Tuesday, February 23, 2010

2010 Year in Preview: NL Central Wrapup

Well, I just completed a writeup of the NL Central 2010 Year in Preview, clicked “Publish” and watched it disappear.  How frustrating.  Of course, no reader cares.  They just want to see the writeup.  I don’t blame you.  Here is a reconstituted, recreated, better-than-ever 2010 Year In Preview: NL Central.

Top Prospect: Aroldis Chapman.  We've covered him in detail time and again, most recently in my 2010 Year In Preview: Cincinnati Reds.  Chapman has already thrown a bullpen in the Reds Spring Training camp, and the video I saw looked exactly the same as the other video I’ve seen of him throwing.  His mechanics are still very raw, but apparently he was hitting 97 mph.  I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s worth passing along.  Three questions about Aroldis in 2010: 
1.  Where will he start the year? My money is on Double A. I don’t think there’s any chance that he starts higher than that.  He needs time to mature and work on his secondary offerings. 
2. When will Cincinnati call him up?  Since the Reds signed Chapman to a ML deal, I don’t believe there is any financial incentive towards keeping him in the Minors and limit his service time.  Thus, you have to think that the Reds will call him up when he is ready, and there is a need for him on the Major League Roster.  Given what the back end of their rotation looks like, I’m going to wager a very aggressive guess and say July 1st. 
3. What will be the round that some idiot in your fantasy baseball league (over)drafts Chapman this year?  Depends on your league.  If you are in a pitching-heavy keeper league, then you might see Chapman go early.  If you’re in a standard, non-keeper league, then you might not see him drafted at all.  My league is more pitching-heavy, and it is a keeper league, so I’m expecting some idiot, perhaps AK, to draft Chapman in the 15th round.  Really looking forward to it. 

Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA Projected Standings
It's almost embarassing to reference PECOTA at this point.  Between the time that I write this and the time that you read this, PECOTA will have predicted the Yankees to win the division, changed it to the Red Sox, switched it to the Rays, then back to the Red Sox, then projected a three-way tie between the three.  Get it together, PECOTA!

St. Louis Cardinals - 89-73. 744 RS, 670 RA. .269/.343/.426. 
Chicago Cubs - 80-82. 734 RS, 746 RA. .269/.343/.423.
Cincinnati Reds - 77-85. 713 RS, 753 RA. .259/.334/.421
Houston Astros - 77-85. 712 RS, 755 RA. .269/.332/.418
Milwaukee Brewers - 77-85. 765 RS, 803 RA. .264/.339/.443
Pittsburgh Pirates - 72-90. 693 RS, 800 RA. .259/.330/.411. 

PECOTA likes the Cards to win the division in 2010 by virtue of the second-best offense and the best pitching/defense in the division. I have no problem with that, but if Wainwright or Carpenter get hurt, then their ability to hold down the RA is going to be greatly compromised.  

Interestingly, PECOTA sees the Cards as being the only team with an above-.500 record.  In second place we see the Cubs.  The projection is decidedly mediocre.  Only three games back from the Cubs there is a three-way tie between Cincy, Houston and the Brewers.  PECOTA sees Cincy and Houston as almost identical.  There are obvious similarities between the Reds and the Astros, in that their offenses are weak and are supported by a few standout players, and that their pitching staffs both have consistent veterans and high-upside guys, but I'll take the Reds over the Astros in 2010 any day.  I think the upside is far greater. The Brewers show that there's more than one way to skin a cat, and PECOTA likes them to bash their way to victory in 2010.  Unfortunately, their pitching after Gallardo and Wolf looks to be a decided liability. 

In last place, we see the Pirates.  Poor Pittsburgh.  One day your prince will come. 

As we complete our division previews, I want to look back and see which teams have the best and worst ranked offenses and pitching staffs.  We've completed the NL Central and the AL West. You may notice that some of the RS and RA are different from what I listed in the AL West Preview. This is because PECOTA has adjusted itself from the time I published the Preview.  I will always be using the most recent iteration. 

Best Offense: Texas Rangers, 840 RS. 2nd: Angels, 780. 3rd: Brewers, 765. 

The Rangers are looking to have an absolutely monster offense, going .280/.351/.468.  That's a team OPS of over .800.  I'm not surprised to see the Brewers on this list, but I am very surprised to see the Angels projected to score so many runs.  

Best Pitching/Defense: St. Louis Cardinals, 670 RA. 2nd: Seattle, 713. 3rd: Oakland, 736. 
It's an odd group.  Cardinals' run prevention ability comes primarily from their great pitching, headed by Wainwright and Carpenter.  Seattle's run prevention will come from a great 1-2 pitching punch in Felix and Lee, and also in spectacular defense.  Oakland doesn't have a 1-2 punch like either St. Louis or Seattle, and they don't have good defense either.  But they do have a bevy of above-average pitchers, and this depth may be the key to a good season RA total. 

Worst Offense: Pittsburgh, 693 RS.  2nd: Houston, 712. 3rd: Cincy, 713. 
I'm a little surprised that neither Oakland nor Seattle made this list, but it could be the value of the DH. 

Worst Pitching: LA Angels, 835 RA (wow!). 2nd: Brewers, 800.  3rd: Pirates, 800.  
I am shocked, but happy, to see that the Angels have such an astronomically high RA.  When I did the 2010 Year in Preview, they were projected to allow 775 runs.  I have no idea what caused the increase, but I'll take it! 

In Which AK and (sic) Make Foolhardy, Ridiculous and Sure-To-Be-Wrong Predictions

AK, you have the floor...

St. Louis Cardinals (90-72) - With a healthy Wainwright/Carpenter duo coming back and the likes of Holliday and Pujols in the lineup, it's hard to bet against the Cards. If one of them were to get hurt, it would certainly change the outlook, but this is a pretty weak division and the Cardinals should have no problems wrapping this up early.

Chicago Cubs (83-79) - The only reason I am putting the Cubs second is because I didn't know who to choose between the Cubs, Brewers and Astros. The Cubs could contend if Ted Lilly doesn't miss too much time and pitches well upon return, but as it stands, their #1 and #2 is Zambrano and Dempster and that's just not going to cut it. Plus, on the field, this team is starting to look old.

Milwaukee Brewers (81-81) - As I wrote in my analysis of the Brewers, the starting rotation is brutal. You have Gallardo and then 4 back-end starters. The only thing that can save this team is offense and I fear that they will not have enough. In two years I see Fielder gone and Braun demanding a trade...

Houston Astros (80-82) - I could be way off about the Astros, Oswalt is Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez could return to early-2009 form and Brett Myers is in a new place with reason to impress. The offense will be decent and if the pitching follows, the Astros will be better than I am projecting them at.

Cincinnati Reds (76-86) - As (sic) pointed out to me, I've got no love for the Reds. There are too many 'ifs' here for me, if everything goes right they're contenders, but if not, no dice and, thankfully for Reds fans, they'll probably get a new manager out of it.

Pittsburgh Pirates (70-92) - A bunch of moves, all smoke, this team will likely be out of it by the all-star break, if not sooner.

(sic)'s note: I'm willing to wait a year on the Reds breaking out if it means no more Dusty.  

I hate you Dusty. 

My turn: 

St. Louis Cardinals - 86-76
Cincinnati Reds - 80-82
Milwaukee Brewers - 80-82
Chicago Cubs - 78-84
Houston Astros - 75-87
Pittsburgh Pirates - 69-93

True to form, I like the Reds as the 2010 NL Central sleeper.  I don't think they'll have enough to win the Wild Card, unfortunately, but they ought to set themselves up nicely for a run in 2011 when Chapman and Volquez are ready to go full season. I'm slightly more optimistic on the Brewers than PECOTA, simply on the strength of their offense.  Cubs fans, I think this is the year the team falls off a cliff.  It is the worst team in several years, and I think this losing season will usher in three to four years of playoff-less baseball on the North Side.  Sorry.  

My final thought concerns the Cardinals. I like St. Louis to win the war of attrition this year in the NL Central.  It's no surprise, really.  They have the best team, and they should win easily.  The only thing that concerns me is the health of Carpenter and Wainwright.  Since we've been making blind, bold predictions all offseason, I'll go out on a limb and say that one of them will spend significant time on the DL this year, and I think it will be Wainwright. 

Will this be the year that Wainwright is killed on the mound in a horrific pitching mechanics accident?  Probably not, no.  BUT MAYBE. If that doesn't happen, look for him to spend some time on the shelf with shoulder tendinitis.  

That's all for the NL Central.  Be sure to bookmark this so you can come back and taunt us in the comments when the Pirates win it all.  

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