PECOTA Trends in the NL Central

It’s been a long winter in Wisconsin, and one that our other professional sports teams have only filled with heartbreak (Packers endure drubbing by Falcons in NFC Championship; Bucks’ former #2 overall pick Jabari Parker tears left ACL for the second time in 3 years). But we have finally made it to February, and even though the temperature in Milwaukee this morning is a balmy 22 degrees, spring will unofficially be arriving next week. Pitchers and catchers report on Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, and they bring with them not only their mitts and protective gear, but a renewed optimism for the possibilities of what the coming spring and summer may bring the Milwaukee Brewers. Everyone is in first place on Opening Day, after all.

PECOTA is projecting a third place tie this year in the NL Central for our local nine, pegging them to win 76 games along with the St. Louis Cardinals. That would be an improvement over last year’s total of 73 wins and hopefully portend to the fact that this is truly a team on the rise, one that could be legitimately competing for at least a Wild Card in the not-too-distant future. But for as bright as the future of the Brew Crew may look, getting to the playoffs will ultimately depend on how well their team stacks up against the rest of the organizations in the division. So, let’s take this opportunity to run around the NL Central and see how each team’s future stacks up by comparing top ten prospects and 2017 PECOTA projections.

Chicago Cubs
2016: 103-58
2017 PECOTA: 91-71

Position Player OFP Likely ETA
OF Eloy Jimenez 70 60 2019
2B/OF Ian Happ 55 50 2017
OF Albert Almora 55 50 2016
RHP Trevor Clifton 55 50 2018
3B Jeimer Candelario 55 50 2016
RHP Jose Albertos 60 45 2021
RHP Dylan Cease 60 45 2020
OF Eddy Martinez 55 45 2019
RHP Oscar de la Cruz 50 40 2019
RHP Thomas Hatch 50 40 2019
Average: 56.5 47.5

It’s hard to argue against the fact that the defending World Series Champion Cubs are the juggernaut of the division. They were the best team in baseball last year and have the second-highest projected win total in the National League for 2017 according to PECOTA. The Cubs have a core of young stars in place at the MLB level, lead by Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Addison Russell, that should anchor their lineup for through at least the end of the decade. Since they’ve graduated a myriad of first-division players in recent years and spent prospect capital to supplement last year’s championship team, the farm system is now more ‘good’ than it is ‘great’. With the current group in place in The Show, however, the Cubs farm system needn’t necessarily produce stars in the next few years to be helpful to the franchise, as long as they can utilize those pieces in trade scenarios and be able to produce decent depth in an injury scenario. Having the ability to put together $180+ million payrolls won’t hurt, either. The Cubs are going to be around for a long time, and serve as the most daunting impediment to the future dynasty that Slingin’ David Stearns is trying to build.

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Pittsburgh Pirates
2016: 78-83
2017 PECOTA: 81-81

Position Player OFP Likely ETA
OF Austin Meadows 70 60 2017
RHP Tyler Glasnow 70 60 2016
1B/OF Josh Bell 60 55 2016
RHP Mitch Keller 60 55 2018
SS Kevin Newman 55 50 2018
3B/1B Will Craig 50 45 2019
SS Cole Tucker 50 45 2019
3B Ke’Bryan Hayes 50 45 2020
LHP Steven Brault 50 45 2016
LHP Braeden Ogle 50 40 2021
Average: 56.5 50

The Pirates regressed big time last year after consecutive seasons of 94, 88, and 98 victories, riding a slightly above-average offense and slightly below-average pitching staff to a mere 78 wins and a third place finish in the division. Injuries didn’t help, and neither did the sudden implosion of former MVP Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates neglected to bring in any real help this winter and will instead hope for a bounceback from Cutch as he heads to right field and for positive contributions from top prospects on the cusp Josh Bell, Tyler Glasnow, and Austin Meadows. The farm system isn’t all that exciting beyond those three (with the exception of maybe Mitch Keller), but Glasnow and Meadows are considered truly elite prospects and the collective “likely” grades of their top 10 should at least give the system a solid floor. While an 81 win projection may put them within spitting distance of the Wild Card race, Pittsburgh has already seen how heartbreaking that road can be. The Pirates may have missed their best window to truly compete for a championship.

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St. Louis Cardinals
2016: 86-76
2017 PECOTA: 76-86

Position Player OFP Likely ETA
RHP Alex Reyes 70 60 2016
RHP Sandy Alcantra 60 50 2018
SS Delvin Perez 60 50 2020
C Carson Kelly 55 50 2016
CF Magneuris Sierra 60 45 2019
RHP Dakota Hudson 55 50 2018
RHP Luke Weaver 55 45 2016
OF Harrison Bader 55 45 2017
RHP Jordan Hicks 55 45 2020
RHP Jack Flaherty 50 45 2018
Average: 57.5 48.5

The Cardinals had another winning season last year, though they narrowly missed qualifying for the playoffs as a Wild Card by one game. That’s not to say the year was without some tumult, however. Kolten Wong (who signed a five-year extension prior to the season) and Randal Grichuk, once thought of as long-term anchors in the lineup, both struggled so mightily that they were banished to the minors for a time and now face questions about their long-term viability. The pitching staff was a mess, with large regressions in run prevention from Adam Wainwright, Mike Leake, Jaime Garcia, Michael Wacha, and Trevor Rosenthal. Guys like Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Jhonny Peralta, and Matt Carpenter aren’t getting any younger. Alex Reyes is perhaps the best pitching prospect in the game and looks like he’ll be a real contributor as soon as next season, but beyond that there doesn’t appear to be much impact depth coming in the near future to replace the aging All-Stars currently on the roster. Unless the Cardinals can conjure up some Devil Magic and have a few of their prospects outperform projections, St. Louis might be heading toward some lean years (relatively speaking, of course).

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Cincinnati Reds
2016: 68-94
2017 PECOTA: 74-88

Position Player OFP Likely ETA
3B Nick Senzel 60 55 2018
LHP Amir Garrett 60 55 2017
OF Jesse Winkler 55 50 2017
RHP Robert Stephenson 55 50 2016
C Tyler Stephenson 55 45 2020
OF Taylor Trammell 55 45 2021
OF Artistedes Aquino 55 45 2018
RHP Antonio Santillan 55 45 2019
2B Shedric Long 50 40 2018
RHP Ian Kahaloa 50 40 2020
Average: 55 47

The Reds, in my mind, are an example of how NOT to run a rebuild for your ballclub. The team’s trades of their two most valuable assets – Aroldis Chapman and Todd Frazier – were both widely panned. The Jay Bruce trade yielded an MLB ready, potentially league-average middle infielder in Dilson Herrera, who has nowhere to play because Zack Cosart, Brandon Phillips, and Eugenio Suarez are all still in the fold. There doesn’t appear to be any future stars down in the farm system, and even though the Reds have a decent collection of prospects it is still arguably the worst minor league system in the division (though January’s trade of Dan Straily to the Marlins did return a high-octane, 60 OFP/50 likely arm in Luis Castillo who helps things a smidge). Joey Votto is still here and still awesome (even though a large contingent of Reds’ fans refuse to admit it) but this team is projected for last place in the division and with a farm system that is the poorest among their NL Central foes. Can you rebuild a rebuild?

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Milwaukee Brewers
2016: 73-89
2017 PECOTA: 76-86

Position Player OFP Likely ETA
OF Lewis Brinson 70 55 2017
LHP Josh Hader 60 55 2017
OF Corey Ray 60 50 2018
SS/2B Isan Diaz 60 50 2018
RHP Luis Ortiz 60 50 2017
OF Brett Phillips 55 45 2017
OF Trent Clark 55 45 2020
3B Lucas Erceg 60 40 2020
SS Mauricio Dubon 50 45 2017
RHP Cody Ponce 50 45 2018
Average: 58 48

The Brewers improved from 68 wins in 2015 to 73 wins in 2016, all while continuing to ship out veteran players in exchange for impact prospects. PECOTA sees continued improvement to 76 wins next season, and with only modest contributions from the top prospects down in the minor leagues (156 PA for Lewis Brinson, 26.0 IP for Josh Hader). Milwaukee looks like they’ve found keepers where they may not have necessarily been looking in Jonathan Villar and Zach Davies, and Junior Guerra, Domingo Santana, and Keon Broxton could add themselves to that list this season if they can prove their smaller sample sizes last year were no fluke. Milwaukee has a truly elite prospect in Brinson and another one near that level in Hader, and their system boasts the most 60+ OFP prospects in the division. Eight of Milwaukee’s top 10 prospects are expected to arrive within the next two years, so if one of the current MLB players flames out, there should be a hungry minor leaguer right there to take their place. The Brewers rebuild has been almost universally praised, and it should be. While the system may not have the top end pieces like Pittsburgh, there is almost an extreme amount of depth and when you have THAT many legitimate prospects, the chances are a much better that a few of them will hit their 90th percentile outcomes. The Brewers may not be ready for a playoff run in 2017, but they’ve probably got the best chance of the divisional teams to unseat the Cubs from their throne come 2018-19.

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