How the Reds Can Win the NL Central

The Cincinnati Reds face an uphill battle in 2015. The St. Louis Cardinals are heavy favorites. The Pittsburgh Pirates brought back most of its playoff team and could see improvement with a young roster. The Cubs have made improvements, and even the Brewers bring back many players who put them in first place for most of 2014. The odds of the Reds winning the division are not very good. The FanGraphs Playoff Odds are up, and the Reds have just a 3.0% chance of winning the division. That means out of 10,000 simulations, the Reds won the division around 300 times. Focusing in on the 3% chance side, it is possible to create scenarios where the Reds can win the division.

FanGraphs Playoff Odds are based on ZiPS, Steamer, and the Depth Chart Projections. Those projections are not very kind to the Reds. The projections currently have the Reds at 75 wins, last in the National League Central. For a frame of reference, here are the top five teams per WAR according to those projections.

Team Bat Pit WAR
Nationals 27.3 19 46.2
Dodgers 28.1 16.5 44.6
Red Sox 29.5 14.2 43.7
Cardinals 27.2 14.4 41.6
Tigers 24.8 15.1 39.8

Here are the bottom five teams according to those projections.

Team Bat Pit WAR
Padres 17.2 11.9 29.1
Reds 19.1 9.4 28.4
Diamondbacks 17.8 8 25.8
Braves 13.7 10 23.6
Phillies 11.5 8.3 19.7

The Reds figure to be one of the worst teams in baseball according to the projections. However, every team won the division in some simulations, around once every 30 times or so for the Reds. To figure out how the Reds can possibly beat the projections and make the playoffs, a baseline should be set for the Reds current expected level of performance.

Here are the projected statistics from the FanGraphs Depth Charts for the Reds major position player contributors.

Name PA OBP SLG wOBA Bat BsR Fld WAR
Joey Votto 580 0.411 0.467 0.384 29.3 -1.9 3.5 4.3
Devin Mesoraco 448 0.322 0.453 0.338 6.9 -1.2 0.5 3.1
Todd Frazier 550 0.319 0.443 0.335 7.2 0.8 1.8 3.1
Billy Hamilton 525 0.303 0.356 0.294 -9.7 4.6 8.9 2.3
Brandon Phillips 525 0.306 0.385 0.305 -5.4 -0.4 6.3 2.0
Jay Bruce 535 0.318 0.452 0.334 6.4 -0.1 0.3 1.9
Marlon Byrd 565 0.304 0.442 0.325 3.0 -1.6 1.7 1.6
Zack Cozart 455 0.282 0.358 0.283 -12.4 0.7 5.6 1.0

Here are the projected statistics for the principal starting pitchers for the Reds.

Name IP K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP WAR
Johnny Cueto 205 8.3 2.3 3.09 3.51 3.0
Homer Bailey 185 8.0 2.4 3.60 3.75 2.1
Mike Leake 181 6.4 2.1 3.93 4.04 1.2
Tony Cingrani 157 9.6 4.0 3.79 4.19 1.3
Anthony DeSclafani 139 7.1 2.6 4.38 4.38 0.4

With 19.3 WAR for the position players and 8.0 WAR for the starters, those numbers come very close the totals used in the Depth Chart projections. To try and get optimistic yet realistic, looking at a player’s recent past production can be instructive.

Here are those same Reds position players in 2014.

Name PA OBP SLG wOBA Off BsR Def WAR
Todd Frazier 660 0.336 0.459 0.350 19.5 3.3 3.4 4.7
Devin Mesoraco 440 0.359 0.534 0.387 19.5 -3.7 7.3 4.4
Billy Hamilton 611 0.292 0.355 0.287 -7.9 6.4 22.0 3.5
Marlon Byrd 637 0.312 0.445 0.330 1.9 -4.8 -3.2 1.9
Brandon Phillips 499 0.306 0.372 0.300 -8.3 -1.5 9.9 1.8
Zack Cozart 543 0.268 0.300 0.254 -23.5 3.2 18.7 1.2
Joey Votto 272 0.390 0.409 0.359 5.4 -3.1 -3.7 1.1
Jay Bruce 545 0.281 0.373 0.288 -12.4 0.3 -13.6 -1.1

Those numbers total 17.6 WAR, even worse than the projections for this season. Here are those same players’ statistics from 2013, a season that ended just 17 months ago.

Name PA OBP SLG wOBA Off BsR Def WAR
Joey Votto 726 0.435 0.491 0.400 45.4 -0.6 -10.1 6.1
Marlon Byrd 579 0.336 0.511 0.364 24.5 0.5 -3.7 4.1
Jay Bruce 697 0.329 0.478 0.344 14.0 0.3 2.8 4.0
Todd Frazier 600 0.314 0.407 0.319 1.1 1.3 11.7 3.3
Brandon Phillips 666 0.310 0.396 0.307 -7.0 -0.5 10.9 2.6
Zack Cozart 618 0.284 0.381 0.289 -12.2 2.6 13.1 2.1
Billy Hamilton 22 0.429 0.474 0.398 4.1 2.7 0.8 0.6
Devin Mesoraco 352 0.287 0.362 0.282 -13.3 -3.0 6.6 0.4

Just two seasons ago, the same group put up 23.2 WAR, a four-win improvement over the current projections. While the group is two years older, bounce-back seasons do happen. Joey Votto has been a great player, and could well be again. Jay Bruce was very good before having a terrible year in 2014. Combining the best season from each player using just the past two years nets the following:

Name PA OBP SLG wOBA Off BsR Def WAR
Joey Votto 726 0.435 0.491 0.400 45.4 -0.6 -10.1 6.1
Todd Frazier 660 0.336 0.459 0.350 19.5 3.3 3.4 4.7
Devin Mesoraco 440 0.359 0.534 0.387 19.5 -3.7 7.3 4.4
Marlon Byrd 579 0.336 0.511 0.364 24.5 0.5 -3.7 4.1
Jay Bruce 697 0.329 0.478 0.344 14.0 0.3 2.8 4.0
Billy Hamilton 611 0.292 0.355 0.287 -7.9 6.4 22.0 3.5
Brandon Phillips 666 0.310 0.396 0.307 -7.0 -0.5 10.9 2.6
Zack Cozart 618 0.284 0.381 0.289 -12.2 2.6 13.1 2.1

That team gets 31.5 WAR from its top position players. While not likely, it is within the realm of possibilities. That team beats the position player projections for every single team heading into the season. Repeating the same exercise for the pitchers, including the most optimistic of the projections (ZiPS, Steamer, Depth Charts) given Desclafani and Cingrani’s small track records, produces the following results.

Name WAR
Johnny Cueto 4.1
Homer Bailey 3.7
Mike Leake 1.9
Tony Cingrani 1.7
Anthony DeSclafani 0.6

With 12 WAR we now have a four-win improvement over the projections. The bullpen can also be a factor. Currently, Aroldis Chapman is projected f0r 2.4 WAR and the rest of the bullpen is at -0.6. Given the fickle nature of bullpens, a small positive contribution from the non-Chapman bullpen would not be surprising and potentially add another win to the total.

The projected standings at the moment look like this:

Team EXPW EXPL W% DIV
Cardinals 87.4 74.6 0.540 46.6 %
Pirates 84.1 77.9 0.519 24.4 %
Cubs 83.1 78.9 0.513 19.9 %
Brewers 78.2 83.8 0.483 6.2 %
Reds 75.4 86.6 0.465 3.0 %

Assuming the rest of the division hits their projections, we add 13.2 WAR for the position players, 4.0 WAR for the starting pitchers, 1.0 WAR for the bullpen, assume all extra plate appearances and innings above the projected numbers are taken from replacement players, and round wins to the nearest whole number, the end of the season standings could look like this:

Team W L W% DIV
Reds 94 68 0.580 100%
Cardinals 87 75 0.537 0%
Pirates 84 78 0.519 0%
Cubs 83 79 0.512 0%
Brewers 78 84 0.481 0%

Using the best numbers over just the prior two years nets the Reds a healthy advantage over the rest of the division. The scenario is not likely, but even above, the Reds can drop some of the numbers and still end up in the playoffs. The situation is not overly realistic, but it is a reminder that at the beginning of the season, every team really does have a chance if things fall right. The talent gap between players is narrow. Injuries and breakouts can have a big impact.

Last season, the Reds got a combined replacement level season from Jay Bruce and Joey Votto after getting more than 10 WAR from the duo in 2013. The Reds finished 2014 ten games under .500 and 12 games out of the Wild Card, but they were not that far away from contending. Continued success for Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier, a return to 2013 for Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, and another Cy Young-caliber season from Johnny Cueto, and the Reds could pull off a great season. It is not likely, but right now, anything is possible.





Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

newest oldest most voted
Orsulakfan
Guest
Orsulakfan

This is a fancier stat version of what I used to do as a kid. “If Oswaldo Peraza wins 20 games, and Mike Boddicker wins 20 games, and Cal, Eddie, and Larry Sheets hit 30 homeruns each, and Tom Niedenfuer gets 30 saves, and our new acquisitions from the champion Mets, Ray Knight and Doug Sisk, bring that champion energy to the squad, I think we could go all the way.”

Yirmiyahu
Member

Hope springs eternal.

When I saw, “every team won the division in some simulations”, I thought: even the Phillies? But the Phillies are listed at 0.0% odds for the division. It’s still possible, because rounding.