We continue our division-by-division look at the teams of the 2009 regular season with my home division, the NL Central. Below, W% = true winning percentage, pW% = pythagenpat winning percentage, and cW% = component W% (the basis of these rankings). All of the data I reference can be found in the final Power Rankings post of 2009.
14. St. Louis Cardinals. TQI = 0.514
The Cardinals were our lowest-ranked division leader, rating just above average across all of MLB. Part of that's the league adjustment, but even our estimated cW% (0.541) rates a bit behind their nearly-identical W% and pW% (0.562 & 0.561, respectively). The reason? Our estimate of runs scored was an exact match for reality, but we estimated that a typical team with the Cardinals' component statistics for defense (pitching + fielding) would allow 30 more runs than the Cardinals actually did. I have the Cards' tERA at 3.98 & FIP at 3.92, but their ERA was dramatically lower at 3.66. There's no question that this team got excellent pitching this season, but given that this was a fairly average-fielding team, I think the pitching may have gotten a bit hit-lucky this year.
Like Philadelphia, however, the Cardinals are a team that got a major personnel upgrade over the course of the season. Therefore, it's probably fair to say that the hit-luckiness of their pitchers is countered by the fact that this team didn't play the entire season together, and thus were probably better by season's end than the power rankings show. I'd guess their true talent level is closer to their actual winning percentage. It's a shame they were eliminated so quickly, as this was a team I was looking forward to watching in the postseason.
See the rest below the jump
16. Chicago Cubs. TQI = 0.492
The Cubs were picked by many to win the division prior to the season's start, and with good reason. The Cubs had fine pitching and solid fielding this season, so that part came together for them. Their problem was offense. Derrek Lee had a resurgent season, but Soriano, Soto, Bradley, and Fontenot all were dreadful. When four of your regulars shoot as far below expectations as those four did, and someone like Ramirez misses significant time, it's hard to win--even in the weak NL Central. Overall, there was good agreement here between win estimates and real wins. Interesting team to watch moving forward...will Soriano rebound? He'll be 34 next year, and they have to pay him through 2014.
21. Milwaukee Brewers. TQI = 0.452
After their first postseason appearance since joining the National League in 2008, this year has to be pretty disappointing for the Brewers. They contended for a while, and were even in first place as late as July 4th. But that was more by default than anything. Once the Cardinals started to win, the Brewers (and the rest of the Central) just couldn't keep up. The Brewers were a marginally above-average offensive club this year, but their pitching was below average and their fielding was nothing special. Our cW% (0.476) matches up well with pW% (0.480) but not true W% (0.494), indicating that the Brewers may have gotten slightly lucky...though their bullpen was excellent enough that it could have helped them leverage a few extra wins.
26. Cincinnati Reds. TQI = 0.414
I root for laundry of this color. It was a rough season, but after dwelling in the basement for much of August and early September, a hot-hot-hot streak at the end of the year got them up to 26th place in the rankings and 4th place in the division over the last few weeks. cW% was substantially lower than true W%: 0.441 vs. 0.481. The reason was a slight underestimate of runs scored, and a slight overestimate of runs allowed, plus the fact that even straight-up Pythagoras had the Reds as a bit lucky. This was quite possibly the best fielding team in the National League, but their pitching was just a tad below average. And that, coupled with an offense that flirted with the 0.300 wOBA line for most of the year, spelled disaster. So, for the 9th consecutive season, Reds fans are wondering if next year will be the year they finally win more than they lose again.
28. Houston Astros. TQI = 0.399
I managed to go most of the season ignoring the Astros. I might have written about them once or twice, but they were a pretty uninspiring team. Front office management has seemed genuinely dreadful to me since about the time of the Tejada trade, and it seems like, at this point, they're just playing out the string of time they have left with Berkman and Oswalt. Despite the emergence of Wandy Rodriguez into awesomeness this year (or maybe I just haven't been paying attention--his components are mostly unchanged since 2007), the pitching was just average. And at the same time, the fielding was below-average, as was the offense. A lot's been made of Berkman and his 25 homers...but he wasn't the problem with the offense. Replacement level performances from Blum, Matzui, and Rodriguez were the problem.
30. Pittsburgh Pirates. TQI = 0.386
The Pirates were putting together a pretty decent season, at least by their standards, until Neal Huntington traded away virtually every established player he controlled that had value. Most observers that I respect think he did exactly what he should have, but it also destroyed anything positive that could have happened for the Pirates in '09. That's not completely fair--McCutcheon should win the rookie of the year (in my opinion, anyway), and he had a fabulous first season following McLouth's departure. And Garrett Jones had an improbable year at the plate. But, as a team, the Pirates stunk. Their pitching was actually pretty close to average, and fielding was about average...but the gutted offense was bad, and the combined effect of the three was a miserable season.