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:

Cardinals

Matt Carpenter

Yadier Molina

Allen Craig

Matt Holliday

Trevor Rosenthal

Shelby Miller

Adam Wainwright

Lance Lynn

Pirates

Andrew McCutchen

Pedro Alvarez

Starling Marte

Neil Walker

Gerrit Cole

Reds

Joey Votto

Jay Bruce

Todd Frazier

Zack Cozart

Brandon Phillips

Mat Latos

Brewers

Jean Segura

Carlos Gomez

Jonathan Lucroy

Scooter Gennett

Ryan Braun

Cubs

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.

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Nicholas Zettel says: December 4, 2013

    Jonathan, I think this is an interesting approach melding contractual status and performance for a club. While looking at the Brewers, I am curious about why Yovani Gallardo and Wily Peralta do not appear as core pitchers. Is it their performance level that means they didn’t make a core contribution?

    • Vin B says: December 4, 2013

      From Jonathan’s BP article, Wacha accured a WARP < 1 because of his low innings pitched in 2013. Merely going by numbers, Wacha cannot be considerd part of the Cardinals core strength yet. Although I have no doubt he will be soon.

    • Vin B says: December 4, 2013

      Wily Peralta had a bad year (4.4 ERA, 1 fWAR) and Yovani Gallardo is a free agent after 2014/2015 depending on if Brewers pick up the club option. Plus he only accrued a 1.7 fWAR as well.

    • Jonathan Judge says: December 4, 2013

      You are both correct.

      Gallardo is hurt by the fact that he is only under control for 2 more years and generating only 1.5 WARP last year. Because he is already 27, he doesn’t get any bonuses for extended contract or youth under the formula.

      Wily gets great bonuses for youth and control, but he was below replacement level per WARP last year, and that’s that.

  2. Chris K says: December 4, 2013

    St Louis is off the charts. And yet, there’s Michael Wacha not included in thier core. Add Kolten Wong for their core. And what of Matt Adams? Plus Oscar Tavaras in the near future?

    It’s just incredible what St Louis has to work with.

    • Jonathan Judge says: December 4, 2013

      Pretty incredible, isn’t it? They have the potential to be very good for the next few years. Of course, some of these prospects have risen somewhat out of the blue; they could disappear too. That’s baseball. But, they are certainly looking great.

  3. Benn says: December 4, 2013

    FYI – your link back to the original BP article seems to be broken. Easy enough to get there, but thought you’d like to know.

    • Jonathan Judge says: December 4, 2013

      We’ll get it fixed. Thanks for the heads up.

      Jonathan

  4. Jordan M. says: December 4, 2013

    I would think Wily Peralta has a better shot at being a core player than Scooter Gennett. People need to get real about their expectations of Gennett quick. It’s not probable to think he’s going to be our long-term solution at 2B.

    • Jonathan Judge says: December 4, 2013

      They very well could both work their way in. We’ll see. I think Gennett will impress this year.

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