Finding Value in MLB Regular Season Win Totals: NL Central
Milwaukee Brewers 2019 Win Total
Moving on to the National League Central, we’ll start with the defending division champion Milwaukee Brewers. My first impression of their depth chart is that the Brewers don’t jump off the page to me the way I thought they would. To be fair, they have the reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich in right field, but if you look at his numbers, there isn't a chance in hell that he can repeat what he did in 2018. His BABIP was a career high at .373 after averaging .350 the two previous seasons. Yelich is a naturally high-BABIP guy, and it’s possible he could repeat that, but we can’t expect it. What I can guarantee is that he won’t repeat his HR/FB rate of 35%. That rate was more than double his 15.3% from 2017 and while his new home park certainly plays a part in it, we should expect regression across the board from Yelich. In center field is another player who received MVP votes, Lorenzo Cain, and in left is the always-punchable Ryan Braun. Around the horn, Travis Shaw brings the power at third, and Orlando Arcia plays excellent defense at shortstop along with a burgeoning bat. On the right side of the infield, Mike Moustakas will play second and could be a monster playing half his games at Miller Park. Jesus Aguilar is another regression candidate at 1B but also contains considerable pop in his bat.
This lineup will rake, but it may also be prone to periods of slumps with so many swing-and-miss bats after Cain and Yelich. While it’s expected that this will be one of the best offensive teams in the league, they’re going to need to be if the starting rotation doesn't repeat their numbers from a year ago. This staff is “led” by Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson and Zach Davies…pretty gross. Jimmy Nelson should finally return from injury, but he may be a shell of his former self. Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff are both young arms that could ascend to quality mid-rotation starters but have not proven much at the MLB level. What the Brewers lack in the rotation though, is made up for in their stellar bullpen. The pen features Jeremy Jeffress, Josh Hader, and Corey Knebel who each could be shutdown closers on their own. If the Brewers get a lead in the 6th inning or later, it’s likely game over.
The pen features Jeremy Jeffress, Josh Hader, and Corey Knebel who each could be shutdown closers on their own. If the Brewers get a lead in the 6th inning or later, it’s likely game over.
Conclusion: I like this Brewers team, but it’s hard to love them with that starting rotation. They are going to score piles of runs but may also go through some cold streaks, and don’t have an ace to stop the bleeding if necessary. This team should challenge for 90 wins, but I think they'll ultimately come up short. I'll set the over/under at 87.5 wins. BetOnline is slightly more skeptical at 86.5 wins. That sounds about right.
St. Louis Cardinals 2019 Win Total
The Cardinals for many years used to be one of those teams that you doubted at your own risk. Their win total may have been set at 95 games and would look so clearly to go under, but deep down you knew that somehow, someway, the Cardinals would find a way to F*** you over. Luckily, that time has passed us by. This new Cardinals team has missed the playoffs for three straight seasons, and I’m not sure if that will change in 2019. Looking at their depth chart, they desperately needed to make the trade for Paul Goldschmidt. While he is a massive addition to their team, without him, their lineup looked like one of the weaker squads in the league. Marcel Ozuna is a slightly above average hitter, posting a 106 wRC+ last year with 100 representing league average. In his breakout 2017 season, that number was up to 121 which is good, not great, and the season before it was back at 109, making 2017 look like the outlier. Matt Carpenter enjoyed a power breakout in 2018 and is the Cardinals best hitter behind Goldschmidt. Carpenter’s wRC+ numbers the past four years have all been near-elite (139, 136, 123, 138) so I would expect him to put up similar numbers in 2019. While Carpenter and Goldy are great, the supporting cast leaves something to be desired. Yadier Molina is still excellent behind the plate and even with a bat in his hands but suffered an oblique injury this spring and those are tricky to come back from. Paul DeJong is a solid starting shortstop. Kolten Wong, Harrison Bader, and Dexter Fowler, however, may have the Cardinals looking for replacements throughout the season.
On the mound, the Cardinals have a steady but unspectacular rotation featuring Miles Mikolas at the top, fresh off his first season back in the states where he wowed with his control, leading to a 1.07 WHIP and 2.83 ERA in 200.2 innings. I don't expect an exact repeat, but Mikolas is as strong as a lot of teams will have at the top of a rotation. Jack Flaherty has ace upside, but behind Mikolas and Flaherty are a lot of question marks. Somehow, Adam Wainwright is still in the mix. He needs to retire already. Michael Wacha is a solid mid-rotation starter. Carlos Martinez has the upside of a strong #2 starter but is not currently healthy and may spend time in the bullpen this year. The make or break player on the Cardinals roster is likely Alex Reyes. Two years ago, Reyes was the top pitching prospect in baseball before injuries cost him a season and a half. His stuff is still just as good as it ever was, and his upside is as high as any pitcher in the game. The concerns that need to be addressed with Reyes are his health, and the number of innings he'll be able to throw in 2019. If it all goes right for the Cardinals rotation we could see Mikolas and Flaherty as a devastating 1-2 combo, with a healthy Carlos Martinez scary in the #3 role, Michael Wacha capably holding down the #4 spot in the rotation, and Alex Reyes pitching as a mini-ace in the five-hole. Or, Martinez may be in the bullpen, Reyes may get hurt, and Mikolas could struggle as the league adjusts. There is a lot of variance with this team, and it’s hard to predict what they will look like six months from now.
Conclusion: This team is hard to peg. In the back of my head I can still hear "fade the Cardinals at your own risk…" and I think that will lead me to either taking the over on this team if the number is too low or just passing. I believe the Cardinals are at least a .500 team, but how much better than .500 are they? Two, three games? That would put them at 83-84 wins, so I’ll set the over/under at 83.5 wins. I have severely underrated this team according to BetOnline, who has them at 88.5 wins. I may have to take back what I said earlier, as I’m leaning towards the Under 88.5 wins on a number that high. If it all breaks right for the Cardinals, I see them as a 90-win team, so this number seems to be assuming the best-case scenario while not weighing enough of the downside.
Pittsburgh Pirates 2019 Win Total
One glance at the Pirates depth chart and I can tell this is a team that I think I'll be higher on than most. Corey Dickerson is a solidly above average bat and still has age on his side in left field. Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are getting a bit older, but Marte is well-established and Polanco’s best seasons are still ahead of him. On the infield, the case for the Pirates starts to crumble, but there is still enough here to make a reasonable best-case scenario argument. Colin Moran was just meh last year, but Jung Ho Kang is back from Korea and probably wants to make up for lost time. At 31-years-old, he still can, and if not top prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes should be ready for a promotion this season and probably has the best glove of the group. The Pirates have a black hole no matter who they play at short, but Adam Frazier has a capable bat at second base, and I still love the potential of Josh Bell at 1B.
The Pirates have a black hole no matter who they play at short, but Adam Frazier has a capable bat at second base, and I still love the potential of Josh Bell at 1B.
On the mound is where the Pirates will make up for their lack of offensive punch. Jameson Taillon is developing into a true ace, and Chris Archer is ready for his first full season in the National League after coming over from the Rays last year. Joe Musgrove has upside to become more than just a mid-rotation starter, and Trevor Williams is coming off an incredible 2018 season of 170 innings pitched with a 3.11 ERA. There is zero chance he repeats that ERA, but you could do a lot worse in the back half of your rotation. In the pen, Felipe Vazquez remains one of the top closers in the league, and the supporting cast of Keone Kela, Kyle Crick, and Rich Rodriguez creates a formidable bridge to the ninth inning.
Conclusion: Their offense puts a cap on the Pirates’ upside, but I see this as a team that should be flirting with .500 all year. I think the upside is there for them to be an 83-85 win team, but I’d probably set their over/under right at 81 wins. I’m apparently only seeing the upside of the Pirates in my assessment, as BetOnline has them at 77.5 wins, with -115 juice to both sides. I firmly lean towards the Over 77.5 wins for the Pirates.
Cincinnati Reds 2019 Win Total
The Cincinnati Reds are without a doubt the most intriguing team in the National League Central after their trades for Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood from the Dodgers. They didn't stop there, with a trade for Sonny Gray from the Yankees after starting the offseason off with a deal for Tanner Roark. With these three trades, the Reds declared their intentions to win now, rather than rebuild, and I think they executed this transition beautifully without giving up many future players. The Reds already had some interesting pieces on offense with Eugenio Suarez emerging into an offensive force at third base, and Jose Peraza establishing himself as an offensive player at shortstop. On the right side of the infield, Joey Votto had an off year, but he’s still Joey Votto, and somehow Scooter Gennett continues to prove doubters wrong with his second straight brilliant season. In the outfield, there is even more to like. Jessie Winker looks like a mini-Votto, and that’s not hyperbole when you look at the numbers. Yasiel Puig should absolutely ball out in the bandbox that is Great American Ballpark, and one of the top prospects in baseball, Nick Senzel, is set to be the everyday center fielder.
With Luis Castillo capable of breaking out as a top of the rotation starter, pitching may actually become a strength for this Reds team. That will come down to if can Sonny Gray can pitch to his potential, and if Alex Wood can continue to do thing. Tanner Roark is a great #4 option, and at #5 in the rotation is Anthony DeSclafani who began the 2018 season as the Reds opening day starter. In the bullpen, Raisel Iglesias is one of the top closers in the league. While his supporting cast is nothing to write home about, it’s taken this long to find a real weakness on the Reds.
Conclusion: I really like this Reds team, and I believe they'll challenge for the division crown. They will also not be afraid to make midseason additions if they’re in contention. I think 84 wins is a conservative estimate, but due to my optimism possibly not being reflected in the market, I’ll say their win total should be just above .500 at 82.5 wins. As I expected, I came in high on the Reds despite trying to be conservative as BetOnline lists them at 79.5 wins for the season. I am clearly on the Over 79.5 wins for the Reds.
Chicago Cubs 2019 Win Total
As a Cubs homer, I had to save them for last to try and be as objective as possible. To begin, I want to start by referencing the Cubs win total last year which came in at 94.5. The Cubs covered, barely, but finished the season with 95 wins despite significant injuries and stars not playing up to potential. With that said, the Cubs also had Javy Baez competing for the MVP all season long, and he will likely not replicate his 2018 numbers this year. Baez does remain an MVP candidate, however, due to the way he can affect the game with his bat, glove and legs. Kris Bryant also remains an MVP candidate, having already won the award and now in his prime at 27-years-old. Bryant began 2018 on a tear before suffering a shoulder injury that he played through most of the year, with some extended time on the DL. Bryant had offseason surgery and is already out there trying to prove doubters wrong with massive spring training moonshots. Anthony Rizzo remains as steady as ever, even despite a seemingly down year last year. In 2018, Rizzo posted his lowest ever strikeout rate of just 12%, down from an already excellent 13% a year before. To put everything in context, a “down” year for Rizzo in 2018 still resulted in a wRC+ of 125, or 25% better than league average.
The biggest key for me when handicapping the Cubs 2019 win total is that they lost no one of significance from the 2018 team that won 95 games.
The biggest key for me when handicapping the Cubs 2019 win total is that they lost no one of significance from the 2018 team that won 95 games. That 2018 team did not have a healthy Yu Darvish, and only had a couple of months from Cole Hamels. With both pitchers healthy and ready for a full season of work in 2019, and multiple MVP candidates on offense, I don't see how it's fair to project the Cubs for anything less than 90 games. Yet, that is exactly what Vegas and projection systems like PECOTA are doing. PETCOTA, for example, has the Cubs down for just 80 wins, a below .500 season, and last place in the division. I rejoiced when I saw that because I felt that it could only help push the Cubs win total down further in the market. There will be no guess here as to what the Cubs win total is because I've seen it listed at 88.5 or 89.5 wins at multiple shops. I think if you've read this far you can tell that I clearly think that number is short.
Conclusion: The biggest argument for lowering the Cubs win projection from last year is improvement across the board in the division. With that said, it's only fair to expect improvement from the Cubs as well. If I were setting this line, it would have to bet at 92-93 wins. BetOnline currently has the Cubs down for 88.5 wins, and I am a homer on the Over 88.5 wins for the Cubs.