February 14, 2007

Predicting the Division

The blog Pittsburgh Lumber Co does a regular round-table of Pirates bloggers in which they had a half dozen of them or so to answer a question. They sometimes also ask bloggers from other teams to chime in to get an outside perspective.

Last week they asked me to weigh in on how I thought the teams in the NLC would finish out the season from first to last. My response and the those of the other non-Pirates' fans will appear tomorrow, but the Pirates bloggers' responses appeared on Monday. You can check them out here.

At the risk of ruining the surprise, four of the five responders placed the Reds last in the division. And these are Pirates bloggers--they ought to know from bad.

Even though the Cubs get credit for all of the moves they made this season (even signing Jason Marquis!), our own general manager Wayne Krivsky is taking a lot of flak for his moves. Matt from Wait 'Til Next Year says:

Cincinnati’s Wayne Krivsky has been battling Dave Littlefield for title of worst GM recently. He might have won that battle this year, simply by signing 57-year-old Mike Stanton to a contract worth more than $5 million. He also gave up Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez for some relievers last season. Outside of Harang and Arroyo, the pitching staff is pretty thin, and this team will rely mostly on the long ball this year. With Krivsky in the lead, I can’t see this team being competitive in 2007.

I know it was just an example, but who cares about signing Stanton? Like so many of Krivsky's deals, it seemed like too long a contract, but it did address a need of the club and the price wasn't so high that it would interfere with signing anyone else. If this kind of low impact move is what people are using to evaluate Krivsky, then I think they're missing the point.

Perhaps my favorite part, though, is “this team will rely mostly on the long ball this year.” This year's team is the least dependent on the homer since Barry Larkin retired. If you were going to take a jab at the Reds' offense, it would be that it *is* dependent on the long ball, but won't be nearly as capable of producing it this year.

We get a similar comment about Krivsky from Steve from The Parrot says:

Last season’s surprise team, the Reds, tanked in the second half and made no good moves in the off-season. Ken Griffey is already hurt, and their rotation goes nowhere after Harang and Arroyo. With Wayne Krivsky ready to wrangle the title of worst GM away from Dave Littlefield, the Reds will be in last for years to come.

The problem that I have with this reasoning is that it takes all of the other teams in the division out of consideration. For example, the Reds may have “tanked” in the second half last season, but everyone else did, too and so, in fact, they hung in there until the end. For another example, let's say you accepted that the rotation didn't go anywhere after Harang and Arroyo: what NLC team has a better rotation? All five of them? I think not.

The one guy who didn't rank the Reds last, Randy Linville from Pittsburgh Lumber Co., still took issue with Krivsky:

I think the Reds will be the surprise team in the division. The first two starters (Harang and Arroyo) are pretty good. If they could undo the trade that sent Austin Kearns to Washington, they would. Then they’d move Brandon Phillips to shortstop, have Ryan Freel at second base every day and have an outfield of Kearns/Griffey/Dunn. That’d be a tough lineup. But, they can’t undo it. The lineup is weaker with Freel in the outfield and Alex Gonzalez manning short. Of course, the year Phillips had last year might’ve been a fluke.

I hate to point out the fact that the opinion that ranks the Reds highest is also the most clearly nonsensical. If the Reds undid the Kearns-Lopez trade, they wouldn't move Phillips to short; Lopez would be there. I might also point out that if with Kearns in RF, there wouldn't be a corner position for Griffey to move into. And how, precisely, is the offensive line-up weaker with Freel in the outfield instead of the infield?

Even more shocking to me than the lack of respect the Reds are getting is the number of the guys who are “drinking the Cubs' Kool-Aid,” to quote Joe. Three of the five predictions have the Cubs topping the division; the other two have them coming in second. But even so, the write-ups on the team are hardly glowing. Consider this from Dave from Bucs Trade Winds:

After Zambrano, the Cubs’ rotation is a disaster. If Prior starts the year in AAA, this team is doomed and could be the biggest disappointment. They have more firepower on offense, but have fewer left-handed bats than the Pirates in the starting lineup. Will they drive in some runs? Lee’s being healthy should help there considerably. Soriano will be a beast in Wrigley. 80 to 83 wins.

Which touches on why ranking the NLC teams for next season is so difficult: they all suck.

The way I see it, at the end of last season the division fell into three groups:

  • The Cardinals, Astros, and Reds all finished so close to each other, that I consider them approximately equal.
  • The Brewers were OK.
  • The Cubs and Pirates were both disasters.

Since then:

  • the Cardinals have gotten worse through age and attrition. Look for them to move down
  • the Astros come out about the same if you think the losses to their pitching and additions to offense equal out. Look for them to stay about the same
  • the Reds have gotten better with the addition of Gonzalez (the crazy moves Krivsky has made won't actually hurt, since they're just replacing crazy moves he made last year). Look for them to move up.
  • The Brewers have improved themselves with the addition of a year's experience and Jeff Suppan. Look for them to move up.
  • The Cubs have gotten much, much better, but they were pretty gawd-awful to start with. Look for them to move up.
  • The Pirates are just as much of a mess as they always were. Look for them to stay the same.

Which is how I came to my ranking:

  1. Reds
  2. Brewers
  3. Astros
  4. Cubs
  5. Cardinals
  6. Pirates

I may have the Reds a little too high (boundless optimism is the providence of the fan, after all) and the Cubs a little too low (deep in my heart I don't believe they can ever win), but I'm closer than those guys.

The amount of discussion this has generated in my house alone tells me that this is a contentious question. I'd love to hear some further opinions.

10 comments to “Predicting the Division”

  1. Dave says:

    Just to defend myself a bit in the Round table Discussion, the intro to my rankings was dropped in order to get to the meat of the discussion. Here is what I submitted:

    [quote]Overall the whole division could be covered by a blanket by the end of the All-Star break. The question is who makes the right moves at the trade deadline. There is no clear front runner and more questions than answers on every team. Any team in the division could win as many as 90, but they could all easily lose that many as well. [/quote]

  2. Red Hot Mama says:

    Welcome, Dave! Always a pleasure to have a new point of view around here.

    If there’s one thing GM Krivsky isn’t afraid of, it’s making the big moves (though so far none of them have come at the deadline). I’m not sure whether he’s just been changing so many things in the first year because he’s in a hurry to remold the team in his image, or whether we’re always going to be struggling to remember the names of the guys on the 40-man, but either way I think you’re right that the moves throughout the season could mean everything to how the division plays out.

  3. Daedalus says:

    I like your rankings. I do think that more than the Cubs, the Brewers should be the team to beat this year, which does not bode well for the Reds, who never do well against the Sausages. But until last year, they hadn’t done well against the Asstros, and we wiped them up last year. If Bill Hall would have a Guzman-like year, the Reds could benefit.

    I would like to see the Pirates finish ahead of the Cardinals. The Pirates have a much better rotation. I mean, the Cardinals have Chris Carpenter and that’s it. If it weren’t for Pujols, no one would be saying this team is the favorite to win again.

    Regardless, I don’t think the top three teams – maybe four teams – will be separated by that much, just like last year. The Reds are going to surprise everyone again. What’s that saying? Fool me once, shame on you, uh, fool me, uh, uh…you can’t get fooled again…

  4. smartelf says:

    Everyone seems to think we get worse with AGON as our SS, which flies in the face of the evidence that he is one of the best if not THE BEST defensive shortstop in baseball. They also seem to say once you get past Arroyo and Harang… well you can’t just get past Arroyo and Harang, those are two aces at the top of the rotation that much up with anyone else in the league. Sure the #5 is a question mark, as it is for EVERY team in baseball. #4 Lohse looked solid if not brilliant, so it comes down to Milton at #3, who if healthy will be ok hopefully. The point is two top tier starters is all you can really hope for in today’s market, and we have it.

    The key to the offense which no one has mentioned is young Edwin Encarnacion who will be batting cleanup in all liklihood. If he decides to move to the next level we just might have a great offense. If he struggles we might be in trouble.

  5. Red Hot Mama says:

    Nicely put, smartelf. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to call Lohse “brilliant,” but other than that, my sentiments exactly.

    Daedalus, I was telling a Pirates blogger off-line that the Pirates may well finish ahead of the Cardinals, but I have trouble committing to that in a prediction. I mean, the Cards have ben SO quiet this offseason, you’d think they’ll have to realize that they have to do something before the season starts and surprise us with some big move. Not that I can even think of what big moves are left to make. Trading for Dontrelle?

  6. WTNY says:

    “Which touches on why ranking the NLC teams for next season is so difficult: they all suck.”

    Very true.

    [url=http://tilnextyear.blogspot.com/]Wait ‘Til Next Year[/url]

  7. Red Hot Mama says:

    Welcome Matt of WTNY. Pleasure to have you here.

    I know: can you believe the Cardinals actually WON last year? Maybe it’s not just the NLC that sucks…

  8. BubbaFan says:

    The Reds finished only three games back of the world champions last year. I don’t see how anyone can say they (or the division) suck.

    Methinks the Bucs fans just don’t want to put their own team in last place (and who can blame them?) The Cubs have spent like a drunken sailor. All the experts say the Brewers are the team to watch this year. So who does that leave for Pirates fans to look down on?

    Pre-season predictions are usually embarrassingly wrong, no matter who makes them, so I’m not going to make any. But I do think Krivsky is doing the right thing, given his budget constraints. Pitching and defense is the way to win championships. Just ask the Yankees. More sluggers than most teams can even dream of, but it hasn’t gotten them a championship.

  9. Zeldink says:

    The Pirates, to me, are like the Braves were up until last season. I’m picking them last until they can prove me wrong.

    Actually, I think they have a better shot at getting out of the cellar this year than last year, but that’s thanks more to the unimprovements that the other teams have done than anything Littlefield did.

  10. KC2HMZ says:

    I don’t buy the theory that the NL Central sucks. A team from the NLC has represented the NL in the World Series in each of the past three years, and seven of the last ten teams to play in the NLCS came out of the NLC.

    I also don’t buy the theory that the AL is superior to the NL. The NL has produced as many World Series winners in the past six years as the AL has, three for each league.

    Um, smartelf, I mentioned Encarnacion in my diary, “Good Enough To Dream” and said one of these years he’s going to put up a monster season, and this could be the year. As for him batting cleanup, I’d love to see it. If I were managing the Reds, I’d put Freel and Phillips 1-2, Griffey third, EE fourth, Dunn fifth, Ross sixth, Hatteberg seventh, Gonzalez eighth. That breaks up two lefthanded hitters in a row in the middle of the lineup like we’ve had with Griffey hitting ahead of Dunn by inserting the righty EE between them, it also gets Dunn out of the cleanup slot where I think he strikes out too often, and puts a guy with some pop behind Dunn in Ross, to make opposing teams pay for all those walks issued to Dunn.

    RHM: No, I haven’t forgotten it was you who started this with your predicted order of finish in the NLC. I think the Astros hurt themselves more by losing pitching than they’ve helped themselves by gaining offense. I think the Cardinals will slip a bit after winning it all in ’06, just enough to let the Reds squeak by this time. I think the Brewers will finish third. The other three teams will all finish below .500 – here’s my own guess FWIW:

    1. Reds
    2. Cardinals
    3. Brewers
    4. Cubs
    5. Astros
    6. Pirates