Tagged: NL Central

NL Central

Note: a “straight run
differential projection” is based on a team’s actual runs scored and runs
allowed.  A “component runs projected” is based on
basic runs created and component ERA
without the adjustment to make it an ERA figure (i.e. IP and the multiplication
by 9 not included).  I then applied the
Pythagorean Formula with an exponent of 1.83.


The NL
Central is currently a two-team race, with the Cardinals and the Reds
positioning themselves for their July sprint through the top of the NL
East.  The other four teams in the
division are, shall we say, flawed, though not all equally so.  Some, in fact, only resemble Major League
material.

 

ASTROS

26-45,
.366 win%, 5
th place, 13.5 GB, 14.5 GB Wild Card.  3.34 runs per game (15th in NL),
5.07 runs allowed per game (13
th in NL).  Straight run differential projection 55 wins
and a .339 win %; component run projection of 51 wins and a .315 win %.

Over the
past two weeks the Astros are 4-9, having played the Rockies, from whom they
took three straight, the Yankees, who swept three straight from Houston, the
Royals, who took two of three from the Astros, the Rangers, who swept the
three-game series, and the Giants, to whom they have lost the first game of
their three-game series.  Over those
games, the Astros have scored 48 runs (3.69 per game) while allowing 75 (5.77
runs per game).  While the scoring is up
by 0.35 runs per game over that stretch, their runs allowed are also up, by
twice that amount, 0.70 runs allowed per game. 
They have won exactly as many games over those 13 as could be expected
given that run differential.

To
finish the month of June, Houston will play two more home games against the
pitching-rich San Francisco Giants before they visit Arlington to tangle with
the red-hot Rangers, and they will then go north to Milwaukee to play the
Brewers (AKA Tons of Runs, but see below for more on that).

Speaking
of the Rangers, club president Nolan Ryan has confirmed that
Texas
is interested in Roy Oswalt
.  Given
that the
Texas
farm system is loaded
with prospects, this could be one stepping stone
along the rebuilding path for the Astros. 

In promoting
catcher Jason Castro, the club’s top 2008 draft pick,
have the Astros
shown they are building for the future
?

Finally,
the
Astros,
as a team, have a negative value

in terms of
Wins Above Replacement.  They will not be lonely for long, though:
either they will climb their way out of the negative zone, or the Pirates will
join them soon.

 

BREWERS

30-40,
.429 win%, 4
th place, 9.0 GB, 10.0 GB Wild Card.  4.87 runs per game (2nd in NL),
5.37 runs allowed per game (14
th in NL).  Straight run differential projection 72 wins
and .444 win %; component run projection 71 wins and .435 win %.

The Brewers,
AKA Tons of Runs, play high scoring games. 
The run scoring environment in 2010 is 4.47 runs per game per team, or 8.94
runs per game, total.  The Brewers, based
on their runs scored and allowed numbers, play games where 10.24 total runs per
game are scored, about 14.5% higher than the league average.  The Brew Crew scores lots of runs, and they
allow lots of runs in a variety of ways, combining substandard pitching with
substandard fielding, which amounts to very substandard run prevention.  On the other hand, they can really hit the heck
out of the ball: they are 2
nd in the National League in scoring,
slugging percentage, and OPS, and they are third in the National League in
on-base percentage.  The problem, of
course, is that the Brewers allow more runs then they score, which is kind of
like the debt spiral of owning more per month than one earns: it’s not really
going to get you anywhere good. 
Fortunately, the Brewers have a shot at the “first division” (top half)
of the Central Divisions since the Cubs may swoon at any moment, and the Astros
and Pirates aren’t really in much of a position to make a run past the Brew
Crew in 2010.

Now, the
past two weeks have been interesting. 
Despite the huge runs allowed numbers we just discussed, the Brewers
have improved that part of their game of late. 
They have played the Cubs, Rangers, Angels, and Rockies.  Milwaukee is 7-6 over those games, and they
have scored 63 runs (4.85 per game) and allowed just 52 (4.00 per game), which
is a
marked improvement compared to the data from the season as a
whole.  It almost makes me feel bad about
the previous paragraph, and I am at a complete loss to explain what is going
on.  Could it be small sample size?  Is their bullpen better?  Has their fielding improved? 

In order
to sort things out, I took a look at some statistics.  The Brewers have shown marginal improvement
in their Defensive Efficiency Ratio, though it just may be that the Dodgers
have had a tremendous falloff, for Milwaukee is no longer the worst team in the
Majors.  At one point this season, their
DER was .014 lower than any other team in the Majors, a degree of difference
larger than the differential between any two other consecutively ranked teams.  As it stands, their DER is the second worst
in the Majors, but they are “only” .020 worse than the Major League
average.  However, this doesn’t really
provide us with evidence that their fielding is all that much better, or, at
least, that their fielding has improved enough to account for their much lower
runs allowed figures in the last two weeks. 
It is more likely that their pitching isn’t as awful as it was earlier
this season. Their xFIP (their expected Fielding Independent Pitching
statistics) no longer sits in the bottom three in the Major Leagues, instead
sitting at a somewhat more respectable–but still bad–24
th in the
baseball, and their ERA is also declining. 
Though the Brewers’ pitching staff still allows the highest rate of line
drives in baseball, their home runs allowed to flyball rate is declining and is
actually lower than that of the Phillies, Yankees, and A’s.  Together with the fact that he Brewers are no
longer dead last in groundball to flyball ratio, we can infer that they are
allowing fewer home runs per batter than they were earlier this season.  And while it’s not a huge change, and while we’re
only talking about a two-week blip, and while they probably won’t compete for a
playoff spot, this is still something for Brewers fans to smile about,
privately.  Of course, the Brew Crew
did
just take game one of their series with the Twins
, so I guess the smiling
can be public.

The Brewers
finish June by playing two more games against the Twins before welcoming the
Mariners and Astros to Milwaukee.  To
First Pitch Strike, this looks like the Brew Crew’s chance to move back towards
the .500 mark.

Jack
Moore
wonders
what the Brewers should do
, concluding the Fielder and Hart are potential
trade-bait for better pitching.  As he
doesn’t analyze what could replace either of those two pretty good bats, I
wonder whether it just amounts to shifting the runs scored and runs allowed
numbers slightly downwards.  They Brewers
would need to get a proven stud back for either Fielder or Hart to make the
deal worth it, especially for Fielder. 
An analysis of the
organization’s own
potential pitching help
shows that while there’s some potential down in the
minors, it’s also wildly uncertain about how much help it will really be. 

 

CARDINALS

39-31,
.557 win%, 1
st place, 0 GB. 
4.50 runs per game (10
th in NL), 3.63 runs allowed per game
(3
rd in NL).  Straight run
differential projection for 94 wins and a .580 win%; component run projection
for 91 wins and a .563 winning percentage. 

Whereas
the Brewers play games where 14.5% more runs are scored than league average,
the Cardinals play games where 9.1% fewer runs than league average are scored.  Their scoring is right around the Major
League average, but their runs allowed per game is much lower. 

Over the
past two weeks, the Cardinals have played the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Mariners,
A’s, and they have opened up a series in Toronto with a win over the Blue
Jays.  Over that stretch of games, the
Cardinals are 6-6, and they have scored 50 runs (4.17 per game) while allowing
42 runs (3.50) per game.  They have been
just a little unlucky over this stretch, since their run differential implies
they should have won seven games rather than six.  The Cardinals are probably better than they
have been playing, though their offense isn’t scintillating. 

To
finish the month, the Cardinals will complete their series in Toronto before
travelling to Kansas City and then returning home to play Arizona. 

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Berni Miklasz
points out that
the
other teams in the NL Central are the Cardinals’ best friends
since,
despite the recent mediocre stretch of play by the Redbirds, no other team has
stepped forward to seize the opportunity. 
(In some ways, the Cardinals should send the Mariners a nice thank you
card, since they swept the Reds over the past weekend to keep St. Louis firmly
in first.)  The larger point of Miklasz’s
column is that the Cardinals have been pressing a little, which tells me that
they themselves think they should be doing better than they have been and aren’t
satisfied with simply leading the division, particularly by only a slim margin. 

Despite
hitting a bit of the doldrums, the Cardinals have to remain the favorite in the
division, with perhaps the best balance between run scoring and run prevention
of any of the Central’s teams. 

It is amusing to visit the Post-Dispatch website and see that there’s
a “
What’s
Wrong with Albert?
” thread in the fan forums.  The only thing wrong with Albert is that he’s
human and not divine and thus not perfect.

 

CUBS

31-39,
.443 winning percentage, 3
rd place, 8.0 GB, 9.0 GB wild card.  4.20 runs per game (12th in NL),
4.44 runs allowed per game (9
th in NL).  Straight run differential projection for 75
wins and a .461 win%; component run projection for 78 wins and a .481 winning
percentage.

Over the
past two weeks the Cubs have played the Brewers, White Sox, A’s, Angels, and
they opened a series in Seattle last night;
the
Mariners shut the Cubbies out
.  The
Cubs hold a 5-8 record in games over the past fourteen days; they have scored
54 runs (4.15 per game), and they have allowed 59 runs (4.54 per game).  Chicago has been somewhat unlucky, as that
run differential implies they should have won 6 of their 13 games.  This stretch of games surely can’t have been
all that encouraging to Cubs fans other than Ted Lilly’s near-no-hitter against
the White Sox. 

The Cubs
just have displayed no consistency in any part of the game, not in the lineup,
not in the rotation, and certainly not in the bullpen.  They are a very average team in the
field.  They can’t pitch like the
Cardinals, and probably not even like the Reds, who can throw Johnny Cueto,
Mike Leake, and Bronson Arroyo at an opponent on successive days.  And Chicago can’t consistently hit on par
with the Brewers or the Reds.  All of
this adds up to the conclusion that they will not challenge for the Central
division title.

Over the
rest of June, the Cubs will finish two more games with the Mariners before
returning to Chicago to visit the White Sox in the Cell, and then to host the
Pirates in the friendly confines.  They
need to play well over this stretch to avoid falling into the Central’s “second
division” for the Brewers have a chance to pass them, and given the Brewers’
inability to prevent runs that would prove embarrassing for the Cubs,
particularly given the payroll differential between these two clubs.

Chicago
sportswriters are tiring of this particular Cubs team, noting that
things
are tough
, more importantly, that the
Cubs just aren’t good
, and, finally–and this is music to my ears–the Chicago’s
baseball teams have
shaky
management at the top

In
truth, I have to agree that the Cubs are a poorly run organization, for I fathom
how the Cubs aren’t always a good team: they occupy a
big and major market, they have a solid fan base, and these facts
mean that their revenue stream is assured and large; and this leads to the
conclusion that their not being perennially good is a function of bad
management and, what is worse, indifference at the top, deficiencies keeping Chicago’s
National League team from being the powerhouse they should be. 

 

PIRATES

25-45,
.357 winning percentage, 6
th place, 14 GB, 15 GB Wild Card.  3.30 runs per game (16th in the
NL), 5.50 runs allowed per game (15
th in the NL).  Straight run differential projection for 51
wins with a .314 winning percentage; component run projection for 53 wins and a
.328 winning percentage.

And now
we’ve reached a truly sad, sad case.

Here’s a nostalgia-laden story of lost youth to provide some background on what I will write about this team:  I grew up in Bradenton, Florida, the Spring
Training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. 
On Little League opening day, Chuck Tanner, Joel Skinner, Birll Virdon,
Bill Madlock, Tim Foli, Omar Moreno, Bill Robinson, and Kent Tekulve came to
the ceremonies, talked to us, threw our first pitches, did all kinds of awesome
stuff for us.  They did this the two
years I played Little League, and when I moved on to Senior League, I got to play
at Pirate City, the Pirates’ Spring Training Facility, as well as in McKechnie
Field, the ancient but charming ballpark where the Pirates play their home
games in the spring.  As a result, I grew
up a Pirates fan. 

And thus
what is happening in Pittsburgh is painful.  Oh, I deluded myself at the start of Spring, I
thought the organization was moving in the right direction, and maybe they are,
and 2010 is what we have to endure before seeing something good emerge from GM
Neil Huntington’s machinations.  And then
again…wow does 2010 hurt to endure.  This
season, which follows seventeen straight losing seasons, appears like it could
be world historically awful.  The only
reason it isn’t being widely discussed in such terms is the open wound that is
the Orioles.  But they play in a tough,
tough division, while the Pirates play in…the NL Central.  The Pirates are currently at or just barely
above the bottom of the National League in both run scoring and run prevention.  They are, in fact,
allowing more than two runs per game than they are scoring.  How is that even possible?  I mean, they are going to surrender 330 or so
more runs than they score at this pace. 

That’s
why after 13 years of living in Minnesota and watching the Pirates, uh, “struggle”
I have transferred quite a bit of my loyalty to the Twins: they are a smaller
market, too, but they at least decided to be competitive.  (I feel a little guilty from time to time, as
though I’ve been cheating on my first love with a hotter, younger
mistress.  But then again, I don’t think
anyone would dispute the fact that my first love…has really let herself go.  I don’t think she’s even brushed her teeth
since Sid Bream slid home safely in ’92, to tell the truth.)

Over the
past two weeks…’zounds, but it’s just been terrible.  *Sigh* 
Over the past two weeks, teams playing the Pirates have been engaging in
a form of necrophilia scrimmages against the weaker competition of, say,
a
community college Double-A level. 
The Nationals, Tigers, White Sox, and Rangers have picked up 11 wins
against the Pirates.  Since the beginning
of June, the Pirates are 4-14, with a 12-game losing streak, and in the past
two weeks the Pirates have gone 2-11, scoring 44 runs (3.38 per game) and
allowing 65 (5.00 per game).  That run
differential is terrible, but both the runs scored per game and runs allowed
per game are better than their averages for the season as a whole.  The runs allowed figure is 9%
better than their season average, a full
half a run better, and they still managed to drop 11 of 13 games.  While they’ve been unlucky–their run
differential implies they’d win 4 rather than 2 of the last 13–at this point we’re
just quibbling about details.  Since
their run differential in the past two weeks implies a .329 winning percentage,
and since such a winning percentage would imply a 53 win season, what we’re
quibbling about is almost as meaningless as arguing whether the hole in the
hull of the
Titanic was twenty or
thirty feet below the waterline.  The Pirates
appear headed to the sub-cellar–to seventh place in a six-team division–and why
the Pirates trail the Astros despite Houston having a negative team WAR.  I’m beginning to think that Major League
Baseball should just give PNC Park and the Pirate organization to the Rays’
ownership and management group just to see what would happen if the Rays had a
nice park to play in and the Pirates had competent management.

To
finish a laughably awful June, Pittsburgh will finish their series with the
red-hot Texas Rangers before traveling to Oakland and then to Wrigley Field in
Chicago.  I have no confidence that any
part of this road trip will see the Pirates showing signs of life or even that
they can imitate a baseball-like substance.

With
nothing left to lose, the Pirates have
called
up their third base prospect, Pedro Alvarez
.  In turn, Aki
Iwamura was designated for assignment

You’d have to figure that manager John Russell would be
in
a lot of trouble
, but in a move that can only be described as “providing a
perverse incentive” the Pirates
extended
the contracts
of both John Russell and general manager Neil Huntington.  The Pittsburgh media doesn’t maintain the
neutrality of the national media in assessing these moves,
calling out the “endemic
blundering” of the Pirates’ organization
, and with Pittsburgh sports
columnist Bob Smizik calling the Russell, Huntington, and the ownership “
the
worst management team in baseball
.” 
And Gene Collier argues that
the Rangers’ success
indicts the Pirates
.  Ouch.

 

REDS

39-33,
.542, 2
nd place, 1.0 GB, 2.0 GB Wild Card.  4.82 runs per game (3rd in NL),
4.61 runs allowed per game (11
th in NL).  Straight run differential projection 86 wins
and a .530 win%; component run projection for 84 wins and a .518 win%.

The Reds’
flirtation with first place continued as recently as last Thursday, but then
they ran into the Mariners, who swept the Reds behind the strong pitching of
Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez, and Ryan Rowland-Smith, who allowed the Reds only
one run in the series.  Of course, the
Reds have moved south to Oakland, have taken the first two games of their
series with the A’s and are threatening to take out their brooms, leading game
three 2-0.

Over the
past two weeks, the Reds have played the Giants, Royals, Dodgers, Mariner, and
A’s.  They are 6-8 over that stretch, and
they have scored 52 runs (3.71 per game) while allowing 61 (4.36 per game),
meaning that their offense has let them down of late, for while their run
prevention has improved almost half a run per game, they still lost more games
than they won.

To
finish the month, the Reds will return to Cincinnati to host the Indians and
then the Phillies. July will bring lots of matchups with NL East teams; in
fact, both the Reds and Cardinals take on the NL East through the month of July
once interleague play mercifully ends. 
Those matchups will do a lot to sort out the leadership of both
divisions. 

While
Francisco Cordero has looked shaky of late–for example in
Monday night’s game
against the A’s, and June 6
th against the
Nationals
, and…that’s enough for now–Arthur Rhodes has been a tower of
power for the Reds’ bullpen, again like fine wine and
sporting
a 29 inning scoreless streak
; Rhodes’s game log is here

The top
of the Reds’ rotation can be good, what with Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo, and Johnny
Cueto, they could be getting deeper, to, as
Edison
Volquez is looking sharp in his rehab
work and is on his way back to
Cincinnati.

 

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