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Comparing the Top of the NL Central, Position by Position Redux

Last February, before spring training truly started, I had an article (found here) comparing the Reds and Cardinals to the Brewers.  As it stands now, Milwaukee 79 games through the season--just two games from the midpoint of the Brewers season.  I feel this is a good point to look back at that article and perform the same exercise after having half a season of player performances to peruse.  Last time I did this, I looked at the Brewers vs. the Reds, then the Brewers vs. the Cardinals.  This time, I'll just look at all three teams together at each position.  The bolded player will be the one that I think is the best of the three, the italicized is the second best and the regular font is third.  All stats will be current as of this morning. 

I guess a good way to look at this post is, which of these three players would you rather have the rest of the year, taking 2011's numbers into consideration.

I considered including the Pirates, but I still have a hard time considering them serious contenders--this probably being a poor time to say that considering their series against the Red Sox.  I think the Pirates have a good chance at finally reaching .500, but for now I refuse to think they can contend for the central.  Besides, looking over their roster I don't think they would make too many waves in this post.

Oh yeah, and--except in the case of injuries--I'm basing this off of the teams depth charts on their official sites.

So with that, let's get started

Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy vs Yadier Molina vs Ryan Hannigan

Yadier is back to hitting very well with a .294/.344/.429 line, good for thirty one more points of wOBA than his 2010 season.  I think that he can keep that up, and he is still one of, if not the, best at blocking pitches in the game today.  He may not be throwing out baserunners like he used to, but Hanigan and Lucroy aren't any better.  Molina seems to be the clear choice as the best of these catchers.  Maybe someday Lucroy could reach that point.  I would still take him over Hanigan by virtue of his bat.  Neither of those two are great defensively, but after missing the beginning of the year due to injury, Lucroy has managed to build on his 2010 rookie season and increase his OPS by .103, mostly in slugging.  His line this year is .271/.314/.417 (.323 wOBA) compared to Hanigans .257/.352/.319 (.306 wOBA) line.  Lucroy is the better bet going forward between the two.

Follow the jump for the rest!

1B: Prince Fielder vs Albert Pujols vs Joey Votto

I don't really want to rank these three.  They might very well be the best three first baseman in the entire MLB and, maybe for the last year, they are all in the NL Central.  Really, one can't go wrong with choosing any of them.  However, for the rest of this year I would have a hard time choosing against Prince Fielder.  For whatever reason, every odd numbered year, he seems to play like a hall of famer and 2011 is no different:  Fielder is hitting .306/.428/.616 with 21 home runs.  He's already been worth 3.9 fWAR.  Pujols injury made it easy to drop him to third as, if we're looking at this as who we would want the rest of the year, he is out for a while yet and might lose some power as he rebuilds muscle in his arm.  Even were it not for the injury I likely would put Pujols third.  Sir Albert's slash line is .279/.355/.500.  Votto's is .320/.441/.511.  Pujols has hit six more home runs than the Reds first baseman this year, but outside of his two straight walk off home runs against the Cubs has seemed completely mortal in 2011.

2B: Rickie Weeks vs Skip Schumaker vs Brandon Phillips

Weeks might very well be the best second baseman in the MLB right now.  At the very least, he is definitely up in the discussion with guys like Chase Utley and Robinson Cano.  I don't think that Brandon Phillips is up to that level, and Skip Schumaker doesn't even know the discussion exists.  If you need statistical evidence, here it is:  Weeks wOBA is .379, Phillips' is .327, Schumaker's is .280.  Phillips might potentially be the best defensive second baseman in the MLB, but that doesn't nearly make him as valuable as Weeks.

SS: Yuniesky Betancourt vs Ryan Theriot vs Paul Janish

Ewwwww.  Theriot is a slightly below average hitter so I guess he "wins".  Janish has somehow managed to hit even worse than Yuni this year, but his defense is above average, so it makes him slightly more valuable than Betancourt.

3B: Casey McGehee vs David Freese vs Scott Rolen

The second straight position where the choices are less than great.  Scott Rolen is finally showing his age and hitting .266/.304/.432.  Casey McGehee hasn't had his hits fall and is hitting .230/.283/.321.  David Freese has been hurt much of the year, but is close to returning.  In 25 games, he has hit .356/.394/.471.  With a .341 in 70 games in 2010, I think Freese is easily the best offensive third baseman among these three, or at least the safest bet.  He and Rolen are both probably around average defensively.  Rolen should keep hitting around the same as he has, which doesn't make him a stellar option.  He has been hitting much better than McGehee though.  However, if I had to pick between Rolen and McGehee for the rest of the season, I would still take Casey.  I just don't think his first two seasons in Milwaukee were an aberration, and he has been pretty unlucky this year.  He should bounce back and put up numbers closer to his 2010 in the second half of this season.

LF: Ryan Braun vs Matt Holliday vs Jonny Gomes

This was probably the hardest choice I had to make when I first wrote this post, and it's just as hard now.  Clearly, Gomes is third.  I don't think I need to justify that.  But between Braun and Holliday?  This is one of those times I need a Player A has hit like this, Player B has hit like this, which would you choose?  They're both clearly elite hitters and both are now being paid that way.  This year, Braun is hitting .309/.391/.547 and Holliday is hitting .335/.436/.562.  Braun has 15 HR, Holliday has 9 HR in twenty fewer games.  So who do I choose going forward?  Honestly, I think both are going to hit nearly the same over the next half a season.  The thing is, Braun has slightly more power but Holliday has proven to consistently have a higher OBP.  That, couple with Holliday being the better defender leads me to heartbreakingly put Holliday over Braun.

CF: Nyjer Morgan vs Colby Rasmus vs Drew Stubbs

This is another tough choice.  Rasmus has been struggling a bit this season, but is definitely the best player of the three.  And he's still hitting .258/.345/.421, which isn't bad at all.  Drew Stubbs has accumulated the most fWAR of the three, but is the worst hitter and has more fWAR than Rasmus because UZR has his defense rated higher, despite Rasmus being acclaimed as a very good defensive outfielder.  Morgan is hitting the best of the three, with a .330/.358/.500 line in about half of the at bats of the other two as he platoons with Carlos Gomez.  It's probably not actually that difficult to choose Rasmus going forward, but the choice between Morgan and Stubbs is more tricky.  Considering Morgan would probably still be hitting better than Stubbs even if he played against lefties and is likely the better defensive player, I like Morgan going forward though both players have been surprisingly good.

RF: Corey Hart vs Lance Berkman vs Jay Bruce

Corey Hart has been having a very nice year with a .362 wOBA, but he just can't compete with the power and defense of Bruce or the hot hitting of Berkman.  Hart is hitting .272/.357/.486 with eight homers.  Bruce has an even better line at .274/.346/.507 with 17 HR.  And Berkman has been hitting extraordinarily well with a .298/.405/.583 line and 18 HR.  Unfortunately, the caveman stands no chance against that competition.  Berkman has clearly been hitting better than Bruce, but he's been dropping a bit each month, and with his knees I expect him to hit about the same as Bruce going forward, overall.  That, coupled with Bruce's outstanding defense (and Berkman's lack of running ability) make Bruce the top choice.

1Starter: Zack Greinke vs Chris Carpenter vs Edinson Volquez

Outside of his ERA, Greinke has been nothing short of incredible this year.  Carpenter and Volquez have both had their struggles this year (Volquez even was sent to the minors) for a spell.  Greinke is easily the one to pick here.  Between the other two, though, it's slightly tougher though I think Carpenter's 3.3 FIP shows that he's been the better pitcher between him and Volquez.  Edinson has all the talent in the world, but hasn't been able to harness it since 2008.

2Starter: Yovani Gallardo vs Jake Westbrook vs Bronson Arroyo

Again, an easy choice for the top spot.  Gallardo is clearly the best of these three and it hasn't even been close.  The other two are a bit odd.  Both have awful ERA's but Westbrook's FIP is 4.25 compared to Arroyo's 5.32.  However, they are within .02 of each other in xFIP, Westbrook at 4.08 and Arroyo at 4.10.  Arroyo's peripheral stats look much better than Westbrook's until you see his astoundingly astronomical HR/9, 1.95.  You might recall Braden Looper's 2009 season with the Brewers when it seemed that he was giving up a homer every couple of innings.  That year, Looper's HR/9 was 1.80.  Arroyo has always had a high home run rate, but there's no way it doesn't normalize over the rest of the year.  Arroyo is the choice between him and Westbrook.

3Starter: Shaun Marcum vs Jaime Garcia vs Johnny Cueto

Both Garcia and Cueto (especially Cueto) perhaps should be in the first starter spot, but that's not how their depth charts are listed, so I'm going with this.  Strangely, all three of the "third starters" have arguably had the best results on their respective teams.  Lot's of stats to compare, so let's go to the chart!

Marcum Garcia Cueto
ERA 2.95 3.06 1.63
FIP 3.16 2.65 3.41
K/9 8.18 7.92 6.23
BB/9 2.38 2.34 2.67
HR/9 0.86 0.45 0.59


That really doesn't make things a whole lot more clear.  Really, though, at this point it's hard to go against Garcia after the last year and a half of dominance he has shown.  I think Marcum's peripherals show that he has been better than Cueto, despite Cueto's sparkling ERA.  That number should come down, and I think Marcum will be better the rest of the year.  Any of these players could be switched around, though, they are all very, very good.

4Starter: Randy Wolf vs Kyle Lohse vs Mike Leake

Another batch of pitchers that are tough to rank. Wolf has been very good this year, compiling a 3.20 ERA and a 4.08 FIP.  He also has the highest K/9 and BB/9 of the three, just slightly more than Leake.  Lohse has the lowest numbers in both peripherals, along with the lowest ERA at 2.91 and an FIP of 3.72.  Leake has an ERA of 4.19, the highest of the bunch, and an FIP of 3.84.  I think Lohse is a good choice to be number one, though it's tougher to choose between the other two.  Wolf is the more sure thing, I think, so I'll give him the very slight advantage.

5Starter: Chris Narveson vs Kyle McClellan vs Homer Bailey

Homer Bailey, when he hasn't been injured, has been great this year.  He's only had five starts, but has a 3.00 ERA and a 3.28 FIP, building off a strong 2010 showing.  He has always been talented, and he finally seems to be cashing in on that talent.  Narveson has been having a better year than his 4.55 ERA indicates, with a 3.43 FIP, while McClellan has the opposite problem:  His 4.58 FIP betrays his 3.73 ERA.  Narveson strikes out a lot more hitters than McClellan, and his success seems more sustainable.

Bullpen: Brewers vs Cardinals vs Reds

If you've been paying any attention to baseball, you'd know the Cardinals bullpen has been an absolute mess.  They've gone through several closers and current ninth inning man Eduardo Sanchez has been having troubles of late.  The Cards might well be in first yet if they had a better bullpen.  Outside of John Axford, the Brewers bullpen hasn't been really good or really bad.  The Reds bullpen has been pretty good with Francisco Cordero, Sam Lecure, Bill Bray, and Logan Ondrusek all having plenty of success.  The Reds' bullpen is easily the best while the Cards' is easily the worst.  The Brewers are somewhere in the middle.

Bench: Brewers vs Cardinals vs Reds

I don't think I really need to say much about the Brewers bench.  Kotsay and Wilson and Counsell and Gomez oh my.  The Reds have Chris Heisey hitting for a .268/.329/.478 line in the outfield, Edgar Renteria for a .268 wOBA in the infield, Miguel Cairo for a .318 wOBA and Fred Lewis for a .307 wOBA.  I would say that bench is better than the Brewers by virtue of Heisey hitting so well.  Having Ramon Hernandez hitting for a .380 wOBA as backup catcher helps, too.  For the Cardinals, Jon Jay has a .353 wOBA and was even taking playing time from Rasmus before being installed in RF when Berkman moved to first following Pujols' injury.  Allen Craig has a .415 wOBA in the outfield but is out for a few weeks.  Nick Punto is great defensively and should be back soon.  It's not a great bench, but it's better than the other two.  And the Brewers bench is pretty awful, so the Reds get the second best. 


Finally, here's a handy chart showing how many "firsts", "seconds" and "thirds" the teams got. 

Firsts Seconds Thirds
Brewers 4 8 3
Cardinals 8 2 5
Reds 3 5 7