NL Central Preview
Here’s the deal. For hitters we take PECOTA and the four projection systems on Fangraphs. Fangraphs, by the way, is awesome. They are doing terrific, differentiated, value-add work and if you are a regular reader of Baseball Prospectus and/or The Hardball Times, you should add Fangraphs to your favorites as well. Anyway, we average all five of these projection systems to give you a sense for how the number crunchers see the players performing this season.
We are changing three things this time.
1) Fangraphs has added Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections, so we replace PECOTA with ZiPS. We are now simply averaging all available projections on the Fangraphs player pages.
2) We couldn't nail down a member of the mainstream media for this edition, so today you have staffers Rich Lederer, Jeremy Greenhouse and myself.
3) I took out W-L projections for starting pitchers because I do not think they are all that useful.
Without further ado...
AVG OBP SLG Soto, G. .285 .361 .486 Kendall, J. .259 .333 .330 Quintero, H. .249 .291 .356 Molina, Y. .271 .327 .375 Hernandez, R. .261 .324 .419 Doumit, R. .288 .345 .471
Rich: You got it, Jeremy. Soto is the class of this division but Doumit made lots of noise last year and is no longer flying under the radar.
Sully: Looks like Houston needs Pudge.
AVG OBP SLG Lee, D. .290 .369 .477 Fielder, P. .281 .375 .539 Berkman, L. .292 .398 .528 Pujols, A. .330 .430 .612 Votto, J. .289 .363 .496 LaRoche, Ad. .269 .341 .482
Rich: The NL Central is rich in first basemen, including the best in the biz. If you can avoid drooling, just click on this link and enjoy.
Jeremy: Albert Pujols is the best player in baseball, and last year Lance Berkman was right up there with him. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Joey Votto overtake Berkman this year. Votto was the second best rookie in the NL behind Soto, and is now entering a peak age 25-26 season. He was also one of three Reds to finish in the top five along with Jay Bruce, and, of course, Edinson Volquez.
Sully: I don't know, Jeremy. I still would have to take Berkman. There really isn't a bad player in the bunch here, though.
AVG OBP SLG Miles, A. .285 .329 .367 Weeks, R. .251 .359 .420 Matsui, K. .272 .328 .397 Schumaker, S. .290 .344 .397 Phillips, B. .267 .317 .439 Sanchez, F. .289 .329 .405
Jeremy: Yikes. Brandon Phillips is the only above average second baseman in this group. He’s a superb fielder and may be in line for some positive regression after a rather unlucky average on balls in play. Rickie Weeks is an enigma. He has as much potential as anyone, but he has confounded the scouts, and his stats are just as confusing. Last year among batters who qualified for the batting title, his .345 average on groundballs was best and .527 average on line drives in the league. I don’t know what to make of him.
Rich: I would reluctantly go with Phillips here. While he may not "believe that on-base percentage stuff," the free swinger is still better than the competition (although not nearly as much as his counting stats would suggest).
AVG OBP SLG Ramirez, A. .288 .359 .515 Hall, B. .248 .316 .435 Blum, G. .242 .299 .377 Barden, B. .255 .314 .378 Encarnacion, E. .274 .351 .470 LaRoche, An .241 .331 .384
Rich: This is the year when we find out if LaRoche is any good. He's 25 years old and has been basically handed the starting job despite an absolutely horrible two months in Pittsburgh (.152/.227/.232). Keep your eye on Neil Walker, a former catcher, if LaRoche fails to deliver the goods.
Sully: Ramirez is clearly the class of the NL Central third basemen. A healthy, productive Troy Glaus could change the dynamics at this position.
AVG OBP SLG Theriot, R. .284 .356 .361 Hardy, J. .275 .335 .459 Tejada, M. .291 .338 .441 Greene, K. .249 .301 .426 Gonzalez, A. .257 .311 .413 Wilson, J. .272 .319 .376
Jeremy: J.J. Hardy is a really nice player—perhaps the best on the Brewers. I’m most interested in seeing how Khalil Greene does this year outside of Petco. Greene couldn’t do a thing right last year, but if he reverts back to 2007 form, he could be a really nice pickup for the Cards. Per Hit Tracker Online, Greene’s average standard distance on homeruns over the last three years been 382.9, 402.7, and 385.8 respectively. Was 2007 an anomaly?
Rich: Not a lot to pick from here but Greene could be the sleeper. He has spent virtually his entire career playing home games at Petco Park but will call Busch Stadium III home this year. His OPS has been 22 percent higher on the road (.802) than at home (.658). If healthy, Greene could hit 20-25 home runs and his team-dependent stats will benefit by being surrounded by a better lineup in St. Louis than San Diego.
Sully: Quietly, Ryan Theriot had an excellent 2008. If he's the worst player in the lineup, it's in all likelihood going to be on a good team.
AVG OBP SLG Soriano, A. .277 .333 .518 Braun, R. .299 .352 .579 Lee, C. .293 .350 .515 Rasmus, C. .244 .325 .412 Hopper, N. .288 .338 .355 Morgan, N. .277 .330 .362
Jeremy: Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Braun are actually somewhat similar players. They started out as atrocious infielders but gained a great amount of value when they moved to left. They’re both power/speed threats. And out of all left-fielders, they ranked 2nd and 3rd in swing rate on pitches outside the strike zone, behind the hacktastic Delmon Young.
Rich: Kudos to the Brewers for moving Braun off the hot corner last year. He went from being the worst-fielding third baseman in the majors to a decent left fielder with the potential of becoming a plus defensive player due to his athleticism.
Sully: It's the "have's" and the "have not's" for left field in the NL Central. Half the division trots an excellent left fielder out there everyday and half the division will in all likelihood be giving back runs to their opposition in left.
AVG OBP SLG Johnson, R. .279 .343 .401 Cameron, M. .243 .330 .442 Bourn, M. .248 .314 .336 Ankiel, R. .260 .322 .492 Taveras, W. .271 .325 .332 McLouth, N. .268 .345 .460
Jeremy: The Cardinals have some great upside in each of their outfielders. Colby Rasmus is a top-five prospect, Rick Ankiel has some of the best raw power and one of the best arms in the game, and Ryan Ludwick just demonstrated how awesome he can be if all the pieces fall into place. Of course, it’s doubtful all three of them pan out this year.
Rich: Little-known fact: Ankiel hit .270/.343/.537 with 20 HR in the first half last season. He then suffered an abdominal injury in late July and hit .169/.286/.308 over the next 28 games before being shut down for the remainder of the season in early September.
Sully: I am interested to see how Nate McLouth backs up his breakout 2008. If he can post a .200 (or greater) ISO for the third straight season, he will have another superstar campaign.
AVG OBP SLG Bradley, M. .291 .392 .502 Hart, C. .279 .329 .482 Pence, H. .287 .339 .493 Ludwick, R. .275 .347 .517 Bruce, J. .280 .335 .507 Moss, B. .263 .327 .434
Rich: Can Milton Bradley stay healthy for a full season? He hasn't played 100 games in the field since 2004. The guy can flat out hit (over .300/.400/.500 in each of the past two years) and, depending on playing time, will either will be an MVP candidate or a bust.
Jeremy: “Well, you can get a healthy guy to go out there and play 162 games, but he won’t do what I did in 120.” – Bradley
Sully: Nicely done, Jeremy.
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Zambrano, C. 7.17 3.89 1.34 3.83 Harden, R. 10.86 3.63 1.15 2.88 Dempster, R. 7.30 3.60 1.31 3.93 Lilly. T. 7.86 3.10 1.28 4.06 Marshall, S. 6.56 3.37 1.37 4.36
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Gallardo, Y. 8.66 3.46 1.29 3.70 Bush, D. 6.13 2.20 1.27 4.27 Suppan, J. 5.00 3.27 1.52 4.98 Looper, B. 5.09 2.53 1.36 4.44 Parra, M. 7.71 3.86 1.46 4.30
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Oswalt, R. 6.93 2.16 1.25 3.66 Rodriguez, W. 7.54 3.32 1.39 4.35 Hampton, M. 4.84 3.45 1.50 4.90 Moehler, B. 5.20 2.54 1.45 4.88 Backe, B. 6.29 4.12 1.59 5.47
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Wainwright, A. 6.34 2.71 1.30 3.73 Pineiro, J. 5.21 2.68 1.45 4.94 Carpenter, C. 6.91 2.41 1.23 3.60 Lohse, K. 5.71 2.58 1.37 4.34 Wellemeyer, T. 6.56 3.73 1.39 4.21
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Harang, A. 7.79 2.38 1.29 4.20 Volquez, E. 8.94 4.22 1.36 3.85 Arroyo, B. 6.88 2.89 1.37 4.43 Cueto, J. 8.24 3.17 1.34 4.50 Owings, M. 7.04 3.29 1.38 4.61
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Maholm, P. 6.03 2.98 1.39 4.35 Duke, Z. 4.58 2.45 1.50 4.89 Snell, I. 7.63 3.83 1.50 4.71 Gorzelanny, T. 6.38 3.96 1.46 4.51 Karstens, J. 5.64 2.81 1.40 4.62
Jeremy: The Cubs are on their way to leading the Majors in strikeouts for the ninth straight year, but the Reds might be able to match them K for K. Last year the Reds front four put up an 8.09 K/9 rate while the Cubs managed a 7.91 K/9 rate. Also, Carlos Zambrano and Micah Owings will have an interesting silver slugger race. The skill of hitting for pitchers is entirely undervalued.
Rich: While the Cubs rotation will get most of the attention, it says here that the Reds starting five will be every bit as good after adjusting for ballpark effects (unless Harden is healthy all year).
Sully: Just as compelling as the Cubs/Reds comparison is for best rotation in the division is the 'Stros/Bucs battle for the worst. Boy, do those two rotations look bad?
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Marmol, C. 10.66 4.43 1.22 3.16 Samardzija, J. 6.37 4.24 1.49 4.57 Gregg, K. 8.06 3.95 1.33 3.81
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Hoffman, T. 7.76 2.49 1.21 3.71 Villanueva, C. 7.92 3.05 1.29 4.00 Riske, D. 7.28 4.19 1.43 4.21
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Valverde, J. 10.54 3.34 1.21 3.49 Brocail, D. 6.77 3.13 1.34 4.00 Geary, G. 6.02 3.12 1.34 3.81
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Motte, J. 8.89 3.37 1.29 3.70 Franklin, R. 5.45 2.93 1.37 4.21 Perez, C. 9.40 5.17 1.42 3.99
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Crodero, F. 9.93 3.92 1.32 3.55 Weathers, D. 6.09 3.80 1.43 4.18 Bray, B. 9.23 3.72 1.39 4.02
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Capps, M. 7.03 1.69 1.12 3.33 Grabow, J. 7.65 3.98 1.40 4.09 Yates, T. 8.00 4.66 1.51 4.50
Rich: There are some live arms in this division, headed by Carlos Marmol, who has struck out 210 batters while allowing only 81 hits in 156.2 IP over the past two seasons. No, that is not a misprint or a typo. The 26-year-old righthander steps into the closer role for the Cubs with the departure of Kerry Wood. Veteran Kevin Gregg is waiting in the wings if it turns out Marmol is more comfortable pitching the eighth rather than the ninth inning.
Sully: Look at that projected walk rate for Perez! Motte has got to start the year as the Closer in St. Louis.
Rich: Did anybody outside Cincinnati notice that Chris Dickerson hit .304/.413/.608 last year? He hit home runs, walked, and stole bases. Oh... and he turns 27 in April.
Sully: With Kosuke Fukudome and Miles/Fontenot, I like the Cubs depth.
ROY: Edinson Volquez (Actually, Rasmus.)
CYA: Rich Harden, with requisite disclaimers
MVP: Albert Pujols
Rich: Good one on the Rookie of the Year, Jeremy.
MVP: Let's get real now.
CYA: Harden, but only if he can throw 200 innings for the first time in his career. The only other pitcher I could see winning this award would be Volquez.
ROY: It won't be an Astro. How's that?
Any surprises this year?
Jeremy: I think the Reds and Astros will switch places in the standings.
Rich: The Reds play .500 ball for the first time since Bill Clinton's presidency.
Rich: Chicago wins it in a run, run, runaway. Call it ten games. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Cubs have the easiest-rated schedule in the majors. Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Cincinnati will battle it out for second place. The winner may have an outside shot at a wild card berth although I would be surprised if any of these three teams wins more games than either the Mets or Phillies. Houston barely escapes the cellar, dropping at least a dozen games in the standings year over year. Pittsburgh finishes last for what will be the last time in the next five years.
Sully: I am with you, Rich. I think the Cubs will win their division by a greater margin than any other division winner in 2009.
Thanks, guys! AL Central next Friday...