Central Intelligence

2016 NL Central Review

If you said that the Chicago Cubs ran away with the NL Central in 2016, that would be a major understatement. The Cubs were so dominant in the NL Central in 2016 that they clinched the division on September 16th. That was the quickest the Cubs ever clinched a division. The Cubs 103 wins are their most since 1910, and the most in the MLB since 2004.

The Cubs 103 wins cost the rest of the division from reaching the postseason. The Cardinals finished 1.0 game out of the second wild-card spot. This will mark the first time since the wild-card game got started in 2012 that there wasn’t a team playing from the NL Central.

Editor’s Note: We will be recapping the 2016 Reds season throughout this upcoming week, and the rest of the off-season. Today we will just cover the Reds division mates. 

Chicago Cubs 103-58
St. Louis Cardinals 86-76 17.5 GB
Pittsburgh Pirates 78-82 25.0 GB
Milwaukee Brewers 73-89 30.5 GB
Cincinnati Reds 68-94 35.5 GB

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs turned around years of losing in a hurry. The Cubs were supposed to be good this year, and boy were they ever. It is difficult to meet large expectations, but the Cubs certainly did. The Cubs took the division lead on April 11th, and never looked back. The Cubs were up 6.5 games on May 29th, and it never went lower the rest of the season.

The Cubs were tied for 4th in the MLB in wRC+ (106), but lead the MLB in position player fWAR (38.3). The Cubs defense was by far the best in baseball, as they had 81 Defensive Runs Saved (the next best was the Astros at 55). The Cubs starting pitching lead the MLB in ERA (2.94). The addition of Aroldis Chapman at the trade deadline solidified their entire pitching staff.

Kris Bryant will likely win the NL MVP. He finished the season hitting .292/.385/.554 with 39 home runs and 149 wRC+. Bryant lead the NL in fWAR at 8.3. Bryant is only 24 years old. Bryant was just one piece of a balanced lineup featuring Anthony Rizzo (146 wRC+), Dexter Fowler (128 wRC+), Ben Zobrist (125 wRC+), and Wilson Contreras (122 wRC+).

Kyle Hendricks finished with an NL best 2.13 ERA. The rest of the Cubs rotation was stacked: Jon Lester (2.44 ERA/3.41 FIP), Jake Arrieta (3.10 ERA/3.52 FIP), John Lackey (3.35 ERA/3.81 FIP), and Jason Hammel (3.85/4.48 FIP). The Cubs were the first team to have 5 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title to all have ERA’s under 4 since the 1991 Cardinals.

The Cubs look as good as ever going into the postseason. They went 18-11 over the last month of the season, and didn’t back their way into the postseason. They are probably healthier than any other team in the postseason. Could this be the year the Cubs break the curse and win their first World Series title since 1908? We shall see.


St. Louis Cardinals 

cardinals

The Cardinals came up just 1.0 game short of reaching the postseason. This was the first time the Cardinals missed the postseason since 2010. The Cardinals just couldn’t get a big winning stretch together all season. They went 12-12 in April, 16-13 in May, 12-13 in June, 16-11 in July, 14-13 in August, and 16-14 in September/October. The Cardinals did have their 9th consecutive winning season, and have been above .500 in 16 of the last 17 seasons.

The Cardinals were decimated by injuries this season. They lost Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, Aledymys Diaz, Jhonny Peralta, and several key relievers for months at a time, not to mention losing Lance Lynn before the season even started. By the time the Cardinals finally got mostly healthy at the end of the season it was too late.

The Cardinals had big steps forward from Carlos Martinez (3.04 ERA/3.60 FIP) and rookie Aledmys Diaz (134 wRC+, 2.7 fWAR). The big steps forward were negated by disappointing seasons from Adam Wainwright (4.67 ERA/3.99 FIP) and Michael Wacha (4.62 ERA/3.80 FIP).


Pittsburgh Pirates 

pirates

The Pirates finished below .500 at 78-82, and will miss the postseason for the first time since 2012. The Pirates were right in the wild-card race for most of the second half, but they lost 19 of their last 30 games (including 8 of their last 9).

To figure out why the Pirates struggled in 2016, you would have to start with their starting pitchers. The Pirates didn’t have a pitcher start more than 21 games this season. The Pirates ace, Gerritt Cole only made one start after August 24th. Francisco Liriano was terrible for the Pirates (5.46 ERA/5.28 FIP), and was traded to the Blue Jays. The Pirates also traded closer Mark Melancon to the Nationals at the deadline.

The Pirates do have two positives for their rotation going forward. Top prospect Jameson Taillon was really good in 18 starts (3.38 ERA/3.71 FIP), and Ivan Nova was brilliant after being acquired at the trade deadline in 11 starts (3.06 ERA/2.62 FIP). The Pirates #1 prospect according to Baseball America, SP Tyler Glasnow got his foot wet in the big leagues, but he battled injuries all year and struggled. He should be a big part of their rotation however going forward.

The Pirates got great production offensively from Starling Marte (121 wRC+, 4.0 fWAR), Jung Ho Kang (136 wRC+), and platoon guys Sean Rodriguez (129 wRC+) and Matt Joyce (137 wRC+). The Pirates actually finished with a team 99 wRC+, good for third best in the NL.

The big glaring disappointment for the Pirates was Andrew McCutchen. He hit .255/.336/.430 with a 106 wRC+, and 0.8 fWAR. McCutchen’s OPS has gone from .952 to .889 to .766 over the last three seasons, which is very concerning. Even worse is that McCutchen was the worst defensive player in all of baseball this season with -27 defensive runs saved. There are talks of the Pirates trading McCutchen in the off-season, or possibly having him switch positions with the very good defensive player Starling Marte.


Milwaukee Brewers 

brewers

The Brewers missed the postseason for a fifth consecutive season. Like the Reds, the Brewers were supposed to be bad in the middle of a rebuild. The Brewers did finish the season strong, going 16-13 in September/October.

The Brewers made a bunch of trades this year. They traded Khris Davis and Jean Segura before the season, and then traded Jonathan Lucroy, Will Smith, Jeremy Jeffress, and Aaron Hill at the trade deadline. They will probably be more quiet this off-season, but they could still move Ryan Braun. The Brewers got much younger, and Jim Callis of MLB.com had this to say:

Thanks to a strong Draft and a commitment to rebuilding, the Brewers improved their farm system more than any other organization did from the beginning to the end of 2015. First-year general manager David Stearns has continued to build for tomorrow throughout 2016, including a pair of dazzling deals at Monday’s non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Ryan Braun lead the way for the Brewers, hitting .305/.365/.538. The Brewers saw good strides from some of their young players, including SS Jonathan Villar (117 wRC+, 2.9 fWAR) and CF Keon Broxton (110 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR).

The Brewers had disappointing seasons from their older SP, Matt Garza (4.51 ERA/4.32 FIP), Wily Peralta (4.86 ERA/4.70 FIP), and Jimmy Nelson (4.62 ERA/5.12 FIP). They did get a nice season from 23 year old Zach Davies (3.97 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 2.9 fWAR), and an even better season out of nowhere from 31 year old Junior Guerra (2.81 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 2.1 fWAR).


All NL Central Team 2016

  • C: Wilson Contreras, Cubs (122 wRC+, 2.0 fWAR)
  • 1B: Joey Votto, Reds (159 wRC+, 5.1 fWAR)
  • 2B: Ben Zobrist, Cubs (125 wRC+, 4.1 fWAR)
  • 3B: Kris Bryant, Cubs (148 wRC+, 8.3 fWAR)
  • SS: Jonathan Villar, Brewers (117 wRC+, 2.9 fWAR)
  • OF: Dexter Fowler, Cubs (128 wRC+, 4.7 fWAR)
  • OF: Starling Marte, Pirates (121 wRC+, 4.0 fWAR)
  • OF: Ryan Braun, Brewers (133 wRC+, 3.2 fWAR)
  • SP: Jon Lester, Cubs (2.44 ERA, 4.3 fWAR)
  • SP: Kyle Hendricks, Cubs (2.13 ERA, 4.3 fWAR)
  • SP: Jake Arrieta, Cubs (3.10 ERA, 3.8 fWAR)
  • SP: Carlos Martinez, Cubs (3.04 ERA, 3.3 fWAR)
  • SP: Junior Guerra, Brewers (2.81 ERA, 2.5 fWAR)
  • RP: Seung Hwan Oh, Cardinals (1.92 ERA, 2.6 fWAR)
  • RP: Tyler Thornburg, Brewers (2.05 ERA, 1.9 fWAR)
  • RP: Raisel Iglesias, Reds (1.29 ERA, 1.0 fWAR)

 

Most stats used only include games played through 10/2/16, and are used courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference (including Baseball-Reference Play Index), and ESPN Stats & Info.

 

3 thoughts on “2016 NL Central Review

  1. Every NL Central head to head season series not involving the Cubs was played to within 1 game of being an even split except that the Cards went 13-6 and the Reds 11-8 versus the Brewers. Meanwhile the Cubs went 50-25 against the division.

    I think anything could happen #2 thru #5 in the division in 2017; and if the Reds, Pirates, or Brewers gain as many 3 or 4 wins versus the Cubs, they could even be in WC contention because that’s where the Cards were this year with 9 wins versus the Cubs and essentially even versus the rest of the division.

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