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2017 Fantasy Baseball: NL Central Lineup Rankings

The NL Central is the best division in baseball. There can be no doubt about that as the Cubs were the best team in baseball going away. The Cardinals and Pirates aren’t that far behind. All three teams were participating in a sort of arms race this offseason. It’s hard to see how the Brewers and Reds can break into that party, but they have some good players of their own. Suffice it to say, the Central will have its fair share of players taken on draft day.

We are looking at the relative strength of each team’s starting lineup according to three Baseball Prospectus metrics. Each one will be taken over a three year period in order to give us more data. The first metric is their version of wins above replacement (WARP) which captures the overall value of a player. We look at total average (TAV) to look at offense. It measures everything a player does offensively and allows for league and park norms. It is scaled to look like batting average (.260 is average). Fielding runs above average is the last metric. We use that to determine whether we should target or avoid pitchers from those teams.

Chicago Cubs

WARP: 28.2 (1st)

TAV: .295 (2nd)

FRAA: 15.8 (3rd)

Key Changes

Officially, the Cubs made only one change. They allowed Dexter Fowler to leave via free agency and replaced him with Jon Jay. That’s a net loss for them, but they also have Kyle Schwarber returning after missing nearly the whole season. Jason Hayward was there all year, but someone else was wearing his uniform. If the real Hayward returns and Schwarber remains healthy then the Cubs will be even better than what they will.

Unfinished Business

This is a short section. The Cubs are loaded for bear. The only thing they need is for everyone to stay healthy. Famous last words.

Prognosis

The Cubs are the best team in baseball. Moreover, they have no weaknesses. The fact that they made it to the World Series without Kyle Schwarber and won without Jason Hayward living up to his potential shows there is room for them to get even better.

Cincinnati Reds

WARP: 14.7 (11th)

TAV: .271 (12th)

FRAA: 9.1 (6th)

Key Changes

The Reds would like to make some changes, but Brandon Phillips seems bound and determined to keep it from happening. They have had deals worked out to trade him two offseason in a row and it hasn’t happened. The only change on paper is the return of Devin Mesoraco returning to his catcher duties. We’ve seen this movie before. It doesn’t end well.

Unfinished Business

The Reds actually have some considerable talent in the infield, but they are blocked by Phillips and Zack Cozart. If the Reds want to move forward they will find a way to deal one or both before Spring Training. Neither is a part of the team’s long-term future and they could use some additional pitching.

Prognosis

The Reds are in full rebuilding mode. The question is how far they are willing to go to get to rock bottom. Would they be willing to trade Joey Votto if someone were willing to give up good prospects for him? What could they get for Cozart? Phillips?

Milwaukee Brewers

WARP: 8.6 (14th)

TAV: .265 (14th)

FRAA: 0.5 (10th)

Key Changes

The Brewers made an under the radar move when they added Travis Shaw in a trade. This allows them to move Jonathan Villar to second base so that Orlando Arcia can take over at shortstop full time. Eric Thames returns from Japan to take the place of Chris Carter. All told it is probably a wash, but they are a little deeper than they were a year ago.

Unfinished Business

The Brewers are probably done with major additions, but they could use some bench pieces in case the young pups don’t work out. In particular, Thames seems like a shaky choice. On the flip side, if they could find a taker for Ryan Braun their rebuilding project could accelerate by a year or two.

Prognosis

It will be an epic battle for last place in the NL Central. Both the Reds and the Brewers are well positioned to continue to build. The key will be the deals they are able to make moving forward.

Pittsburgh Pirates

WARP: 21.5 (7th)

TAV: .283 (7th)

FRAA: 10.5 (5th)

Key Changes

Give the Pirates some credit, their various ratings for their everyday lineup would be enough to be second in the American League. Of course, there is no telling how they would actually play there. The Pirates are returning the same eight they ended the season with. The hopes are that Andrew McCutchen plays better and Josh Bell will live up to his enormous potential. If those things happen they could be a wild card team again.

Unfinished Business

The efforts to trade McCutchen were the worst kept secret in the game. Take him away and they might not be as good offensively, but they would leap to the front of the crowd defensively. It would seem to be a long-shot now, but anything can happen.

Prognosis

The Pirates live in the wrong division in baseball. In any other division they would finish no worse than second and be an odds on favorite to be at least a wild card. In the Central they are destined for third place and a hope that no other team in the league is good enough to finish in front of them.

St. Louis Cardinals

WARP: 20.8 (9th)

TAV: .285 (6th)

FRAA: -17.2 (14th)

Key Changes

Officially, the Cardinals are replacing Matt Holliday with Dexter Fowler. As far as trades go, this one obviously benefits the Cardinals. He fits a position of need and gives them a skill set that is more valuable. They are moving Matt Carpenter to first base so they can fit both Aledyms Diaz to the regular lineup full time while allowing Jedd Gyorko and Jhonny Peralta to battle it out at third base. In other words, they are as deep as they ever were.

Unfinished Business

The Cardinals have a logjam in the middle infield. Kolten Wong is still playing second base. There has been some talk of the Cardinals making a trade for a better second basemen. Of course, they could move Carpenter there and upgrade at first base. Matt Adams is still lingering around to. It is shaping up to be an interesting spring training for the Cardinals.

Prognosis

The Cardinals should be better, but they still don’t have the firepower to keep up with the Cubs. Of course, titles are not won on paper. If they have some surprising performances matched with a key injury or two and they could win the Central.

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