All of the same caveats we apply to projections involving the Chicago Cubs apply here, too. Projections are conservatively clustered around the mean. Projections assume everyone is healthy. Projections coming out now are necessarily not including the rest of the offseason. Projections are a fun guide, but no one would ever tell you to take them as gospel.
That said, it’s worth pointing out that the just-released ZiPS projections for the 2015 St. Louis Cardinals confirm much of the conventional wisdom about how we think the Cardinals look on paper: they look good.
None of this should come as a surprise to you, because you can eyeball the Cardinals’ roster and see the quality. Their lineup is deep and well-balanced. Their defense is above average at nearly every position. Their rotation has both steady arms and clear upside. Their bullpen also looks steady and full of upside.
Thus, ZiPS projects 17(!) WAR among the five starters, 3 WAR out of the bullpen, and 25(!) WAR among the position players. I’m going to do something that ZiPS, itself, tells you not to do – but since I’m telling you that this is a flawed method, and I’m just doing it for illustrative purposes, it’s OK – and add that 45 WAR to the wins you’d expect for a replacement-level team (about 48 wins). That nets a 93-win team, which is enormous for a projection. (FanGraphs’ current projected records, using Steamer, have the Dodgers as the best team in baseball with 91 wins; the Cardinals are at 87.) Additional context? The Brewers’ projected collective WAR among the starters, positional players, and bullpen was just 36.
Suffice it to say, ZiPS loves the Cardinals.
Peruse the projections at your leisure to see if there’s anything particular interesting that pops out. The positional players almost uniformly project to be good, not elite, bats. Indeed, seven of the eight regulars project to be above average at the plate (and the eighth, Kolten Wong is close, plus he’s got upside). On the pitching side, one thing that pops out immediately: they don’t project to walk anyway. Ever. That’s gotta help.
There’s a little downside here, too, mostly tied to the ages of several key players (Adam Wainwright is 33 and coming off of a minor elbow procedure, Matt Holliday turns 35 in January, Yadier Molina is 32, and John Lackey is 36). Things could go wrong. That’s always true in baseball. But, as we sit here today, we have only projections. And they smile favorably upon the Cardinals.
The Pirates also will ultimately project to be very good, but you can expect that the Cardinals will enter the 2015 season as the overwhelming favorite in the NL Central. Go get ’em, Cubs.*
*(A serious run at a Wild Card is also acceptable. But not as slogan-able.)