Monday, March 07, 2005

Baseball Analysts NL Central Preview

At Rich Lederer and Bryan Smith's new blog, Baseball Analysts, they have done a little NL Central Preview. I'll post the relevant sections, then comment a little below.

J.D.: I don't think a salary cap is necessary for the NL Central to see different teams contending. I think it's altogether possible that the Astros are about to go into a bit of decline, and there are things to like about the Brewers, Reds, and Pirates. The biggest problem with the NL Central is that all three of the second-tier teams thought that building a new stadium would be a panacea, when it clearly is not. I think now that stadium construction is finished for the Brewers, Reds, and Pirates, they'll all focus more on trying to build contenders because that's the only way to increase attendance for the next 20-30 years.

Bryan: Yes, the small-market teams are showing that the right order is a good team and then a new ballpark rather than the other way around. You have to spend money to make it, not tax the public, right?

J.D.: I wrote a little about the Brewers a couple of weeks ago, and I just don't see them climbing out of the hole they've dug anytime soon.

Rich: The Brewers are on their way up. I'm not suggesting that they will be good this year, but there is cause for some optimism a couple of years out.

Bryan: I think a lot depends on the new owner and whether he'll take that budget up. They need to keep Ben Sheets and Carlos Lee, that's for sure.

J.D.: They've got some good minor league talent, but their method of operation seems to be almost entirely draft dependent, and they really don't seem to draft well enough for them to have a sustained run. I could see them becoming quite good in a year or two and for a year or two, but I think that's the best Brewer fans can hope for.

Rich: Hope is on the way in the form of Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, Prince Fielder. But I'll defer to Bryan on this subject.

Bryan: Prince is definitely the best of the three; it won't be long until he is right in the heart of that order. Weeks' struggles worry me, but I think he'll have a good year and allow the team to trade Junior Spivey. And while I might be a seller of Hardy, he's going to be an everyday player. Maybe Royce Clayton, but an everyday player.

Rich: Don't get me wrong here. I'm not suggesting that Hardy and Weeks will become the next Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. But Fielder certainly looks as if he would have fit right in there on Harvey Kuenn's Brew Crew ballclubs in the '80s.

Bryan: Well, Doug Melvin has proven to be quite good at finding cheap talent. Podsednik, Davis, Kolb...

Alex: ...and then trading those three. I actually applaud their trading methods more than anything else.

J.D.: I will admit that I'm a big fan of the Posednik for Lee trade. Most teams come out ahead when they trade with the White Sox though.

Rich: Trading Kolb for Jose Capellan is exactly the right type of move a team like the Brewers should make. What good is Kolb going to do them?

Bryan: I will say that I think Mike Maddux is now the second best pitching coach in the game. If they can recreate some offensive numbers of old, I think success is likely.

Rich: That's about as unlikely to happen as Carlos Beltran playing for the Astros this year.

Bryan: Alright guys, let's close this out with some actual predictions. I'll lead it off: Cubs, Cards, Astros, Brewers, Reds, Bucs.

Rich: Just as I thought, Bryan. OK, this is a tough one for me. The only way the Cubs are better is if they get full years out of Nomar Garciaparra, Mark Prior, and Kerry Wood...

J.D.: Well, while you're thinking, Rich, I'll go with the Cardinals, Cubs, Reds, Astros, Pirates, Brewers.

Alex: I say Cardinals, Cubs, Astros, Brewers, Pirates, Reds.

Rich: Put me down for the Redbirds and Cubs 1-2. No way any of these other teams finish first or second. I'll pick the Astros for third but with a record right around .500. Pirates fourth. Reds fifth. Brewers dead last once again.

So, for the second straight week, it looks like Bryan is by himself in the divisional prediction. The official Baseball Analysts consensus has the Cardinals on top, followed closely by the Cubs. The Astros, despite most of the roundtable participants expecting a reasonable regression, are projected to place third.

Outside of J.D., the Reds, Brewers and Pirates are picked to finish anywhere from fourth to sixth. While we hope promising farm systems and new regimes will even out the division, color us skeptical. Dollars don't always have to be the determining factor in success, but a lot more sensibility will be needed than what Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh have shown in recent years.

Well, a couple things jump out at me. Alex Ciepley from the Cub Reporter is apparently uninformed to the fact that the Brewers haven't traded Doug Davis, but actually they signed him to an extension. The other Cub guy involved, Bryan Smith, says J.J. Hardy will be Royce Clayton, which I totally disagree with. There really is nothing to lend one to believe that's what Hardy will evolve into. In AAA last year (warning: small sample) Hardy tore the cover off the ball, walked more than he K'd, hit for power, and played MLB-caliber defense. The only thing that matches up with Clayton is the last one, but Hardy will prove to be a much better hitter than Royce Clayton because of his plate discipline and additional power. They do commend Doug Melvin, which would be very hard not to do. The guy is brilliant, and keeps getting better. Also, kudos to them for showing some love to Mike Maddux, he's got his work cut out for him this year, but he'll squeeze every but of talent out of the pitchers.

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