NL Standings Projection

As most of you who read the Mug everyday and have seen my posts, I like to use Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA as a basis for projecting/predicting how the baseball season will go.  I am finally finished with looking at the National League and am ready to make my case for how the year will play out.  This is the 3rd year in which I have used PECOTA as the basis for my prediction, and the 5th year in which I use some sort of advanced statistical measure to make a prediction.

As with every year so far, there is one or two predictions that to me seem surprising, but as the year plays out seems to have been an accurate assumption.  For instance, in 2009 I predicted that a previously awful San Francisco Giants team would win up being the Wild Card in the league.  The Giants missed the playoffs that year but did win 88 games.  And last year, I predicted the previously awful Padres to be the Wild Card winner.  Had it not been for a 10 game, mid season losing streak, I would have been correct.  They missed the playoffs by one game, to the Atlanta Braves, who I had predicted would be the last team eliminated from the playoffs.  I went with the Reds for the division winners last year as well in the Central.

For the Brewers, since I have been using advanced statistics to predict outcomes, I have on average been about 4 wins optimistic for them.  I predicted an 85 win, Wild Card finish for them in 2007, a division championship and 90 win season in 2008, and 82-80 mark for 2009 and 83-80 for last year.

I tend to weight pitching a tad bit more when I am making my predictions, and the basis for the predictions is WARP.  WARP is different from WAR from fangraphs, but for my purposes, the differences seem to even themself out.  I have not been hugely successful with pinpoint prediction of win totals, but I have been about 90% right with the final place in the standings with these predictions.  I do not do as much work on the American League as the National.

Without futher adieu, here is what I am predicting for the 2011 basebal season in the National League:

Division Winners

  1. Philadelphia Phillies (96)
  2. San Francisco Giants (93)
  3. Cincinnati Reds (92)

The Phillies are the odds on favorite this year to win the division if not the World Series.  I believe that even without the addition of Cliff Lee, they are still the best team in the NL.  Their pitching staff is about 4 wins better than any other in the league and their offense will be again top of the league.  As good as the Giants pitching was last year, propelling them to the World Series title, I believe it will be even better this year with improvements from Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Barry Zito; and their offense should be just good enough again this year to at the very least get them the National League West.  For the Reds to repeat, even with regression from Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Scott Rolen, their pitching will be the thing that will make them repeat NL Central Champions.  They are solid from top to bottom in their rotation, and even though they dont have a stand out, ace type of starter, they should have 5 guys who will provide #3 starter type of numbers to go along with a very good bullpen anchored by Aroldis Chapman.

Wild Card Contenders

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers (92)
  2. Atlanta Braves (90)

The thing going for both the Dodgers and Braves this year should be pitching.  The Dodgers, sort of like the Reds, should have a top to bottom very good starting rotation.  The difference here is that the Dodgers wont have a particularly strong offense, but their pitching is projected (according to PECOTA) to have 4 starting pitchers with #2 pitcher quality numbers (4+ WAR) in Ted Lilly, Clayton Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda and Chad Billinsley.  And the Braves will add in some nice offensive pieces in Jason Heyward, Dan Uggla, Brian McCann and a resurgent Chipper Jones.

Not Quite Enough for the Playoffs

  1. Florida Marlins (88)
  2. Milwaukee Brewers (88)
  3. Chicago Cubs (88)

All three of these teams have one thing in common: Good Starting Pitching.  Of the group, the Marlins probably have the best rotation top to bottom, and the Cubs have the best bullpen of the bunch; and the Brewers will have the best offense of the bunch. 

Of all of the teams in the National League, the Brewers are the one team that can blow away their projection and perhaps even become a division winner.  There is regression in the numbers for Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart and Casey McGehee, and if Hart AND McGehee can prove PECOTA wrong, as well as Weeks putting up an all star caliber year;  that could be the thing that makes them NL Central winners.  The team is dramatically improved from last year with the additions of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, but as most of you have read from me in the posts, I just dont think that the Brewers will have enough in the end to be a playoff team.  I will say that they are the team that if those three players mentioned above can do what they did last year (Hart and McGehee particularly) I will be the first to admit that I was wrong.  But I'm sticking to my guns here with the Brewers and putting them at 88 wins and a 2nd or 3rd place finish in the Central.

Simply Average

  1. Colorado Rockies (86)
  2. St. Louis Cardinals (86)

After the big stars on their team (Ubaldo Jimenez, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Chris Ianetta) the Rockies are a bit thin.  And although they should be an above .500 team they will most likely fall short of either a Wild Card or the pitching tough NL West.  And for the Cards, despite having the best offense in the league, the loss of Adam Wainwright pushes them right out of playoff contention this year.  I think that even with Wainwright they would have been on the outside looking in come October.  Their starting rotation is very top heavy and their bullpen is questionable.

Below Average

  1. Houston Astros (79)
  2. San Diego Padres (75)
  3. New York Mets (75)
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks (75)
  5. Washington Nationals (75)
  6. Pittsburgh Pirates (69)

All of the teams listed above have tremendous holes in either their lineup or pitching staffs and are long shots to make a difference, much less any noise this offseason.  The Astros have a nice top portion of their pitching rotation and a perennial solid player in Hunter Pence, and for them this projection is probably a bit optimistic, given how anemic their offense should be this year.  The loss of Adrian Gonzalez relegates the Padres back down under the .500 mark, but they have some solid pitching and a few young prospects with top of the pitching rotation potential in Casey Kelly and Simon Castro.  The Mets are the only team in this group that could push themselves above .500, and that all depends on how much time Johan Santana spends on the field this year;  they should get nice offensive seasons from David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and Jason Bay, enough production from them to keep them honest.  The Diamondbacks have the same problem as the Cardinals this year in that after the productive players such as Stephen Drew, Justin Upton and Daniel Hudson, there is a huge dropoff, and unlike the Cardinals, their "sta" players arent enough to keep them in contention through the summer.  The Nationals have two very nice pieces in Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman, but this prediction has a lot of hope in it that Steven Strasburg can put in at least half of a season.  If Strasburg cant pitch in July through the end of summer, look for them to have another top 3 draft pick for 2013.  And the Pirates will be nowhere near contention this year as they have been for the past 19 years, but they should be improved and with a bevvy of top talent prospects in their system they are probably only 3 or 4 years away from playoff caliber teams.

So there you have it.  Without having looked at the AL very closely yet, I would say right now that a Phillies over the Red Sox is what I would guess the World Series will look like, but wont say much on that since I dont do a ton of work on the American League.

I think there are some surprises in here, especially from the Dodgers and Cubs, and I think I have been fair with how I have predicted the Brewers for this year.  Fire away with questions or comments.

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