The guy Fielder really doesn't want to be compared to is Albert Pujols. This is the guy who disappoints an entire fanbase by putting up a .420 wOBA and 7.3 WAR. A perennial .440+ wOBA, 8+ WAR talent, there isn't much to say. Except that James was kind of disappointed by his 2010 season, also. James likes him for a .452 wOBA over about 700 PAs. That's practically exactly his 2009 season. If we assume that he's only a slightly above average defender now, he's an 8.7 WAR player with that kind of offensive output.
This one is less fun. Rickie Weeks is coming off a monster season in 2010. .368 wOBA, 754 PAs, 6.1 WAR. James thinks he'll take about 160 fewer PAs and turn in a .348 wOBA. That'd obviously be great for a second baseman with a slight above average glove, but I think it's a bit bullish. I'd say this puts him somewhere around 4.5 WAR, but I also think he's a good bet to outperform that projection.
The Cardinals' lovely counterpart is Skip Schumaker. There will probably be more to the second base situation than Skip, since he will likely be platooned, but we're gonna say fuck choosy moms and roll with Skippy for this purpose. He's coming off a pretty terrible, replacement level season. He also lost about .030 points off his career BABIP, which made him put up a modest .299 wOBA. Bill James (and I!) think he'll bounce back to around a .321 wOBA. With -10 defense and about 530 or so PAs, he's a 1 WAR player.
The Brewers gave away their shortstop in the Greinke trade and got back the worst player in the world. I guess the Brewers are planning on running Yuniesky Betancourt out there full time. That's the assumption I'm operating under, at least. Betancourt had a breakout 2010 (tee hee) where he bopped 16 HR, cost the Royals a full win with his glove and was worth 0.6 WAR thanks in large part to his .300 wOBA. I think that's what Joe Morgan means when he talks about "hitting .300." Bill James sees him as the same hitter in 2011. Thing is, though, history indicates, that Yuni is worse than -10 runs with the glove. more like -14 or so. 2011 WAR total: 0.3.
It's gonna be awesome when Brendan Ryan starts getting the Danny Haren treatment around here. There's been nothing else mentioned between the trade for Ryan Theriot and the time when the Brewers gave us something else to talk about. Theriot is coming off a replacement level season in which he was put in a position that he states he's not comfortable playing. He put up a .268 wOBA and was -4.3 runs with the glove. James expects him to put up roughly the same season he had in 2007 with the Cubs: .307 wOBA, about 600 PAs, a few runs in the plus with his glove, 1.5 WAR.
This one seems a bit more even. Casey McGehee, lol Cubs, got his chance in '09. Over 400 PAs, he put up a .367 wOBA and 1.9 WAR. That was enough to land him the starting job at 3B in 2010 where he turned in 670 PAs of .346 wOBA for a 3.5 WAR season. He's a slightly below average defender. Bill James gives him the exact same wOBA, but with 40 fewer PAs for '11. 3.3 WAR.
Who knows if David Freese will get 30 or 700 PAs? All of his injuries seem to be of the freak, non-recurring variety, but they just keep recurring. Last season he started strong for two months and then petered out in June after getting his foot stepped on by an elephant (I think that's what happened). Despite the likely injury induced June Swoon, he turned in a .341 wOBA on the season over 270 PAs and was still worth 1.5 WAR. .376 BABIP totally noted. Bill James is having none of that, though. He thinks Freese will improve to a .353 wOBA and log more than twice as many PAs. I'll take it and I'll love it, but I'm skeptical that it'll happen. At that rate, he's a 3.5 WAR player.
Ryan Braun is a good to great hitter turning in 4.2, 4.9 and 4.6 WAR his last three seasons. His offense fell off by about .025 points of wOBA from '09 to '10, but it should be noted that his BABIP fell from .353 to a more reasonable .331, which is nearer to his career average. He's not a very good defender, probably -10 runs with glove. James likes him to bounce back with the bat for a .398 wOBA which should put him around 4.7 WAR.
Matt Holliday is a pretty similar hitter to what Ryan Braun is projected to be by Bill James. He's coming off a 6.9 WAR season that isn't as aided by defensive metrics as you may have been led to believe. He turned in a .396 wOBA and was valued at 8.2 runs on defense -- 3 runs better than his previous three seasons' average. James expects him to be about the exact same player: .399 wOBA, 670 PAs. Taking away the defensive noise and adding a bit for a slight offensive improvement, 6.7 WAR.
It figures to be the Carlos Gomez show in center field of Miller Park in 2011. And not for a bad reason. Gomez can't really hit a whole lot, but he's an excellent defender. He was a smooth .301 wOBA hitter in 2010 following a much worse .277 with the Twins in '09. The difference is likely explained by comparing the .313 and .286 BABIPs. Gomez being a pretty good runner should be able to hang much closer to what he had in '10. James agrees. He pegs him for a .320 BABIP and the same .301 wOBA. James puts him at a similar 318 PAs in 2011, but I don't see it. There is no Lorenzo Cain to share that time with. Gomez, I believe, will take full control of center field. 2.2 WAR.
This one hurts a little bit. I know it -- I know it in my heart that Colby Rasmus is going to put up at least, at least, 5 WAR in 2011. How could he not? He's, like, my favorite position player! The fact of the matter is, though, that he's coming off a 3.5 WAR '10 and James expects him to hit worse, not better. I think there was likely a little bit of noise in his defensive stats. If you average his two season with the glove, he's a +2 run defender. That would make his 2010 look more like 4.2 WAR. That said, James think his .366 wOBA will drop to a .355 wOBA. Considering his .354 BABIP in '10, it's not that unreasonable. I don't buy James' projection for 70 fewer PAs, though. Assuming a drop in offensive production, the same, if not more, PAs and a stabilizing of his defensive metrics, he's a 3.9 WAR player.
Corey Hart is not a player that I am high on. He has an ugly swing and I just don't think he's that good. The thing is, he has put in a couple pretty good seasons sandwiching a couple bad seasons. He showed big power last season, jacking 31 dongs and it landed him a big contract. His .369 wOBA and -6 defense over 614 PAs puts him around 3.5 WAR. I'm more bullish on him than James is, but James only projects a .017 point drop in wOBA. A .352 wOBA with similar defense and a similar number of PAs should make him worth about 3.2 WAR
Lance Berkman is a tricky one to project, mainly because he's a first baseman and he's going to be playing right field. His knees made him have a pretty mediocre offensive '10 -- a .345 wOBA and 2.1 WAR. Bill James likes him in 2011 for a .385 wOBA over about 550 PAs. That's pretty much what he did in 2009, except he did it while playing first base. If we whack off a handful of runs for defense, he comes in at 3 WAR.
Putting it all together
Totaling them all up, we get 31.3 WAR for the Cardinals with bats and 21.2 WAR for the Brew Crew's hitters. Add in the starting rotations and we see the Cardinals at 48.5 WAR and the Brewers at 42.2. Now, I don't think it's necessarily prudent to put this into a real world context and add these numbers to a theoretical all-replacement team (which I think is around 42 wins) because Bill James projection system admittedly has a higher run environment than the real world and may also be subject to a bias that makes the system overly optimistic. The take away message here is, in my opinion, that the Cardinals look to be, on paper, a few wins better than the Brewers. Keep in mind, though, that there's a lot of room for improvement: Weeks, Greinke and Wolf could, together, add about 4 WAR to the projected total. After a down year from someone like Wainwright or Holliday, the teams are looking pretty even. It's also admittedly pretty unscientific, especially considering the lack of consideration of bullpen and bench players. Either way, it should be an interesting season and I wish it were starting tomorrow. Discuss.