Well, I feel fairly confident in who is going to be the (near) every day starters for the top 3 teams in the NL Central. I grew impatient with fangraphs.com, waiting for them to post the zips projections in wOBA form. While I wanted to include that, maybe I'll include those projections at a later date instead. So let me gaze into my crystal ball, or electronic sphere as it were...
The NL Central looks to be a tight 3 team race this year, after Adam Wainwright's season-ending injury. Since Kyle McClellan looks to be rather on track for the "5th starter" role, the Brewers rotation looking pretty solid, and Homer Bailey the likely candidate for the Reds' number 5 spot, here are what the various projections systems are saying.
St. Louis Cardinals projected wOBA: RotoChamp | Bill James | Marcel | Fans| Projection Ave | fWAR
- 1B Albert Pujols .449 | .452 | .414 | .434 | .437 | 7.5
- 2B Skip Schumaker .336 | .321 | .318 | .315 | .323 | .6
- SS Ryan Theriot .310 | .313 | .304 | .300 | .307 | 1.1
- 3B David Freese .319 | .353 | .334 | .341 | .337 | 2.5
- C Yadier Molina .331 | .311 | .317 | .319 | .320 | 3.2
- RF Lance Berkman .380 | .376 | .360 | .367 | .371 | 2.3
- CF Colby Rasmus .344 | .354 | .343 | .361 | .351 | 4.1
- LF Matt Holliday .401 | .399 | .382 | .395 | .394 | 5.6
Notes: Albert Pujols is ridiculous, Schumaker remains in my mind a big concern, Theriot won't be hitting any better than Brendan Ryan, and RotoChamp is not very fond of David Freese, while Bill James thinks a lot higher of his hitting than the other projection systems. Molina is not that great of a hitter, but makes up for it with his unmatched defense. If Berkman can log a lot of innings, he should be a nice factor for the offense! Colby Rasmus is quite possibly the 3rd best player on a team that has Albert Pujols.... and Matt Holliday. Yep. This remains an intimidating lineup for the opposing pitcher to have to experience.
Especially when you average the projections, and then average the lineup... the average wOBA for a starter on this team is .355. Not too shabby, despite the not so impressive hitting capabilities of Yadier Molina (slow), Skip Schumaker (appears to be in decline offensively), and Ryan Theriot (who must go back to his 2008 self to show any value on offense).
Bringing defense a little bit into account, the total projected fWAR for this lineup is 26.9. Factor in a possible bench with Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, and Jon Jay (with Nick Punto joining the bunch sometime later this season and adding great defense), and this team is pretty good despite the worry of David Freese and Lance Berkman being healthy.
Cardinals starting rotation FIP projections: RotoChamp | Bill James | Marcel | Fans| Projection Ave | fWAR
- Chris Carpenter 3.48 | 3.27 | 3.50 | 3.59 | 3.46 | 4.1
- Jake Westbrook 4.23 | 4.15 | 4.14 | 4.14 | 4.17 | 2.8
- Jaime Garcia 3.44 | 3.87 | 3.57 | 3.93 | 3.70 | 3.1
- Kyle Lohse 4.36 | 4.36 | 4.14 | 4.36 | 4.31 | 1.8
- Kyle McClellan 4.09 | 3.80 | 3.96 | 4.05 | 3.98 | 1.4
The average projected FIP for a St. Louis starter by all projection systems is 3.92, and the total fWAR for this rotation is 13.2. Next I'll list the projected ERA for Cardinals starters:
- Chris Carpenter 3.22 | 3.06 | 3.24 | 3.29 | 3.20
- Jake Westbrook 4.09 | 4.00 | 4.16 | 4.10 | 4.09
- Jaime Garcia 3.52 | 3.86 | 3.36 | 3.75 | 3.62
- Kyle Lohse 4.93 | 4.54 | 4.81 | 4.63 | 4.73
- Kyle McClellan 3.72 | 3.52 | 3.46 | 3.34 | 3.51
Projected ERA for Cards' rotation: 3.83
Cincinnati Reds projected wOBA: RotoChamp | Bill James | Marcel | Fans| Projection Ave | fWAR
- 1B Joey Votto .418 | .426 | .401 | .420 | .416 | 6.5
- 2B Brandon Phillips .340 | .327 | .327 | .332 | .332 | 3.4
- SS Edgar Renteria .311 | .317 | .296 | .296 | .305 | .5
- 3B Scott Rolen .366 | .352 | .342 | .347 | .352 | 3.5
- C Ryan Hanigan .370 | .337 | .329 | .341 | .344 | 2.5
- RF Jay Bruce .349 | .375 | .350 | .369 | .361 | 4.7
- CF Drew Stubbs .341 | .346 | .342 | .345 | .344 | 3.8
- LF Johnny Gomes .343 | .345 | .332 | .327 | .337 | 0
Notes: While Joey Votto is a big producer, and Jay Bruce could have a big season at the plate, they will have to offset Edgar Renteria and Johnny Gomes, who appear to be about replacement value. Still this is a solid starting lineup with Scott Rolen, Brandon Phillips, and the possiblity of Ryan Hanigan living up to projections (RotoChamp seems to think he will be a monster at the plate, while other systems think of him as a much more normal hitter).
The average projected wOBA for a Reds' starter is .349. This is just not as strong of a lineup offensively as the Cardinals'. I don't know the Reds bench really well, but I don't see it being any better than the Cardinals bench.
Let's flip the switch to fWAR projections (of course bringing defense into account): their lineup totals 24.9. Again this isn't as good as the Cardinals lineup, so they need to hope for more injuries, or poor performance from the bench.
While the Cards have the edge, it's not by a LOT. The teams will both roll out competitive offenses.
Reds starting rotation FIP projections: RotoChamp | Bill James | Marcel | Fans| Projection Ave | fWAR
- Bronson Arroyo 4.66 | 4.50 | 4.52 | 4.69 | 4.60 | 1.9
- Johnny Cueto 4.21 | 4.31 | 4.04 | 4.14 | 4.18 | 3
- Edinson Volquez 4.04 | 4.09 | 3.88 | 3.99 | 4.00 | 2.6
- Travis Wood 3.44 | 3.78 | 3.54 | 3.60 | 3.59 | 3.6
- Homer Bailey 4.10 | 4.22 | 3.92 | 3.92 | 4.04 | 2.9
The average projected FIP for a Cincinnati starter by all projection systems is 4.08, and the total fWAR for this rotation is 14. This is undoubtedly a solid rotation with depth in Mike Leake (average projection 4.37; 2.1 WAR is not much of a drop off from Bailey). Cards' have the edge in the rate stat, but I don't think the projections have a lot of confidence in the Cardinals' starters to put in a lot of innings, and their rotation depth is questionable at best.
The projected ERA for Reds starters:
- Bronson Arroyo 4.30 | 3.92 | 4.00 | 4.33 | 4.14
- Johnny Cueto 4.21 | 4.14 | 3.97 | 3.94 | 4.07
- Edinson Volquez 3.78 | 3.91 | 3.89 | 4.05 | 3.91
- Travis Wood 4.08 | 3.58 | 3.49 | 3.72 | 3.72
- Homer Bailey 4.26 | 4.55 | 4.25 | 4.04 | 4.28
4.03 average ERA projection for the Cincin bunch. Again, the Cardinals have the edge in the rate stat department. It would seem that the Cardinals have the more talent, but there are concerns about the endurance of key players. In case Bailey goes down, the Reds have Leake (and other starters that look to be about MLB ready) to step in. Leake's projected ERA looks to be better than his FIP in case you were wondering. When you factor in Chapman, it's hard to say how much edge the Cardinals have.
Milwaukee Brewers projected wOBA: RotoChamp | Bill James | Marcel | Fans| Projection Ave | fWAR
- 1B Prince Fielder .399 |.401 | .383 | .408 | .398 | 5
- 2B Rickie Weeks .360 | .348 | .349 | .366 | .356 | 4.6
- SS Yuniesky Betancourt .308 | .290 | .291 | .289 | .295 | -0.5
- 3B Casey McGehee .350| .346 | .343 | .336 | .344 | 2.3
- C Jonathan Lucroy .302 | .310 | .311 | .317 | .310 | 2.2
- RF Corey Hart .356 | .352 | .339 | .344 | .348 | 1.5
- CF Carlos Gomez .293 | .303 | .301 | .292 | .297 | 1
- LF Ryan Braun .388 | .398 | .378 | .397 | .390 | 4.7
Notes: The NL Central is stacked at first base. When Prince Fielder is a distant third in the first baseman hierarchy, you have some ridiculous players in one division at that position. All three teams are running out some less than thrilling shortstops, but the Brewers take it to a new level of crappy with Betancourt (although he has more power than Renteria and Theriot). Some other holes in their power heavy lineup are Lucroy/whoever ends up being their catcher, and Carlos Gomez, who is barely above average.
The average projected wOBA for a Milwaukee starter (when considering all systems listed here) is .342. So the offense is not as lethal as I thought. Factor in defense with fWAR and their lineup stacks up to be 20.8 wins above replacement level. That just doesn't stack up to the Cardinals' and Reds' projections.
Brewers starting rotation FIP projections: RotoChamp | Bill James | Marcel | Fans| Projection Ave | fWAR
- Zach Greinke 3.10 | 3.31 | 3.15 | 3.07 | 3.16 | 6.3
- Yovani Gallardo 3.29 | 3.34 | 3.39 | 3.40 | 3.36 | 4.9
- Randy Wolf 4.51 | 4.43 | 4.30 | 4.45 | 4.43 | 2.4
- Shawn Marcum 3.87 | 4.25 | 3.94 | 3.81 | 3.97 | 3.7
- Chris Narveson 4.19 | 4.49 | 4.10 | 4.18 | 4.24 | 2.4
The reason Milwaukee is in the conversation is the additions of Zach Greinke and Shawn Marcum. These moves are essential for the Brewers' success, since last season they had a rotation that was the opposite of formidable. This rotation appears to be able to put up some solid WAR numbers, as well as the potential to be ridiculously lights out with the one-two punch of Greinke and Gallardo.
The average projected FIP for a Milwaukee starter is 3.83, and the total fWAR of this rotation is 19.7. This is the best projected WAR total among NL Central teams, and what will carry the Brewers into the playoffs if they are the team to beat. It's also the best FIP... Greinke and Gallardo are that good.
Let's see how ERA projections stack up...
- Zach Greinke 3.41 | 3.45 | 3.38 | 3.17 | 3.35
- Yovani Gallardo 3.5 | 3.6 | 3.68 | 3.45 | 3.56
- Randy Wolf 4.27 | 4.05 | 3.98 | 4.16 | 4.12
- Shawn Marcum 3.69 | 3.77 | 3.70 | 3.59 | 3.69
- Chris Narveson 4.46 | 4.45 | 4.40 | 4.34 | 4.41
Which results in a staff average 3.83 projected ERA from all systems, exactly the same as their projected FIP. Any way you slice it, Milwaukee has the best rotation in the central.
Which brings us to the fun part of WAR totals for the three teams:
- Cardinals 40.1
- Reds 38.9
- Brewers 40.5
That is, indeed, a tight knit race. All three teams have weaknesses: Cards have injury concerns, an overall slow team, a middle infield of Skip Schumaker and Ryan Theriot, and a key bullpen member moved to the rotation (and Ryan Franklin); Reds have a near useless player in Johnny Gomes, an aging Edgar Renteria at shortstop, and a young Ryan Hanigan at catcher (and not a lot of depth there)... as well as the lowest WAR total of the 3 teams. The Brewers may have the best rotation without doubt, but they are also slow, are not very good defensively... their middle infield defense might be even worse than the Cards' dynamic duo. They also appear to have low on-base skills, and terrible players like Betancourt and their catcher(s). Carlos Gomez is quite boring as well. How will the bullpens stack up is anyone's guess (I'd say the Brewers have the worst of the three?)... and I can't think of many notable players on the Reds or Brewers bench other than Craig Counsell and Miguel Cairo.
So in conclusion, if the Cards are not nagged by injuries, it looks to be a tight race between the Cardinals and Brewers. The Reds are not far off the pace and could easily swoop in if either team falters. One last note:
FIP/ERA combo average for each team
- Cardinals 3.875
- Reds 4.055
- Brewers 3.83
If Lohse can be more like his FIP projection and less like his ERA projection, that would be a big boost to the rotation. But more importantly, if Garcia can match those projected rate numbers, and McClellan can put in more innings than expected, the Cardinals may just make the playoffs this year.