the national league central position players, by ZiPS WAR

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

i thought it would be an interesting effort to break down the recent ZiPS projections for the National League Central (now slightly less crowded) by position.

catcher

yadier molina leads the pack here, fairly comfortably, with a projection for 4.4 WAR and a 112 OPS+. this is a dip from his 6.5 WAR, 137 OPS+ 2012, but he's still got the best projection of anyone on the team.

trailing him are a hodgepodge of cubs, led by wellington castillo, who is projected to be worth about 1.6 WAR in a little more than half a season, which seems . . . shockingly decent. johnathan lucroy will likely be a bit better than castillo and play more, being worth 2.5 WAR overall. you can pick your poison at catcher for cincinnati; both mesorasco and hanigan weigh in with WAR projections around 1.7 or 1.8 in their partial seasons. remember that these projections rely on playing time projections that do not add up to one full season, unless you think the reds will give their catchers about 800 PAs over the season. russell martin in pittsburgh gets decent marks, with 2.3 WAR over the better part of a season.

it seems like - once you weigh out the dicey playing time measures for catchers - molina clearly leads the pack, while none of the other four clubs are distinguishable. they should all get about 3 WAR from their backstops.

first base

allen craig lines up for a . . . league average projection. 2.1 WAR and a 121 OPS+, compared to a 3 WAR, 137 OPS+ in 2012. hmm. not what i expected to find.

gaby sanchez is somehow playing first base for the pirates, i guess. he's not expected to be good: a 1.5 WAR projection is all ZiPS sees from him. joey votto in cincinnati will be expected to put up 5.6 WAR, which seems low to me. i suppose he spent a lot of time injured last season. milwaukee will be starting corey hart who ZiPS likes to a resounding 2.2 WAR projection. chicago's anthony rizzo is projected to post 4.0 WAR and see how long it takes people to say "lahair who?"

votto's leading projection is no shock. anthony rizzo looks to be a great asset for the cubs; epstein and the front office have done great work putting a terrible club in a good position to develop. i'm a little underwhelmed by craig's projection (and hart's) but i think i understand where they're coming from. i'm glad we're not starting gaby sanchez.

second base

kolten wong is projected to field an impressive 2.3 WAR at second base for the cardinals, assuming that he gets 600 PAs (which he probably won't). daniel descalso will put up a more humble 1.0 WAR over less than 500 PAs, according to the projection. that seems bullish on wong, but i'm hopeful. a good spring training for him could really go a long way towards ensuring that he sees a lot of time in the majors.

the cubs' darwin barney is projected to be exactly average, which seems very likely; 2.3 WAR seems very manageable for him. ZiPS likes rickie weeks to come out of his 2012 funk and post a 2.8 WAR season for milwaukee. the system also thinks brandon phillips is getting old and will tail off to a 3.0 WAR total. neil walker will challenge him for the best secondbaseman at 2.9 WAR.

if wong plays to his projection (in terms of value and playing time), there will be near parity across the division at second. if not, we'll be losing value at second relative to everyone.

shortstop

ZiPS thinks rafael furcal will be a little healthier than i might, saying he'll be worth 1.6 WAR. ZiPS also thinks we won't lose much by starting either greg garcia or ryan jackson instead; both trail furcal only slightly at 1.2 WAR. kozma isn't so lucky, trailng both in his projection of 0.7 WAR over a full season. ronny cedeno trails all of the above, projected to be worth 0.5 WAR over 373 PAs.

the projection system thinks clint barmes will come back and put up 1.9 WAR, almost exclusively on defense and positional adjustment. zack cozart looks solid for the reds, at 2.5 WAR. jean segura is a surprising asset for the brewers at 2.3 WAR. starlin castro leads the field at 4.0 WAR.

third base

david freese looks decent at 2.2 WAR, with matt carpenter taking a serious dip in his projection for only 0.9 WAR in 500 PAs. i'm wondering why the pessimism on carpenter since both his minor league and major league numbers would suggest more optimism to me. maybe they're giving him a positional adjustment for first base instead of third?

i have no idea who the cubs are even going to start at third base. neither ian stewart (0.4 WAR) nor josh vitters (1.3 WAR) look like good choices. ZiPS likes pedro alvarez to put up a decent season, with a 2.7 WAR projection. aramis ramirez should be an asset in milwaukee again with a 3.4 WAR target. todd frazier hovers around average, with 1.9 WAR projected for him.

left field

matt holliday's aging curve is catching up with his projection. they like him for just 3.4 WAR, after putting up 5 WAR or better for the last five seasons. i understand the projection, but i'd feel pretty comfortable calling it more like 4 or 4.5 WAR.

ryan braun is one of the best players out there, with a projection to match: 5.8 WAR. i'm not totally sure how pittsburgh will apportion time in the outfield, but ZiPS suggests alex presley, at 1.6 WAR for the year. ZiPS was not impressed with ryan ludwick's (other) breakout year, and thinks he'll regress to 1.1 WAR this season. it's not impressed with alfonso soriano's ability to keep up with his contract, projecting him for 1.8 WAR.

center field

jon jay is presumed to be the centerfielder for the cardinals. ZiPS is not on-board the high BABIP train, and thinks he looks like a 2.3 WAR centerfielder in 2013. again, there's room to quibble, since projection systems will assume that high BABIP performance is luck maybe longer than they should. but watch out - ZiPS likes oscar taveras even better and suggests he could be a 2.6 WAR outfielder in a mostly full season. i suspect he's as likely to spend time in the corners, with aging knees in both corner outfield spots. but jay does need to keep on his game this year to make sure taveras doesn't steal time from him.

elsewhere, centerfield looks like spot with some parity across the division. i'm going to call starling marte the pirates' centerfielder, projected for 2.6 WAR. shin soo-choo will try to ply his trade in center this year, with 3.1 WAR projected for him. carlos gomez will be merely average for the brewers, with only 2.1 WAR projected. brett jackson may play in center for the cubs; he's projected for 2.3 WAR.

right field

carlos beltran is also projected for 2.3 WAR, and he may see some time lost to oscar as well. i'm not sure how to put my best guess on our outfield.

i'll call mccutchen the pirates starting right fielder, although i suppose they could keep running him out in center. he'll continue to be highly valuable, with a 5.3 WAR projection. if aoki is the brewers' RF, he's projected for 1.6 WAR. jay bruce is supposed to put out 3.2 WAR this season. i'm guessing that david dejesus puts in some time in RF for the cubs, with a 1.1 WAR projection, though ZiPS suggests matt szczur, with a 1.5 WAR projection as an alternative.

overall, this whole exercise is a bit of a wakeup call for me. there's a lot more parity on the field that i ever would have guessed, according to these projections. i think they probably trend conservative with regard to the cardinals, partially because we have a number of guys whose high BABIPs are part-skill. still, the notion that we could see big age-related steps back from beltran, holliday, and others is not at all far-fetched.

my other reaction is that i think we have much better depth in certain spots than other teams (which you don't get from just looking at starters). i suspect we'll do pretty well at getting some playing time for wong and taveras; having league average guys coming off your bench or filling in for injured players is quite a luxury. we have 8 players projected to put up 2 WAR or better, compared to 7 in milwaukee, 5 in cincinnati and pittsburgh, and 4 in chicago.

we didn't look at pitching, but ZiPS does not care for our staff relative to the reds', certainly. only the pirates are clearly a lot worse off than we are in the rotation. i am starting to think 2013 will be a lot tougher than i expected.

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