Monday, February 24, 2014

Things I Didn't Know: NL Central

In coming weeks, you will have innumerable opportunities to read previews of the upcoming season. I dug through last year's results and came up with items for each team that you probably won't see in the previews but that I thought were interesting.

I started with the NL West. Now the Central.

St. Louis Cardinals, 97-55: You know how I found that while the best pitchers get hitters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone, swinging at pitches outside the zone doesn't seem to hurt hitters? The Cardinals are my case in point. Top five Cardinals hitters, measured by OPS: Matt Holliday .879, Matt Carpenter .873, Matt Adams .839, Yadier Molina .836, Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig, .830. Top five Cardinals hitters, swinging at pitches outside the strike zone: Molina 36.4%, Adams 33.1%, Craig 32.2%, Holliday 31.7%, Beltran 31.5%. All those swings at pitches outside the zone didn't hurt them. 

Pittsburgh Pirates, 94-68: The National League had a losing record (146-154) in interleague play last year. But don't blame the Pirates. Their 15-5 record was easily the best in the league. Chop that down to a more league-average 10-10 and the wild card play-in game that Pittsburgh hosted (and won) would've been in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati Reds, 90-72: The role of the leadoff hitter is to get on base, and no team struggled with that more in 2012 than the Reds, whose leadoff hitters had a paltry .254 on base percentage that year. (That's not a ton better than their pitchers' .176). Then the Reds got Shin-Soo Choo via trade before last year, and they had by far the best leadoff OBP, .415, in the league, with Choo accounting for all but 96 of the team's leadoff plate appearances. Now Choo's in Texas, so who's going to lead off? Here are some bad answers: The guys who batted second for the Reds (.281, the worst OBP in that lineup slot), the guys who batted fifth (.307, 12th), and the guys who batted seventh (.298, tenth). 

Milwaukee Brewers, 74-88: The Brewers first basemen were remarkably terrible last year. How terrible? Their .629 OPS - compiled via a .206 batting average, .259 on base percentage, and .370 slugging percentage - was not only the worst among National League first basemen, it was worse than all but the Cubs second basemen, all but the Reds and Marlins catchers, and all but the Mets, Marlins, Cardinals, and Cubs shortstops. Put another way, the Brewers first basemen had an OPS 52 points lower than the average National League shortstop.

Chicago Cubs, 66-96: I pointed out in the Diamondbacks comment that a good record in one-run games (the Diamondbacks had the league's best last year) is no guarantee of continued success in tight games, as Arizona has gone from first to worst to first the past three years. There's hope in that for the Cubs, whose 20-33 record in one-run games last year was the league's worst. That would suggest the Cubs' one-run game performance, and thereby the team's overall record, should improve this year. On the other hand, the Cubs tied with the aforementioned Diamondbacks for the worst record in on-run games in 2012 as well, so maybe this is yet another Cubs curse. They have somehow managed to have a losing record in one-run games every year since 2008.

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