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No division as bad as NL Central

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  • No division as bad as NL Central

    When it comes to divisional debates, the conversation most often centers around which circuit is the best.

    This year, for instance, it's a healthy time to have that debate, what with the Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East; the Indians and Tigers in the AL Central; the Mets, Phillies and Braves in the NL East; and the Diamondbacks, Padres, Rockies and Dodgers in the NL West.

    However, a less common is discussion is one that addresses which division is the worst. As politicians and British tabloids will tell you, going negative is always interesting. So we're here to contribute to global negativity by exploring which of baseball's six divisions is the most foul-smelling.

    As you may have surmised by the fact that we named four tough divisions, the discussion here comes down to two — the NL Central and the AL West.

    In the NL Central, you've got the Cubs and Brewers poised to do battle, with only the Reds having the potential to crash the party. Over in the West, just the Angels and maybe — maybe! — the Mariners are to be taken seriously. Now let's examine the two divisions in further depth. First, some key indicators from last season:

    Comparing the worst
    % vs. other divisions
    % interleague play
    Cumulative run differential
    NL Central
    AL West

    As you can see, the numbers paint a particularly ugly picture for the NL Central. They were terrible against teams from outside the division, and they were terrible in interleague play. In addition, the teams of the NL Central gave up a whopping 299 more runs than they scored.

    What's even more damning is that the six teams of NL Central occupied the bottom six spots in terms of strength of schedule. In other words, they had lousy results despite playing against lousy competition.

    The AL West, meanwhile, fared well on all three counts. Based on 2007 indicators, it's clear that the NL Central is far and away the weakest division in the game.

    Of course, this is 2008, not 2007, so it's appropriate to explore what's changed about these divisions over the winter. In the NL Central, the Cubs and Brewers figure to improve slightly, as do the Reds. The Cardinals will likely slip back, while the Astros and Pirates should hold serve.
    In the West, the Angels will once again be in 90-95-win territory, the Rangers should get marginally better, and while the A's will be in good shape two or three years down the line, their off-season sell-off means they'll struggle in the near term.

    And what of the Mariners? They've improved the rotation by trading for Erik Bedard and signing Carlos Silva. However, they still have holes. To wit, they'll probably get sub-optimal production from right field, first base and DH, and on paper the middle-relief corps leaves much to be desired.

    There's also the fact that Seattle won 88 games last season despite having a negative run differential. In fact, if you look at their runs scored and runs allowed, the M's should've had a record of 79-83.

    So while they've improved, they're working from a lower baseline than you might think. Don't be surprised if Seattle, regarded as a serious contender in some quarters, winds up around the .500 mark in 2008.

    More to the point, you've got two legitimate contenders in the NL Central — the Cubs and Brewers — and one-and-a-half legitimate contenders in the AL West — the Angels and Mariners. However, also keep in mind that A) The dregs of the AL West are much better than the dregs of the NL Central, and B) The AL, even after all the player movement this winter, is still much stronger than the NL.

    Overall, the AL West, given the decline of the A's and a likely "regression to the mean" for the Mariners, won't be as strong as it was in 2007. However, it still figures to be more imposing than the NL Central, which hasn't gotten significantly better as a division. Also, it's worth re-emphasizing that the Central struggled badly last season, even though the teams of the Central played the weakest schedules in all of baseball.

    Some rallying to the defense of the NL Central will inevitably point out that three of the last four NL pennant winners have come from within the division. That sounds nice and all, but the NL has been the weaker league over that span, and the postseason provides a drastically smaller sample of games than does the regular season.

    In other words, results borne out over the course of 162 games are much, much truer than what comes out of the wash in October. The only sound conclusion is this one: No matter how you massage the numbers, the NL Central is and almost certainly will continue to be the weakest division in the game.

  • #2
    Glad we got all that straightened out.


    • #3
      What an earth shattering article. I had no idea the NL Central was bad.

      I can't wait for this writer's next article explaining how the All-Star Game will be played in July.
      RIP Chris Jones 1971-2009
      You'll never be forgotten.