Projections Show a Real Fight for NL Central in 2015

So focused was I on the projections for the Cubs in 2015 that I didn’t even take the time to look at the rest of the division. I should have known better though, particularly since Ryan Davis wrote about how it’s more than just the Cardinals standing in the Cubs’ way this season.

If PECOTA is to be trusted (and, despite the fact that I tend to put as much trust in projections as I do a drifter in a windowless panel van, I think it is), the NL Central will be the toughest division in baseball in 2015. I’m sure the AL East will have something to say about that, but most other five-team groups have a pretty clear bottom feeder.

With a spread of only 10 games in the win column separating 1st from 5th in the Central, it doesn’t look like anyone’s going to run away and hide. The Cardinals, as expected, are perched atop the division and have the largest margin in terms of runs scored vs. allowed (71). The rest of the group looks pretty even though.

In fact, no other team in the Central is projected to have a run margin greater than 19 (see chart below). With only a 3-game spread from 2nd to 5th, this should shape up to be a very interesting season for all the teams involved, a fact that bodes well for Cubs fans who haven’t seen meaningful baseball in years.

The chart below, lays out PECOTA’s projected standings (premium access required), including the basic slash stats with which I’m sure everyone is familiar. However, they’ve also included True Average (TAv) and Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA), the definitions of which are provided at the conclusion of this post.

Cardinals 89 73 709 638 .255 .322 .396 .265 20.4
Cubs 82 80 665 653 .243 .309 .392 .263 -7.7
Pirates 80 82 687 692 .253 .316 .394 .266 -2.1
Reds 79 83 631 650 .243 .304 .379 .257 19.7
Brewers 79 83 671 686 .256 .306 .400 .262 4.6


My first thought in seeing these stats is that the Cubs’ FRAA reminds me of Kramer from the Seinfeld episode in which he turns his apartment into a smoking lounge: “Look away, I’m hideous!” but then I checked out the rest of the league and saw that that -7.7 is actually better than 9 other teams (3 of which are in the AL Central).

And while the team batting average projects to be tied for the worst in the division, OBP is right in the middle. Sure, it’s not by much, but that’s a nice step in the right direction. This certainly isn’t a comprehensive breakdown, but it’s a nice little snapshot at what we might observe in the season to come.

Here at Cubs Insider, we like to think we’ve got a decent handle on the other teams in the division, but we also understand the value of seeking out fresh, locally-sourced opinions. After all, I can get a good look at a steak by sticking my head up a bull’s ass but I’d rather just ask the blogger…or is it butcher?

To that end, we have reached out to some of our blogging brethren who devote their time to the Cubs’ divisional rivals in order to gather their thoughts on the teams they cover. Well, except for the Cardinals; Ryan is going to do that preview. Keep a look out for our upcoming guest-post series on 2015 NL Central previews, which should be coming out next week.


True Average (TAv) is a measure of total offensive value scaled to batting average. Adjustments are made for park and league quality, as such the league-average mark is constant at .260.

True Average incorporates aspects that other linear weights-based metrics ignore. Reaching base on an error and situational hitting are included; meanwhile, strikeouts and bunts are treated as slightly more and less damaging outs than normal. The baseline for an average player is not meant to portray what a typical player has done, but rather what a typical player would do if given similar opportunities.

Excellent – Miguel Cabrera .342
Great – Alex Rodriguez .300
Average – Austin Jackson .260
Poor – Ronny Cedeno .228
Horrendous – Brandon Wood .192

Fielding Runs Above Average is Prospectus’ individual defensive metric created using play-by-play data with adjustments made based on plays made, the expected numbers of plays per position, the handedness of the batter, the park, and base-out states.

The biggest difference between Fielding Runs Above Average and similar defensive metrics comes in the data and philosophy used. Whereas other metrics use zone-based fielding data, Fielding Runs Above Average ignores that data due to the numerous biases present. Fielding Runs Above Average instead focuses on play-by-play data, taking a step back and focusing on the number of plays made compared to the average number of plays made by a player at said position.

Excellent – Jacoby Ellsbury 11.6
Great – Nyjer Morgan 5.5
Average – Marlon Byrd 0.6
Poor – Roger Bernadina -5.2
Horrendous – Melky Cabrera -13.2

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