Cubs over Milwaukee in 2008?

12 02 2008

Tim posted a comment the other day that asked for a little elaboration on why the Cubs have been picked over the Brewers in many projections this year. I’m more than happy to answer questions you all have, so I’ve gathered some information to try to explain it a bit.

First off, I would like to point out that many people are choosing the Cubs over the Brewers because Milwaukee has a “history” of collapsing at the end of the season. They look at the last couple seasons as evidence that the Brewers cannot close on a division title. While that holds some credence, I think it’s a little “big city bias” to believe that the Brewers will always be inferior to the Cubs. Anyway, let’s see what we can glean from these projections…

OFFENSE

It is almost a consensus that Milwaukee’s offense is superior to that of the Cubs. Baseball Prospectus’ NL Central preview says that “this is the most entertaining Brewers team in a quarter-century.” They do argue that the Brewers are too right-handed in their lineup, which nobody is trying to argue against. Even Melvin and Yost have mentioned their concern with the gluttony of right-handed hitters in the starting lineup. This will be tempered in the beginning of the year with either Gwynn or Gross manning center field, but when Cameron comes back, it will be a problem.

Power, however, is not a problem. MLB Rumors has the projections for the Cubs’ offense and for Milwaukee’s. Projections are always a little high for offensive players, but the trend is clear. The Crew has massive amounts of power from all directions (except the catcher’s spot, obviously). Even Dayn Perry (who seems to not care for Milwaukee much) sees the offensive advantage for Milwaukee:

Position Cubs Brewers Edge
Catcher Geovany Soto Jason Kendall Cubs
1st base Derrek Lee Prince Fielder Brewers
2nd base Mark DeRosa Rickie Weeks Brewers
3rd base Aramis Ramirez Ryan Braun Brewers
Shortstop Ryan Theriot J.J. Hardy Brewers
Left field Alfonso Soriano Joe Dillon Cubs
Center field Felix Pie Bill Hall Brewers (barely)
Right field Kosuke Fukudome Corey Hart Push

This is a little off, as it was before Cameron was signed by the Crew. We can make the adjustments though. Moving Braun to LF, I still believe that Braun has the advantage over Soriano. Moving Hall to 3B, however, loses the advantage for the Crew. Aramis Ramirez played extremely well last year. With Hall’s recent slump at the plate, the nod has to go to the Cubs at 3B. Next, we have to put Mike Cameron in CF. Strictly because of plate discipline and power, the advantage is towards the Brewers. Pie is too inconsistent right now, and this graphic is not judging potential. If we were discussing potential, one could argue that Hall could match Ramirez. No, the nod goes to Cameron there. The only problem with Perry’s analysis is that in RF. I don’t know how he can assume Fukudome is going to be able to produce? It’s a wild card. I can see why it would be a push, but Corey’s power and speed would lead me to believe he should get the benefit of the doubt there. However, I’ll stick to Perry’s analysis and go with a push.

Advantage: Milwaukee Brewers

STARTING PITCHING

This is where it begins to get a little fuzzy. Dayn Perry says that if Ben Sheets does not pitch 200 innings this year, starting pitching is a huge edge for the Cubs. He says that the back end of the Cubs’ rotation is potentially problematic, but Zambrano, Lilly, and Hill make up for it by providing a very strong front end of the rotation. The Brewers, on the other hand, apparently only have Gallardo in the starting rotation if Sheets goes down. He takes it for granted that Chicago’s top three balance out the potential advantage the Brewers could have at the back end of the rotation. Milwaukee has eight legitimate MLB-starting pitchers, while Chicago has resorted to plugging Ryan Dempster in their rotation. I’d have a tough time deciding whether I’d like to have Dempster or Vargas, and Vargas is Milwaukee’s 8th best starter.

Brew Crew Ball does a nice analysis of the starting pitching situation:

  1. Zambrano vs. Sheets: Give the edge to Carlos for durability reasons. This is a tough one to call, because, as Perry notes, is Sheets is healthy, he could very well be the better of the two.
  2. Gallardo vs. Hill: Another tough call: Gallardo has the potential to be more dominant, but we haven’t seen him over the course of a season. Call it a push.
  3. Suppan vs. Lilly: A push. A Cubs fan will show up and strongly dispute this, despite not understanding the idea of FIP, in 3, 2, 1…
  4. Bush vs. Marquis: last year, Marquis was better; the year before, it was Bush; Bush is younger; I’d say this is a push.
  5. Dempster vs. Capuano: Capuano is probably the better pitcher, despite his struggles last year. If Cappy is traded and Vargas gets this spot, it’s a push or a slight edge to the Cubs.
  6. Vargas/Villanueva/Parra vs. Marshall/???: Big edge to the Brewers. It’s a safe bet that both of these teams will need 20+ starts from guys outside of their front 5, and the Brewers have at least one guy who would crack a whole lot of MLB rotations.
  • This is definitely not a big edge to the Cubs. Nearly everyone routinely underestimates the importance of rotation depth. Doug Melvin does not. Sheets’s fragility is a problem, but I don’t know that there are any teams is baseball better prepared to deal with the loss of their ace than the Brewers.
  • It’s impossible to give a final verdict here until Melvin makes a move with the pitching staff, but if Capuano stays, I give the edge to the Crew.

Advantage: Chicago Cubs

(This is complicated though. If Sheets pitches 200 innings, the advantage could go to Milwaukee. I think we all are hesitant to make that assumption though.)

BULLPEN

Dayn Perry’s article is almost useless when it comes to addressing the bullpen.  First of all, he hardly mentions any of the new pitchers the Brewers acquired (although, he does say that Riske is one of the best value buys of the off-season).  I do not understand how one can make a prediction without including the new players.

Perry next concludes that Gagne is a risk while Wood is a dominant closer that the Cubs can count on.  Talk about a “What have you done for me lately?” situation.  Ignoring Gagne’s sub-3.00 ERA in Texas last year is bad enough, but assuming that Kerry Wood is ZERO health risk as well?  If one only looked at the last two months of last year’s season, then sure, that analysis could hold some weight.  Too bad the baseball season is more than the last two months of the season.

Since there is no official comparison between the two, I’ll do a quick-and-dirty comparison:

  • Riske = Howry  (This is giving Howry a big benefit of the doubt, mind you.)
  • Shouse > Eyre
  • Turbow < Marmol
  • Torres > Wuertz
  • Gagne = Wood

The fact that the Brewers still have Mota, Capuano, Vargas, Parra, and McClung gives Milwaukee much more depth than Chicago.  This will be a big advantage for the Brewers down the stretch.

The wild card in this scenario for Chicago is Carlos Marmol.  He posted a 1.43 ERA in 69.1 innings.  If he is able to continue that type of dominance, he gives the Cubs a deadly 8th inning-9th inning combo.

The deciding factor for Milwaukee could be Eric Gagne.  Analysts like Dayn Perry are expecting Eric Gagne to blow up this season, and therefore, Chicago is getting an edge in their projections.  Other analysts, like The Hardball Times article posted the other day, believe that Eric Gagne can push the Brewers over the top to take the division.  Many of these projections simply depend on the authors’ view of the players.  People that think Gagne will bounce back favor the Brewers, and vice versa.

The bullpens are just too close to call.  Since much of the decision depends on the personal preference on specific pitchers, I am willing to rate the bullpen as a push.

Advantage: Push

OTHER

Defense has been a big topic concerning Milwaukee.  Before the Cameron trade, Chicago obviously had a much better defense than did Milwaukee.  Now, the spread becomes less dramatic.  The Cubs still have the advantage, but it is not as significant anymore.

The bench is not very significant in making projections, but the Brewers have a large edge here.  They are much better equipped to deal with couple injuries.

OVERALL

Advantage: Push

The teams are just too evenly matched to call a clear-cut winner.  The Brewers have younger talent and a much higher ceiling, but the Cubs have the proven talent that has been to the post-season.  If Ben Sheets stays healthy, I think the Brewers have the full advantage.  That’s obviously a big if.  Either way, both clubs are shaping up to be 90+ win teams.  It should be a very, very exciting season.

Tim, this may not help ease your mind about the NL Central predictions, but hopefully it gives you plenty of information to see that both teams are shaping up very nicely.

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6 responses

12 02 2008
Tim

I appreciate the break down and it does help me. Now that I see how close the teams really are I’m more than ready for that first pitch. Go Brewers!!

14 02 2008
TheJay

I’m a little curious why you say Howry is Riske’s equal only if you give Howry the benefit of the doubt. Howry has better K:BB numbers than Riske does, even if they are both about as effective at limited runs. I’d say they’re pretty equal with no benefit of the doubt involved. Maybe you see something I don’t? Minor quibble anyway – I like the article.

14 02 2008
TheJay

I should add Jon Lieber is supposed to be in the Cubs rotation now, isn’t he? I can’t imagine that’s a huge gain over whoever he displaces but I think it helps their depth.

14 02 2008
brewersnation

You’re right that Howry looks equal on paper, but Riske pitched in the AL. Most prognosticators and experts count on ERAs and K:BB ratios to be better in the NL, so I took that into effect. I kept them equal in my projection because they are equal on paper, and I did not wish to put my personal opinion in the piece TOO much.

The front office for the Chicago Cubs are still insisting that Ryan Dempster has the inside track at the fifth spot in the rotation. You are right to question whether or not this is true, as Lieber most likely would have signed somewhere else if he was not going to get a spot in the rotation. Officially, however, Dempster is the front runner for the fifth spot…but I expect Lieber to overtake him in Spring Training.

14 02 2008
TheJay

Ah, duh. I figured there was some reason you rated Riske higher and the difference in leagues makes sense. Thanks for clarifying that. I could’ve sworn I saw somewhere when he signed that Lieber was promised a rotation spot, but maybe I’m “misremembering” things.

14 02 2008
brewersnation

Well, TheJay, you got me thinking now…

So I’ll provide you with my source.
Ken Rosenthal reported
when Lieber signed that Lieber is open to pitching anywhere for the Cubs, the starting rotation or the ‘pen. It goes on to say that Lou Pinella wanted to have seven or eight starters coming into camp. It is the same thing the Brewers are doing. Both teams are going to let the pitchers decide who is going to pitch in the rotation by performing well in Spring Training.

That would still mean that Dempster has the inside track at the fifth spot, but Lieber is going to compete for it. It still seems odd that Lieber would be open to pitching in the bullpen for the Cubs, especially after leaving the Phillies specifically BECAUSE they put him in the bullpen. Perhaps Lieber simply wanted to come back to Chicago?

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