Fangraphs released their projections for the 2020 season yesterday. There’s some good news and some bad news – it may just depend on what you are looking for. When it comes to their projections, the National League Central division is competitive. The Cubs, Reds, Brewers, and Cardinals are all within four games of each other. The division, though, has by far the worst projected record for a division winner within baseball, too. Part of that could be that the division is good 1-4. But the National League East is also pretty close and their division winner, the New York Mets, happen to be two wins better than the National League Central winner.
Taking a look into the division, the Cincinnati Reds are projected to finish at 82-80 and in second place. The Chicago Cubs are atop the division at 85-77. The Brewers are a game behind the Reds, as are the Cardinals. The lowly Pittsburgh Pirates are projected to go 70-92.
Much like we’ve seen with other projected standings late this offseason – the division is close and could realistically go in any of four directions. Every team in the division, except for the Pirates, are relatively close in talent. The top four teams all won the division in at least 16% of the simulations that were run, and they all made the playoffs in at least 25% of the simulations run. The Reds took the division 24.4% of the time and took a wild card spot another 11.8% of the time – giving them a spot in the playoffs 36.2% of the time.
Ben Clemens wrote about the work behind the projections a little bit on Thursday. There was a highlight of teams that outperform their projected WAR total, and one of those teams was the Reds.
The Rangers and Reds mainly stand out for their stalwart starting rotations. I’m not exactly sure on the logic here, but my guess is that considering the way we allocate playing time to starters, having an above-average fifth and sixth starter impacts win percentage in a way that WAR can’t quite capture. Our WAR numbers take into account run environments that pitchers create, but BaseRuns doesn’t. That difference could account for the gap. This is, to be clear, extremely off-the-cuff and speculative.
Cincinnati, as you are likely aware, has one of the better rotations in baseball. Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, and Trevor Bauer have all been All-Star caliber pitchers over the last two seasons. But behind those three are Anthony DeSclafani and Wade Miley. DeSclafani posted a 3.89 ERA (117 ERA+) in 2019, while Miley posted a 3.98 ERA (116 ERA+) last season. While you can’t just expect a full on repeat performance, the Reds #4 and #5 starters performed much like a lot of teams #2 and #3 starters. That depth, along with Tyler Mahle as the sixth option just puts the Reds at an advantage over most teams in those kinds of match ups.
The fake games begin tomorrow afternoon in Goodyear as the Reds take on Cleveland in their shared home ballpark. At that point there will be about five weeks until we get to the real deal and Opening Day.