Breaking Down the NL Central Division – Part 4
This is the fourth 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 (2B, 3B, SS) | Part 3 (OF)
Were not talking rocket science here, just a quick look at offense and a cursory glance at defensive whizzes (or dunces). Im using ZiPS as my projection base, but I have CHONE and Marcels around here as well if you find fault in a particular players numbers. Feel free to call me out in the comments; Ill do my best to explain my reasoning.
Now, the benches:
I’ll have to go deeper than the 25-man rosters, though, to balance out the total number of at bats for each team (as I told Red Hot Mama):
As for why Javier Valentin and Jeff Conine aren’t factored in at their platoon positions, thus leaving the Reds short at bats: I stated in my introduction that in [this part] of my series, I’ll go over each team’s bench. Conine and Valentin will both be included [here]. If, for one reason or another, the total number of at bats doesn’t balance for each team, I’ll add a 26th man (and 27th, 28th, etc.) until they do.
I’ll give you the ZiPS projections for each team’s bench first, and follow up with a discussion of strengths and weaknesses. I’m not going to include HR-RBI-SB for the sake of brevity.
- Wilson: 361 AB, .249/.348/.396
- Spiezio: 277 AB, .245/.328/.394
- Miles: 426 AB, .275/.319/.350
- Taguchi: 305 AB, .275/.324/.364
- Bennett: 174 AB, .224/.292/.305
- Loretta: 557 AB, .302/.307/.404
- Lamb: 328 AB, .287/.342/.466
- Lane: 350 AB, .246/.324/.451
- Bruntlett: 251 AB, .239/.323/.359
- Quintero: 301 AB, .269/.311/.395
- Conine: 406 AB, .266/.333/.394
- Valentin: 195 AB, .256/.326/.446
- Denorfia: 418 AB, .287/.353/.440
- Castro: 262 AB, .240/.277/.351
- Hamilton: 165 AB, .261/.305/.412
- Clark: 368 AB, .272/.364/.361
- Mench: 474 AB, .272/.330/.464
- Counsell: 459 AB, .251/.338/.340
- Graffanino: 347 AB, .256/.338/.372
- Miller: 295 AB, .247/.319/.369
- Bautista: 482 AB, .255/.338/.431
- Doumit: 290 AB, .252/.322/.438
- McLouth: 416 AB, .267/.325/.409
- Hernandez: 217 AB, .249/.301/.350
- Cota: 220 AB, .223/.267/.355
- Murton: 448 AB, .299/.361/.446
- Ward: 335 AB, .257/.315/.442
- Blanco: 231 AB, .225/.276/.398
- Theriot: 404 AB, .275/.335/.356
- Pagan: 411 AB, .251/.310/.360
After 13 position players, these are the total at bats for each team. I’ve tried to be careful with my computations, but there may be human error involved:
- St. Louis: 1543 (bench) + 3722 (starters) = 5265 AB
- Houston: 1787+3722=5509
- Cincinnati: 1446+3491=4937
- Milwaukee: 1943+3463=5406
- Pittsburgh: 1626+3719=5345
- Chicago: 1829+3843=5672
I won’t have to add many extra men. I’ll use Chicago and Houston as the baseline, and assume that each team should have 5500-5700 at bats; I could go back to past seasons and find the actual average, but since we’re only comparing the teams against each other, there’s no need. As long as the playing field’s level, the accuracy of the study won’t be compromised.
The necessary additions: St. Louis will benefit from 333 at bats of John Rodriguez’s .270/.344/.465 line. Milwaukee honestly doesn’t need much; we’ll assume that J.J. Hardy stays healthy all year and that Corey Koskie can pitch in his 300 AB. I suppose as an alternative (worst case?) scenario, the Brewers could get 427 AB from Ryan Braun at .262/.321/.440. The Pirates? Maybe we’ll see some of the 401 at bats projected for Jody Gerut (his clip: .254/.330/.424).
That leaves the pesky Reds. Someone has to pick up the rest of the starts at catcher, and Chad Moeller’s pegged for 223 AB at .206/.266/.314. They could use some outfield help, too, as Josh Hamilton won’t contribute much. Put Bubba Crosby down for 171 AB, .234/.298/.339. Jeff Keppinger can pick up some utility work: 419 AB, .286/.338/.360.
I’m not going to lie, ranking the benches will be one of the harder tasks of this project. I’ll consider a few factors: offensive prowess (measured by OPS), utility (measured by the number of at bats projected for key players, and the impact of the positions they play) and defensive skills (but to only a small degree). If you feel that I’ve wronged your squad, call me out.
St. Louis has a trio of former starters (Preston Wilson, Scott Spiezio and Aaron Miles), but none is projected to OPS much more than .700. That’s embarrassingly poor. So Taguchi is so-so at the plate, but will be a capable defensive replacement for Duncan in left field. Gary Bennett won’t see much time behind the plate, and for good reason: His sub-.600 OPS is laughable. John Rodriguez is a nice looking bat fighting for time in a crowded outfield. If he gets a job and puts up his ZiPS line, the Cardinals will be a better ball club.
Mark Loretta could start for a number of teams, but in Houston he’s a utility infielder. Mike Lamb and Jason Lane will give Phil Garner two dangerous pinch-hitting options as well as insurance should Chris Burke, Luke Scott or Morgan Ensberg struggle. Bruntlett serves little purpose, as he won’t be a defensive replacement for Everett and won’t cut into Loretta’s backup time at second. Quintero could be a passable catcher; he’ll be forced into action often, as Brad Ausmus is on his last legs. I’d take the Astros’ bench over the Cardinals’.
Cincinnati is painful to think about. Chris Denorfia should be given a chance to start, but there’s a good chance he’ll start the season as Jerry Narron’s fourth outfielder. Jeff Conine and Javier Valentin will platoon with Hatteberg and David Ross. Talk about players that are past their peaks. (I’ll admit that Conine might be a decent role player if he isn’t forced into regular duty.) Josh Hamilton will see little time as a fifth or sixth outfielder, but if he can stick on the 25-man roster for the season he’ll be the feel-good story of the year. The rest of the bunch (Castro, Moeller, Crosby) has no business being in the majors. Houston, Cincinnati, St. Louis on the virtue of the OPS numbers of Denorfia, Conine and Valentin.
Milwaukee’s outfield overflow gives Ned Yost a couple of interesting options off the bench. Kevin Mench won’t set the world on fire, but there are a handful of teams he’d start for. Brady Clark is around should the Bill Hall experiment fail. Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino are the definition of futility infielders, and it’s a shame that they’ll see significant playing time if Corey Koskie can’t go. They’re solid backups, but as starters they’ll be exploited. Damian Miller is another mediocre backup catcher, but Johnny Estrada’s presence leaves little playing time for him. If Ryan Braun explodes this spring, he could lengthen the bench dramatically. More likely than not, though, he’ll have to wait for his debut. Houston, Cincinnati, Milwaukee/St. Louis.
Jose Castillo’s play in Bradenton will dictate the makeup of the Pirates’ bench. If he starts, then Jose Bautista will play the super-sub role Rob Mackowiak did in 2005 and Jose Hernandez won’t be forced into action nearly as often. If Castillo loses his job, then Hernandez will back up the left side of the infield. Hernandez makes a lot of Pirate fans queasy, but his versatility and (isolated) power is admirable for a 25th man. He’d make more of an impact on a contender. Ryan Doumit and Nate McLouth could see decent playing time if Xavier Nady flops. Doumit will get a number of starts at first base against lefties, too, even though there’s not a true platoon situation in place. Gerut needs to be healthy to contribute; even if he is, he’ll battle Luis Matos for the 26th man’s job. Humberto Cota is not good. With three bench players boasting OPS numbers better than .700, the Bucs move into a quasi-tie for second with the Reds.
Matt Murton got robbed when Jim Hendry signed Cliff Floyd. He’ll still see a good number of plate appearances, but it’s a shame that he won’t be a full-time starter. He and Loretta are projected to be the top reserves in the Central. Daryle Ward will provide some pop from the bench. Henry Blanco is nothing more than a glove, but when compared to the rest of the division’s backup backstops, he’s adequate. I think Theriot and Pagan will be pushed in Spring Training by Bobby Hill and Ronny Cedeno. If I were Piniella, I suppose I’d go with the younger legs, but the difference is minimal. I think the Cubs are on the top end of the bottom half of the benches.
Assigning points is rough, as I’ve mentioned before, but I’ll give it a try. If you think if my assessment is lacking in an area, let me know.
HOU=10 | CIN=8 | PIT=8 | CHC=7 | MIL=7 | STL=7
Part 5 (the rotations) comes on Wednesday.