The 2015 ZiPS projections for the Pittsburgh Pirates are out over at FanGraphs, which means we can see how they’re looking as compared to the other possible teams at the top of the NL Central. From a Cubs-centric position, you’re probably thinking that means, in addition to the Pirates, the Cardinals and Cubs. The Cardinals’ ZiPS were discussed here before, and they are extremely robust. The Cubs were discussed here, and you can see them on FanGraphs here.
The Cardinals are projected as stacked all over, whereas the Cubs and Pirates are a clear tier down. ZiPS loves the Pirates’ outfield (13 WAR among just three players), but doesn’t find much affection anywhere else. If you add up the total projected WAR for the regulars on the Pirates, you come up with 37. For the Cardinals, it’s a crazy 45, while the Cubs are down at 34. Factor in the likely starts for Kris Bryant, and the Cubs would be pretty close to the Pirates (I know, not everyone is crazy with fudging the playing time in these things).
Comparing the WAR totals like that is not really the best way to use the data, given that everyone acknowledges there will be other players getting starts beyond the nominal “starters” listed in the depth chart. On that front, you can eyeball each of the three teams in ZiPS and conclude that the Cardinals have several impact players and a ton of quality depth. The Cubs don’t have quite as much in the way of high-end impact, but they also have a ton of quality depth. The Pirates have lots of high-end impact, at least on the positional side, but not a lot of depth.
This all squares, for the most part, with the latest PECOTA/BP standings projection, which has the Cardinals on top of the Central at 89-73, with the Cubs and Pirates thereafter at 82-80 and 80-82, respectively.
Interestingly, the Brewers are right there at 80-82, as well, and ZiPS projects their WAR as very close to the Pirates’. So, circling back to the beginning, then, I suppose it’s not yet time to rule out the Brewers, even if we don’t see them as having as much upside as the Cardinals and Pirates. And, hell, ZiPS for the Reds isn’t out yet, but PECOTA has them only a game worse than the Pirates and Brewers.
The Central could be very tough this year.