Breaking Down the NL Central Division – Part 5

This is the fifth segment of an eight-part series handicapping the NL Central based on a position by position analysis of teams using a variety of projection systems.
Part 1 (Intro, C-1B) | Part 2 (IF) | Part 3 (OF) | Part 4 (Bench)
We’re on to the pitchers now after an exhaustive look at the offenses of the NL Central. I’m including the projections for innings pitched, wins and ERA as I try to determine a hierarchy for the Central’s rotations. I’m using ZiPS as my projection base, but I have CHONE and Marcels around here as well if you find fault in a particular player’s numbers. Feel free to call me out in the comments; I’ll do my best to explain my reasoning.

The pitchers:




Carpenter Oswalt Arroyo Sheets Duke Zambrano


Wainwright Jennings Harang Bush Gorzo Hill


Reyes Sampson Milton Capuano Snell Prior


Looper Williams Lohse Suppan Maholm Lilly


Wells Rodriguez Ramirez Vargas Armas Marquis

Starter #1

  • Carpenter: 209 IP, 16 W, 3.06 ERA
  • Oswalt: 233 IP, 18 W, 3.17 ERA
  • Arroyo: 212 IP, 13 W, 3.86 ERA
  • Sheets: 172 IP, 14 W, 2.88 ERA
  • Duke: 216 IP, 14 W, 3.92 ERA
  • Zambrano: 213 IP, 14 W, 3.46 ERA

Let me first say that I realize these stats don’t tell the whole story: At the same time, they’re the most easily obtainable using the ZiPS Excel spreadsheet. I could compute WHIP by hand, but that would take an awful lot of time for 72 pitchers, and I’m not certain that its marginal benefit is worth the effort. We’ll live with IP, wins and ERA, and if need be, I’ll calculate more stats on a case-by-case basis.
Now, the aces. If I asked you to pick the top dog in the Central, few of you would select Ben Sheets. The big righty lost time in 2006 to injury, and he’s been surpassed by Carpenter, Oswalt and Zambrano in star status. Despite being less durable than the rest of these 200-inning horses, he’s pegged as the most dominant. ZiPS puts his K/9 at 9.0. None of the other Cy Young candidates are projected to strike out one batter per inning.
Oswalt and Carpenter are virtually neck and neck in the battle for second. I’ll give the edge to the Astro as he’s due to make four extra starts, 34 to 30.
Carlos Zambrano is the fourth best pitcher in the division? How is Big Z supposed to feed Big Z’s family if he’s only going to win 14 games? Something tells me he’ll wow in his walk year.
I enjoy Bronson Arroyo’s musical act, but he’s not an ace in my book. His numbers are solid, but not spectacular. On a contender, he’d be an excellent #2. Same goes for Duke. I think I actually value the left-handed Pirate over the Reds’ righty, as the stats are a dead heat.
MIL=10 | HOU=9 | STL=9 | CHC=8 | PIT=6 | CIN=6
Starter #2

  • Wainwright: 171 IP, 12 W, 3.89 ERA
  • Jennings: 192 IP, 10 W, 4.17 ERA
  • Harang: 210 IP, 14 W, 4.03 ERA
  • Bush: 202 IP, 13 W, 3.79 ERA
  • Gorzelanny: 153 IP, 9 W, 4.06 ERA
  • Hill: 175 IP, 12 W, 3.65 ERA

Everyone’s high on Rich Hill–from fantasy rankings to the projection systems–but MVN’s Evan Brunell will tell you that the up-and-comer is overrated. Nevertheless, I picked Hill for my first roto league, and I expect big things from him. I’m sure Lou Piniella would prefer that a veteran like Prior or Lilly would step up to take some of the pressure off of the youngster, but I’m sure skip won’t turn away 1.08 K/IP.
If Hill is overrated, then Dave Bush is one of the most underrated starters in baseball. Milwaukee has a staff that doesn’t have brand name recognition, but they’ll get the job done.
Adam Wainwright’s numbers may be skewed by his partial season in the bullpen, but there’s not a doubt in my mind that he’ll be in the rotation come April. Tony La Russa needs someone solid behind his stopper. Carp and Wain and pray for rain?
Aaron Harang will not earn the contract he signed this off-season. Still, Krivsky will get a decent 2007 out of him. Like Bronson, he’s not flashy, but he should be steady.
Tom Gorzelanny will provide a reason to go to the ballpark this year. He’s surrounded by a cloud of uncertainty, as his performance in a second-half callup was inconsistent, but I think he’ll perform more like Duke than Maholm in the long term.
The Astros had better win soon. If not, selling the farm for Jason Jennings might be viewed as a mistake. It’s a move that had to be made, though, as Houston’s staff will suffer a noticeable drop-off with the losses of Pettitte and Clemens.
CHI=10 | MIL=9 | STL=8 | CIN=7 | PIT=7 | HOU=7

Starter #3

  • Reyes: 154 IP, 10 W, 3.86 ERA
  • Sampson: 146 IP, 8 W, 4.32 ERA
  • Milton: 178 IP, 9 W, 4.96 ERA
  • Capuano: 206 IP, 13 W, 4.11 ERA
  • Snell: 169 IP, 10 W, 4.53 ERA
  • Prior: 132 IP, 7 W, 4.09 ERA

I’m not sold on Anthony Reyes, but then again, I don’t particularly like the Cardinals. If St. Louis is to have any shot at contention, he’ll need to put together an impressive 2007.
Chris Capuano will be a workhorse. I wouldn’t mind if Duke, Gorzelanny and Maholm all fit that type of mold by the time they’re done (all though I’d appreciate it if one or two of them would take it up another notch). I think by virtue of the load he’ll carry that he’s the #2 arm in this spot.
It’s a shame that the Cubs broke Mark Prior. When’s he’s on his A game, there’s no one more fun to watch.
I don’t know much about Chris Sampson. Snell says Snell doesn’t either. Eric Milton used to be decent, but he probably isn’t anymore. Wayne Krivsky has a lot of guys that are well past their primes.
STL=10 | MIL=9 | CHC=7 | HOU=6 | PIT=6 | CIN=5

Starter #4

  • Looper: 74 IP, 7 W, 3.53 ERA
  • Williams: 150 IP, 8 W, 4.56 ERA
  • Lohse: 167 IP, 9 W, 4.96 ERA
  • Suppan: 177 IP, 11 W, 4.37 ERA
  • Maholm: 177 IP, 8 W, 4.63 ERA
  • Lilly: 169 IP, 12 W, 4.26 ERA

I refuse to rank Braden Looper first, as his projections assume he’ll be in a bullpen role. Unfortunately, he’s TLR’s fourth best option. If Dave Duncan gets this to work, he should be rewarded with a healthy raise.
Ted Lilly and Jeff Suppan both earned fat contracts, but they’ll be ordinary starters who eat a good number of innings. To a lesser degree, Woody Williams will do the same.
Paul Maholm’s not going to blow you out of the water, but I’ve been at a number of games when he’s been on, and when he is he’s a controlling force. Hopefully that’s the rule, rather than the exception, in 2007. At the very least, Pirate fans can be comforted knowing that their #4 starter isn’t making $8 million per year.
Kyle Lohse? Ouch.
CHC=10 | MIL=9 | HOU=7 | STL=7 | PIT=7 | CIN=5
Starter #5

  • Wells: 121 IP, 6 W, 4.98 ERA
  • Rodriguez: 165 IP, 9 W, 5.07 ERA
  • Ramirez: 134 IP, 6 W, 4.97 ERA
  • Vargas: 154 IP, 8 W, 5.03 ERA
  • Armas: 131 IP, 7 W, 4.88 ERA
  • Marquis: 191 IP, 11 W, 4.95 ERA

I like Marquis more than most, but he’s not worth his contract.
Please tell me that Tony Armas is not the second best #5 starter in the NL Central. I know the staffs are weak, but come on. You’ve got to be kidding me.When Kip Wells was a White Sock, he had potential. That just means he hadn’t done crap yet. That remains true to this day.
We’ll round out the six with Ramirez, Vargas and Rodriguez. At least you won’t get less than you bargained for with these guys. All of them have only one direction to go, and that’s up.
CHC=10 | PIT=9 | STL=8 | CIN=7 | MIL=7 | HOU=7
We’ll break for Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable #17 tomorrow, and come back on Friday for Part 6 of the series, the bullpens.

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Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable #17

  • Dave

    For those keeping score at home…
    Chc 115
    Stl 109
    Mil 109
    Hou 102
    Pit 101
    Cin 93
    The Bucs should pick up some ground with the bullpen…

  • Cory Humes

    I don’t want to know why you’re up at 5:48. I don’t want to know why I’M STILL UP at 6:15, either.
    Just five more minutes, ma…

  • Kurtis

    Just a question – have you considered the hitting abilities of the pitchers? It seems like a pain in the rear to try to figure out, but would it be worth it?

  • Cory Humes

    Hah! I haven’t. And no, I’m not sure that it’d be worth it. I suppose if you had a staff full of Mike Hamptons (or Zambranos, I guess) it could be, but the difference between a .150 avg and a .250 avg over the course of a season won’t be more than a few hits. (Let me check my math…30 GS, maybe 3 AB per game, 90 AB per season, .150=13.5 hits, .250=22.5 hits. Eh, not worth the work to me, but if you want to do the research and pass it along, I’d be more than happy to listen.)

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