If you’re wondering why I’ve felt so optimistic about the Brewers in 2015, or why I believe the NL Central will be an absolute nail-biter, there is no better place to look than the 2015 rotations for each Central club. Certainly, it is a common refrain that the Brewers have a lot of question marks in their rotation, as they hand off one of the most dependable NL rotation spots over the last six years (from the superdependable Yovani Gallardo) to new, inexperienced faces. Yet, by comparison, it appears that the entire NL Central is defined by question marks in their respective rotations, as well as their rotational subtractions:
- Will the Cardinals’ aching arms from 2014 remain healthy, and will they receive the performances that match the potential of their rookies? Major Subtraction: Shelby Miller
- Will the Reds’ new “rebuilding rotation” be able to withstand potential health issues with Homer Bailey? Subtractions: Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon
- Will the Cubs’ phenomenal young arms repeat their performances with more exposure in 2015?
- Have the Pirates gone to the well of Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett one too many times? Subtraction: Edinson Volquez
Undoubtedly, fans and analysts for each of these clubs will have their own arguments and assumptions that drive their rotation to the top of the division. Even so, there is a simple way to measure the question marks for each rotation: following the methods of runs prevented rotational and pitching rankings, one can judge the number of dependable NL pitchers (3+ consecutive 100+ IP seasons in NL), as well as the number of inexperienced, interleague, or previously/currently injured pitchers on each roster.
If you’re wondering about the Brewers’ chances to compete with Kyle Lohse as the sole dependable pitcher, relax: there are only seven dependable starters in the entire division, and five of those pitchers did not prevent more than five runs in 2014. In fact, three of the seven dependable rotational hurlers for NL Central clubs were downright awful in 2014, which raises a different set of question marks for their 2015 potential.
|Dependable SP (By Performance)||2014 Runs Prevented|
|A. Wainwright (Cardinals)||37|
|L. Lynn (Cardinals)||19|
|K. Lohse (Brewers)||4|
|M. Leake (Reds)||1|
|A.J. Burnett (Pirates)||-26|
|T. Wood (Cubs)||-30|
|E. Jackson (Cubs)||-40|
Given that each club will need to fill five spots (25 total for the division), it is quite clear that the 2015 NL Central will be decided by inexperienced, injured, or newcomers to the division (like Jon Lester or John Lackey). The Brewers have an advantage in this department, thanks to Fastballer Mike Fiers‘s exceptional replacement performance in 2014, as well as Jimmy Nelson‘s stuff (and potential), and Wily Peralta‘s improvement.
|Inexperienced SP (By Team)||2014 Runs Prevented|
|M. Fiers (Brewers)||14|
|W. Peralta (Brewers)||3|
|J. Nelson (Brewers)||-10|
|M. Wacha (Cardinals)||7|
|C. Martinez (Cardinals)||-19|
|M. Gonzales (Cardinals)||n/a|
|G. Cole (Pirates)||2|
|J. Locke (Pirates)||-6|
|C. Morton (Pirates)||-8|
|K. Hendricks (Cubs)||13|
|T. Wada (Cubs)||4|
|J. Turner (Cubs)||-11|
|A. DeSclafani (Reds)||-8|
|R. Iglesias (Reds)||n/a|
Only Gerrit Cole, Michael Wacha, Kyle Hendricks, and Tsuyoshi Wada compare to Fiers and Peralta in terms of 2014 runs prevention. There are certainly a few other pitchers on this list that can be expected to improve due to their potential, but even here the Brewers are included: for, Jimmy Nelson certainly tops the list of high-potential pitchers that could improve from their 2014 performances. Among 14 inexperienced pitchers that will populate 25 rotation spots at some point during 2014, the Brewers have a highly ranked trio in terms of actual 2014 performance (Peralta, Fiers) and potential (Nelson).
If you’re sick of hearing about how Jon Lester will impact the Cubs, and therefore the 2015 NL Central, bear with me because you’re going to have to hear it again.
Given that 12 pitchers occupy injured, previously injured, replacement, or interleague (jumping between AL & NL from 2012-2014) spots, the division will also be impacted by a set of unfamiliar faces. Aside from Johnny Cueto, Lester is undoubtedly the best pitcher on this list, unless one really makes a best-best-case scenario argument for Lackey, Liriano, Bailey, or Matt Garza and assumes Lester will be unable to cut it in Lakeview. I have my doubts about that, as even a less-than-ideal performance from Lester gives him a chance to finish behind Cueto alone.
|Interleague / Injured / Replacement Veterans (AL-NL SP; Ranked By Team)||2014 Runs Prevented|
|M. Garza (Brewers)||-2|
|J. Garcia (Cardinals)||-1|
|J. Lackey (Cardinals)||-7|
|V. Worley (Pirates)||5|
|F. Liriano (Pirates)||2|
|J. Lester (Cubs)||AL|
|J. Arrieta (Cubs)||27|
|J. Hammel (Cubs)||14 (NL Only)|
|J. Cueto (Reds)||37|
|H. Bailey (Reds)||4|
|P. Maholm (Reds)||-14|
|J. Marquis (Reds)||n/a|
Given these lists, one can present several concrete arguments about each rotation that predict a closely contested division:
- The Cardinals have the best recent dependable starters, but potential injury concerns in veterans and their best youngsters, as well as their inexperienced back end of the rotation lead one to wonder whether they will remain a pitching-first ballclub. One looks at their rotation and wonders why they traded away potentially-dependable Shelby Miller, who is arguably more valuable to their 2015 roster (as constructed) than Jason Heyward.
- The Pirates must rely on great improvements from both high-potential inexperienced starters and their (relatively) high dollar veterans, too. A Pirates division championship means that one of their youngsters finally steps up and delivers, instead of one of their reclamation projects. One suspects that the Pirates’ front office will have a few concrete adjustments for Burnett, who is arguably the least likely “replacement pitcher” to repeat that poor performance in 2015.
- The Brewers have a set of middle-of-the-road veterans that must at least remain steady from their 2014 performances, in order to bolster a rotation that will rely on largely inexperienced pitchers. Wily Peralta has his chance to become a dependable SP with his third consecutive 100+ IP performance, and he could shoot to the top of the NL Central if he continues his improvements. Otherwise, Fiers and Nelson will define the rotation, as they serve as crucial inexperienced arms for an organization that has little in the department of SP depth.
- The Cubs did the most to improve their rotation, as they added middle-of-the-road and big-ticket items to their club. Still, a gang of relatively inexperiened pitchers could still define the rotation, which brings Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson: these once-solid veterans can do a lot to stabilize their club’s rotation if they find their previous magic once more.
- The Reds aggressively remade their rotation, in the hopes of beginning a rebuilding process earlier than necessary, but their club will largely be defined by potential returns from injury and contract years.