Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable #15

On Monday, you read what our regulars had to say. Now, you get to hear from the enemy: Enjoy the contrasting opinions that these big timers provide, and feel free to rip each other apart in the comments. Nothing like a good division rivalry, eh?
EDIT:  Since this seems to be a topic people are passionate about, as links come in, I’ll try to make them available here.  The pages will open in a new window so that you can continue on with our discussion.

Project the 2007 NL Central teams’ order of finish from first to sixth. Which team(s) will be most surprising (for good or for bad)?

Milwaukee’s representative, Jeff Sackmann from Brew Crew Ball:

1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. Chicago Cubs
4. Houston Astros
5. Cincinnati Reds
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
Even though I’m a Brewers fan, I feel like I’m in the NL East of the late ’90s. There’s a prohibitive favorite, and it’s nonsensical to bet against them. Whether the Cards will take the division with 85 or 95 wins depends on who stays healthy and how well Walt Jocketty plugs up the rotation, but I just don’t see any other team catching them this year.
This is the year the Crew takes the long-awaited step forward. It’ll still only be to 84-85 wins, but it’ll be a big psychological boost for both the fanbase and the front office. With Yovani Gallardo and Ryan Braun ready to help full-time by next year’s opening day, Milwaukee ought to be the favorites for the division in 2008. This prediction, of course, depends on at least half the team staying healthy, which in itself would be a step forward from 2006.
Any one of these first three teams could win the division. The Cubs probably have the greatest variance of any of them: if everything breaks right (including Mark Prior returning to form), this is a 93+ win team. There are still, however, a lot of old and/or injury-prone players here. The offense is fearsome and the starting rotation is expensive, but there are so many things that could go wrong that it’d be foolish to assume that none of them will.
The Astros won’t break .500 this year, despite having paid nine figures for Carlos Lee. Even if they somehow woo Roger Clemens back, it won’t be enough to crack the top three in the division–and it’s unlikely they’ll manage that. If there’s a team in the NL prone to disappoint, it’s these guys: there are plenty of quality players on this team, but after Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, not much of a core to build around.
Wayne Krivsky has built a nice bullpen, but by trading away so much offense, leaving Ken Griffey Jr. in center field, and hoping that Homer Bailey will somehow take over the third, fourth and fifth spots in the rotation, he’s left the Reds with a few too many holes. Even if Arroyo and Harang repeat their strong ’06 campaigns, the Reds aren’t in a position win 80 games.
There’s enough young talent here that the Bucs could mount a charge for 5th, but that’s hardly reason for much excitement. It’s tough not to root for a team with such a great core of young starters, but it’s also hard to get behind whatever Dave Littlefield is doing. The upside here is 75-78 wins, which in other contexts would strain the definition of “upside.”
Houston’s representative, Joshua from The Crawfish Boxes:
1. Milwaukee Brewers
2. Chicago Cubs
3. Houston Astros
4. St. Louis Cardinals
5. Cincinnati Reds
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
I think that the NL Central will be very tightly contested from top to bottom in 2007. No team clearly improved itself in all areas, and its champion from 2006 pretty clearly got worse. I could definitely see a division champion with 88 or 89 wins, and a fifth place team with 79 or 80.
The Brewers were the fashionable dark horse in 2006, then underperformed, and now are being left for dead. But people forget J.J. Hardy was gone after May and Rickie Weeks was out after July. And people forget Ben Sheets made only 17 starts. Did you know Sheets’ strikeout to walk ratio last year was 10.25? Hardy will give my Adam Everett and your Jack Wilson a run for the money glove-wise while posting much higher slugging numbers. Johnny Estrada should help, too. Chad Moeller and Damian Miller were brutal last year, and I’ve gotta watch Brad Ausmus, so I don’t say that lightly. But Claudio Vargas does not compare to Doug Davis, and I can’t help but think that if the Brewers had somehow been able to keep Davis, they’d be my prohibitive favorites.
Before you make any Ted Lilly jokes, consider that Lee Sinins’ Runs Saved Above Average tells us that Lilly had a better year in 2006 than Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia, Brad Penny, Kevin Millwood and Jake Westbrook. Z can definitely hang with the Oswalts and the Carpenters of the division, and Lilly is certainly a serviceable number three, perhaps even a number two, but who else is going to pitch? It gets scary to think what Jason Marquis might allow on a day when the wind is blowing towards Waveland Avenue. Considering that the division may be short on pitching depth, but has no lack of quantifiable aces, it seems very possible that the Cubs will have the worst rotation in the division. Yes, they will outscore the rest of the division, but I’m not sure how much that will mean. Biggest question: can Piniella get Aramis Ramirez to show some hustle, some of the time?
I have a feeling that runs scored will be way up on Crawford Street. Carlos Lee should hit 30 homers, Lance Berkman should hit 40, Morgan Ensberg should have an up year, and I even think that Adam Everett will have a solid campaign, with a batting average in the .260s and runs scored in the 60s. But the pitching after Oswalt and Jennings looks really suspect. I have no great faith in quadrogenarian Woody Williams, and while I can imagine scenarios where Wandy Rodriguez and Chris Samspon are solid in the four and five slots, I imagine those things as a fan, not as anyone with a solid grounding in reality. That said, if Clemens lands with Houston, the Astros can take the pennant. Sadly, I think he ends up in The Apple.
Worst off-season in the division, two years in a row. The Cardinals appear to be proposing a strategy of filling the holes in your rotation by depleting your bullpen. I normally don’t place too much stock on any bullpen going into the season, but if Looper and Wainwright are inserted into the rotation, then Cards fans may end up wishing it was Walt Jocketty who had signed Mike Stanton, or traded for Gary Majewski.
Harang and Arroyo could be the best one-two punch in the division, and the bullpen should be (better be!) good, and they say good things about Homer Bailey, but amazingly, I wonder about this team’s offense, which appears to be Adam Dunn (who OPSed .850 last year, by the way), Edwin Encarnacion and not much else.
I’d feel better about the acquisition of Adam LaRoche if I didn’t feel that the Bucs had an equivalent talent in Craig Wilson, and just wasted him. Zach Duke’s ZiPS numbers look very nice, and in fact the entire rotation less Shawn Chacon should cause the rest of the division trouble from time to time. Jason Bay is Jason Bay. I think it would be great if Freddy Sanchez could lead the league in hitting again.

Cincinnati’s representative, Amanda from Red Hot Mama:

1. Cincinnati Reds
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. Houston Astros
4. Chicago Cubs
5. St. Louis Cardinals
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Reds hung with the World Champion Cardinals into September last year, but while the Cards still seem to be logy from the after party, the Reds have been toning up. The lineup doesn’t bring the power that it once did, but the starting rotation is solid and the defense can back it up. The Reds will be the most surprising in 2007, if only because of the surprising rate at which general manager Wayne Krivsky can replace personnel.
Projected to be the sleeper of 2006, the Brewers disappointed last season. But this is a team that didn’t lose much and signed an actually decent ex-Cardinal pitcher in Jeff Suppan. Look for them to realize some of the expectations they fell so short of before.
The Astros hung with the Cards even longer than the Reds did, but the pitching powerhouse is a shadow of its former self. Pettitte is gone, and who knows whether Clemens will be back. Carlos Lee ought to help, but if the Cubs have taught us anything, it’s that one guy named Lee does not an offense make.
No team in the division has done as much over the off-season to try to improve as Chicago. Thing is, they had so far to go to get themselves to respectability that even the additions of Alfonso Soriano and Lou Piniella can only raise this team to the rank of “adequate.” If the Cubs can do as much after the 2007 season as they’ve done before it, you can look for them to contend in 2008.
These guys know there’s a World Series every year, right? Because the Cards’ inactivity makes it look like they checked “Win Championship” off their Honey-Do list and have now moved on to cleaning the grout and organizing their collection of Potato Chips That Look Like Phyllis Diller. This team has lost too much talent to coast through 2007, but they’re close enough that a big move before the start of the season could bump them back up to the top half.
The Pirates are a dysfunctional organization in every way. I’m a Reds fan, so I’m hardly dreaming of a Pittsburgh World Series, but the Pirates fans I’ve met are good people. They deserve better than they’ve got.

Chicago’s representative, Rob G. from The Cub Reporter:

1. Chicago Cubs
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Milwaukee Brewers
4. Houston Astros
5. Cincinnati Reds
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
I feel that if one assigned each team a number from one to six and then rolled a standard issue die, one could predict the NL Central with about the same percentage of accuracy, but I’ll give it a shot.
What do these rankings suggest? Well number one that I’m a homer and that as spring training grows closer, so does my level of optimism. Number two is that there is no dominant team in the NL Central, so I’ll take the team that I feel has the most depth to get through the grueling 162. While the Cubs’ throwing big money at Soriano, Ramirez, Lilly and Marquis drew the big headlines, the smaller signings like Ward and Floyd, along with the players pushed to secondary roles because of the bigger signings, are what makes the 2007 Cubs far more dangerous than the previous years.
As for the rest of the league, the Cardinals look like the same team they were last year, and while that somehow netted them the World Championship, it wasn’t a bad-luck 83-win team, that’s exactly who they were (channeling Dennis Green). The Brewers’ offense looks to be lacking some punch in the middle of the order beyond Prince Fielder, and while the starting staff looks solid, it’s still in the position of counting on a full season of Ben Sheets, which isn’t something you want to be in the position to count on. The Astros always end up better than I give them credit for, and if Roger Clemens does re-sign with the team for the bulk of the season (let’s say no later than mid-May), I’d probably jump them up to number one or two. The Reds were a nice story last season, but I don’t think Bronson Arroyo is nearly as good as he pitched last year, and their offense seems to get weaker by the season. The Pirates have nothing left in the stable if anyone gets hurt or has a bad year, so they’ll have to rely on a nice run of luck in terms of career years and injury-free baseball for them to make any noise. And even if they get all that, I still think it’s a .500 team at best.
St. Louis’ representative, Erik from Future Redbirds:
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. Chicago Cubs
4. Houston Astros
5. Cincinnati Reds
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
I’m not trying to be a homer, but I don’t get the theory out there that the Cardinals are not moving forward after a disappointing 83-win regular season. While they lost proven inning eaters in Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver, and the off-season moves of re-signing Jim Edmonds, Mark Mulder, Scott Spiezio, Preston Wilson and the signings of Adam Kennedy, Kip Wells, Ryan Franklin and Russ Springer are not all that exciting of a splash, I think this ball club improves some by subtraction. This is a team that gave Aaron Miles nearly 500 at bats at second base and Jason Marquis 33 starts. Mark Mulder’s arm nearly fell off, Isringhausen imploded, Jim Edmonds was a concussed mummy and they lost Albert Pujols for over 2 weeks. They also didn’t receive the help of Chris Duncan until July; before that the starter was predominantly So Taguchi. No, they are not a 100-win team, but if they stay mostly healthy and their young arms in Reyes and Wainwright perform as expected, I see them an 88-90 win team.
I like what the Brewers did this winter in signing Suppan; their rotation is going to be very formidable if Sheets can stay on the field. They will have their struggles on offense, but I don’t see any major holes in their lineup that they shouldn’t overcome. The Cubs improve their offense with Soriano, and if Lee comes back healthy I can see them scoring a lot of runs. I think the signing of Lilly was good, but I don’t like him in that ball park. I laughed pretty hard when I heard they signed Jason Marquis, surely the one of the most dreadful signings of the winter. The Reds were extremely lucky last year, getting career years out of Ross, Hatteberg, Phillips and Arroyo. The Astros’ window has shut in my mind, without Clemens and Pettitte I can’t see them cracking .500. I like the Bucs’ young pitchers in Duke, Gorzelanny, Snell and Maholm. I have them at sixth, but I think they can do better then that, maybe even finish fourth.
I see this division getting a little tighter this year. I think the Pirates, Brewers, Cubs and Cardinals can all take steps up this summer, while I see the Reds regressing and the Astros driving across the country in a diaper to kill their rival lover, only to be thrown in jail…Wait, wrong Astro. The Astros will bomb. Signing Lee to an albatross contract and trading a better young pitcher in Hirsh for Jennings had to give their fans some Tums-worthy indigestion this winter.

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Breaking Down the NL Central Division – Part 1

  • Lou

    Talk about Kool-Aid Drinkers. Only the ‘stros guy seems to be somewhat objective!

  • http://tilnextyear.blogspot.com Matt

    I like the idea of making predictions with dice. Whenever I fill out a March Madness bracket, I simply flip a coin for each matchup starting with the Sweet Sixteen. I have done that twice; it worked really well the first time, and really poorly the second time. But it sure beats putting any thought into the predictions.
    Wait ‘Til Next Year

  • http://mvn.com/mlb-cubs/2007/02/15/quick-plug/ The Cub Reporter | MVN – Most Valuable Network » Blog Archive » Quick Plug

    […] Just letting you guys know that you can read my NL Central prediction over at MVN’s Pittsburgh Lumber Co. today as they asked me to participate in a roundtable with the some fellow bloggers. […]

  • Vaughn

    I think they’re all crazy if any of them think the Reds are going to finish ahead of us in the division. The division is completely up for grabs among the other 5 teams though. There’s no doubt that St. Louis has significantly regressed, and they were only a .500 team last year. Houston only has 2 good starters. Same with the Cubs. Milwaukee is the most complete team, in my opinion. Their pitching and offense are the most solid all around. I say we finish third behind Milwaukee and Chicago, with St. Louis falling way off behind us, followed by Houston and Cincinnati.

  • Chad

    Homerism at its finest.
    Milwaukee still sucks. Remember that.
    Cinci – no chance.
    The only reason the Cubs are in the mix is that they just spent a billion dollars and have done more to improve than any other team in the division. The Cards are done. They only won, what, 86 games? Its gonna take 90+ this year. Watch out for Houston!!!!

  • http://none The Real Neal

    Lets do positional rankings:
    Catcher (not including game calling)
    Cards4 Cubs2 Astros5 Brewers1 Pirates6 Reds3
    Ok this is hard, all the catchers are pretty even, with the exception of the Pirates, though he can get better.
    1st Base.
    Cards 1 Cubs 3 Astros 2 Brewers 5 Pirates 4 Reds 6
    Pretty clear top 3 there.
    Cards3 Cubs4 Astros6 Brewers2 Pirates5 Reds 1
    Pirates are probably getting frustrated, they have the most talented guy of this lot.
    Cards1 Cubs2 Astros5 Brewers6 Pirates3 Reds4
    With injuries and players developing, this ranking could totally invert by season’s end.
    Cards Cubs Astros Brewers Pirates Reds
    Pass on that, it is like arguing the merits of dog crap versus horse shit – what a putrid bunch.
    Cards4 Cubs1 Astros2 Brewers5 Pirates6 Reds3
    Not a lot of difference there.
    Cards4 Cubs1 Astros5 Brewers3 Pirates6 Reds2
    Three guys who aren’t center fielders, two past their prime and one who probably won’t see the majors again after 2007.
    Cards5 Cubs4 Astros2 Brewers6 Pirates1 Reds3
    Pirates’ 1st top of the division guy, head and shoulders above the rest.
    1st starter
    Cards2 Cubs3 Astros1 Brewers4 Pirates6 Reds5
    No other division can match these guys.
    Cards6 Cubs3 Astros5 Brewers2 Pirates4 Reds1
    Hard to rank Cards starters after #1.
    Cards6 Cubs3 Astros5 Brewers1 Pirates2 Reds4
    Hill was one of the top 5 pitchers in the league over the last 2 months of ’06.
    Cards5 Cubs3 Astros4 Brewers2 Pirates1 Reds6
    Bailey, could change all of this. Someone Tell Erik that his team is counting on Kip Well for 31 starts.
    Cards5 Cubs1 Astros4 Brewers2 Pirates3 Reds6
    Cubs have the most depth and the most upside.
    Cards6 Cubs1 Astros2 Brewers4 Pirates5 Reds3
    Cubs will send down someone who would likely be the third best reliever on the Brew Crew.
    Cards3 Cubs4 Astros2 Brewers1 Pirates5 Reds6
    Cards 55
    Cubs 35
    Astros 48
    Brewers 44
    Pirates 57
    Reds 53
    Which is pretty much how I would have ranked them (Cubs fan) without that exercise, so I just wasted 30 minutes of my life. I would probably put the Reds 6th and Pirates 5th, but there’s no team that can compete with the Cubs offense and pitching depth. In case you have forgotten, that’s the formula the Cards have used the past thee years.

  • Chad

    Cards 55
    Cubs 35
    Astros 48
    Brewers 44
    Pirates 57
    Reds 53
    I’m confused. I assume the lower the number the better, right? But then its not ordered that way. ?

  • http://none The Real Neal

    Ordered the same way I listed the teams which was randomly. Lower is better, yes.

  • http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates Cory Humes

    The Real Neal didn’t rank his results, he just kept the same order he’d used all along.
    Lower is better, you’re right, so he’d say:
    1. Cubs
    2. Brewers
    3. Astros
    4. Cards
    5. Pirates/Reds
    I don’t think Ronny Paulino is the worst catcher in the division, and I don’t think the Pirates’ bullpen got enough credit, but thorough analysis nonetheless. I might use this idea for a post later in the week.

  • http:///www.mvn.com/mlb-cubs Rob G.

    Prince Fielder at 5? Who wouldn’t take him over Laroche?

  • http://none The Real Neal

    I figured Paulino’s BA was a little bit fluky last year and I haven’t hear the greatest things about his defense. Just ho home defensively, where as the other 5 guys are really good hitters or fielders. The Gonzales trade hurts the Pirates in two spots (in my mind), there’s no chance whoever they make closer is going to be as effective as he was last year, and their setup is goint to be worse due to one of those guys moving into the closer roll, unless they signed someone I have forgotten about.
    A better way to do it would be to score everyone 1-10 or whatever, that way the narrow calls like catcher don’t weigh the same as blowouts, like Bay in LF.

  • http://none The Real Neal

    Prince Fielder at 5? Who wouldn’t take him over Laroche?
    Me, Baseball Prospectus, anyone who uses OPS+ (133 vs 111) and fielding range (9.46 vs 9.18) as their criteria. How many do you want?
    LarRoche got his ADD taken care of and really had a huge year last year. Maybe he will revert, maybe he’ll join Bay at the All-Star games, only time will tell.

  • http://none The Real Neal

    jeez, 9 point one eight.

  • http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates Cory Humes

    Brad Ausmus is still catching in Houston, right? And David Ross in Cincinnati? Ronny Paulino’s better than both. That’s not homerism, that’s reality. He won’t hit .310 again, but he’ll be near .280-.290 with some pop. Ross’ HR total–now that’s a fluke.
    Rob, I agree that Fielder’s probably at least on par with LaRoche, if not better. In a year or two, he’ll be one of the best power hitters in the game. Adam could have a nice 2007, though, with the short porch in RF and Bay batting behind him. The Central has a solid group of first basemen.
    Losing Gonzalez and moving Torres to closer will cost the Pirates about 65 innings in the pen, but Dave Littlefield has a RP fetish, just like Krivsky. The Pirates have a handful of prospects who could all step right in and perform. A hometown boy, Josh Sharpless, looks to fill that role. (And the signing of Dan Kolb to a MLC might’ve flown under your radar.)
    Like I said, I’ll be going through this in depth, maybe tomorrow. It’s an interesting idea.

  • http://none The Real Neal

    Paulino made 11 errors and had 9 passed balls, Ausmus 2 errors and one passed ball. But ok, rank Paulino 5th and Ausmus 6th. That wasn’t the first time Ross showed power at the ML level, and the Reds also have Valentin.

  • http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates Cory Humes

    Ross played a stint with the Bucs, so I feel safe in my scouting report. He’s a one-tool player. Same goes for Ausmus, too–although I’d take the defensive whiz over the power bat any day. What about that kid Munson in Houston? Is he due to get significant PT?

  • http://www.cubscafe.blogspot.com Sweet Lou

    Great article and really good analysis, although I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a bigger display of homerism than that displayed by Red Hot Mama. Even so, it was really funny, if not realistic.
    The Brewers have the best rotation in the division followed by the Cubs. The Bucs rotation is good, but needs some seasoning. Even so, they could surprise. LaRussa and Duncan may be geniuses, but how are they going to put a decent season together with that rotation? Counting on them to pull off another miracle is unwise. Who knows if the Rocket will be back in Houston? With him, the Astros pitching will be good on most days. Without him, the ‘stros are in trouble. Bad news for the Astros is that they live or die with their pitching. The Reds…why is Wayne Krivisky a GM? Did somebody lose a bet?
    Offensively, the Cubs should be top of the heap. God knows they paid enough for that distinction. St. Louis always seems to find a way to get the job done. Last year, I predicted that Jim Edmonds would fade away. Oops, maybe it will be this year. The Brewers will have a good offense, but not a lot of pop. Having Hardy and Weeks back in the lineup will help. The Astros will not be good offensively. They have too many defensive specialists and they’re counting on too much production from CLee. The Pirates are going to cause fits for some teams. They don’t have enough to contend for the division, but they are going to make it really tough on the teams that are contending. The Reds are not good.

  • Sidney Ponson

    This is about the dumbest year for predictions ever. Hello? THE CARDINALS HAVE NO PITCHING. That is all.

  • http://mvn.com/mlb-pirates/2007/02/16/breaking-down-the-nl-central-division-part-1/ Pittsburgh Lumber Co. | MVN – Most Valuable Network » Blog Archive » Breaking Down the N

    […] Yesterday’s edition of Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable sparked a passionate discussion. The comments section was filled with arguments from a variety of points of view. Lacking, though, was a concrete ranking system to assess the product on the field. First-hand scouting and background knowledge (even from our top-notch panel) only takes you so far. Baseball is driven by numbers: For that reason, I’m now breaking down the National League Central Division position by position using a combination of projection systems and prior years’ statistics. (Obligatory hat tip to commentor “The Real Neal” for inspiring this approach.) […]

  • http://curseofsidbream.blogspot.com/ Captain Planet

    1. Brewers
    2. Astros
    3. Cardinals
    4. Cubs
    5. Pirates
    6. Reds
    This year the division race is going to be extremely tight because none of the teams are that good.
    The Reds don’t have a chance. They don’t have as many power hitters as they’ve had in the past and they don’t have any great contact hitters, which make it hard to score runs. Beyond Harrang and Arroyo they have no starting pitching, and they didn’t do anything in the off-season to improve their atrocious bullpen.
    5 through 3 are interchangeable. I picked the Pirates 5th because they still are missing several key pieces. They still don’t have enough power hitters and they could use a contact hitter or two. The bullpen takes a hit because it’s missing a huge piece from last season (Gonzalez) and Torres will struggle a bit as a closer and they might have to go with a committee approach. I could see Capps closing by years end. The Pirates will still live and die by the growing pains of the “Big Four.” Next year this could be the team to beat in the central, but not this year.
    There’s no question that the Cubs have the most talent, but talent doesn’t always translate in wins. Just ask the Washington Redskins.
    The Cardinals have no pitching depth whatsoever. They even picked up Kip Wells to improve the pitching staff. KIP WELLS! If that doesn’t mean trouble I don’t know what does.
    The Astros could be playoff contenders this year. Carlos Lee was a huge pickup. He’s one of the best all around outfielders in baseball. He should easily be able to hit 40 homeruns at Minute Maid this year. Roy Oswalt is a CY Young candidate and I see Clemens coming back for one more go-round. Expect him back by mid-July.
    The Brewers are my surprise team this year. They have a lot of young players who could have breakthrough seasons this year. Ricky Weeks is solid offensively, as is Fielder. Neither is great defensively, but the runs they’ll produce will be enough to make it a non-factor. Bill Hall is one of the best shortstops in baseball. The team’s bullpen is good enough close out games on a routine basis and they have two potential 20 game winners in Capuano and Sheets.

  • http://mvn.com/mlb-brewers/2007/02/15/brewers-picked-to-finish-first/ Brewers Bar | MVN – Most Valuable Network » Blog Archive » Brewers picked to finish firs

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