Ranking the Best (and Worst) Roster Cores in the NL Central | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Earlier this week, Baseball Prospectus published my calculations and rankings of the “core” roster quality of all 30 teams. Having a strong “core” means not only having players who produce, but who also produce while they are under long-term control and preferably while at or below the typical peak production age for baseball players: 27. If, by contrast, a team is relying primarily upon players who are heading out the door, they may nonetheless have a good season, but shouldn’t expect the same success in future seasons — at least not from the current roster.

This year’s World Series participants, the Cardinals and Red Sox, vividly demonstrate the difference between a roster with a sustainable “core” and one that was in win-now mode. Whereas the Cardinals have a number of stars who are under extended team control and at or below peak performance age, the Red Sox relied upon a number of soon-to-be free agents who will not be around next year. By my method, the Cardinals were the number one team in core roster quality; the Red Sox were near the bottom in the league. It still worked out for the Red Sox, because they won the World Series. But, it was almost certainly a “one and done” affair. You can expect that the Cardinals will be extremely good for the next several years, and the Red Sox probably will not.

With the exception of the Cardinals and the Red Sox, I didn’t have space in that article to spend much time on individual teams. Since this is a Brewers blog, though, we can do just that, focusing on the teams of greatest interest to you: the Brewers, as well their primary competition, the other teams in the NL Central.

Here were the overall roster quality rankings for the teams comprising the NL Central:

Team Overall Core Roster Rating
Cardinals 1
Pirates 8
Reds 11
Brewers 15
Cubs 27

The math behind these numbers is available here at Baseball Prospectus. The article is free, and you should feel free to read it — and ask questions down in the comments — if you think is math is fun. For our purposes here, I’ll just make a few general observations.

First, overall, you will see that there are three pretty clear dividing lines among the teams in the NL Central: we have the Cardinals at the very top, with an absolutely superior roster; we have the Cubs at the bottom, featuring a roster comprised largely of dreck; and we have the three teams in the middle: the Pirates, Reds and Brewers, with the Pirates and Reds doing a slightly better job than the Brewers. Given the general assumption of many Brewers fans that their roster is terrible, this hopefully provides some encouragement, particularly since the Brewers would have rated even higher without Ryan Braun’s suspension and the bad injury luck of Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart.

Second, we need to consider the way each team has distributed its core talent.  You need both “core” positional players as well as pitchers. Here is how the various teams stack up in those two categories:


Matt Carpenter

Yadier Molina

Allen Craig

Matt Holliday

Trevor Rosenthal

Shelby Miller

Adam Wainwright

Lance Lynn


Andrew McCutchen

Pedro Alvarez

Starling Marte

Neil Walker

Gerrit Cole


Joey Votto

Jay Bruce

Todd Frazier

Zack Cozart

Brandon Phillips

Mat Latos


Jean Segura

Carlos Gomez

Jonathan Lucroy

Scooter Gennett

Ryan Braun


Anthony Rizzo

Welington Castillo

Junior Lake

I hope the difference between the Cardinals and the rest of the division is apparent.  No one has the balance of pitching and position-player depth that the Cardinals do. Furthermore, only the Cardinals have substantial pitching depth in their core. The Pirates and Reds have only one pitcher in their core, and the Brewers and Cubs have zero.

How do the NL Central teams compare to the average team in this area? Well, a team right down the middle in core roster quality typically has four core positional players, and one core pitcher. So, the Pirates are right on pace; the Reds are slightly above average; the Brewers are above-average in their positional core and below average in their pitching; and the Cubs are below-average in both areas.

Finally, having stars on your roster can only take you so far if you can’t fill out the rest of your starting lineup with decent talent. How do the NL Central teams rank in terms of the total core depth? The technical term for this is Core Win Differential, which unfortunately sounds very technical. What you need to know is that higher is better:

Team Core Win Differential
Cardinals 58
Pirates 38
Reds 30
Brewers 37
Cubs 15

A team right in the middle would have a Core Win Differential rating of 31. By that measure, you can see that the Cardinals are off the charts; the Pirates and Brewers are above average; the Reds are about average, and the Cubs basically have no core depth at all.

Again, on balance this is decent news for the Brewers, whose roster may not be as depleted as many people seem to assume. But I think the bigger news here concerns the Cubs. People commonly proclaim that the Cubs will soon promote a few superstar prospects and magically take over the division. But the Cubs’s roster problems go almost to the bone, and cannot be solved simply by promoting a few young guns.  From top to bottom, their roster performed extremely poorly this year, and they have no significant pitching depth at all.  So, for those of you who take heart in the Brewers at least being able to finish higher than the Cubs, my expectation is that you’ll be able to say that in at least 2014, and perhaps beyond.

Share Our Posts

Share this post through social bookmarks.

  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • Newsvine
  • RSS
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati