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A guide to the most watchable rotations: NL Central

Which teams in the NL Central have the pitching staffs that are the most enjoyable to watch?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This is part three of a series to find the most watchable rotations in baseball. The NL East can be found here, and the AL East can be found here. A reminder of the methodology:

Age — 1 point if the pitcher was born between 1988 and 1990; 2 points, 1991-1993; 3 points, 1994 and beyond.

Effectiveness — 1 point if Steamer projects the pitcher for an ERA between 3.40 and 3.75 in 2016; 2 points, 3.00-3.39; 3 points, 2.99 or lower.

Velocity — 1 point if the pitcher's average fastball velocity in 2015, by FanGraphs' "pitch type", was 91.5-93.0 MPH; 2 points, 93.1-94.5 MPH; 3 points, 94.6+ MPH.

Strikeout rate — 1 point if the pitcher's 2015 K% was between 20.0 and 23.0 percent; 2 points, 23.1-26.0 percent; 3 points, 26.1 percent+.

Breaking ball usage — 1 point if, using FanGraphs' "pitch type", the pitcher's curveball usage plus slider usage is between 25.0 and 30.0 percent; 2 points, 30.1-35.0 percent; 3 points, 35.1 percent+.

Milwaukee Brewers:

Name Age Effectiveness Velocity K% Breaking ball usage Total
Wily Peralta 1 0 2 0 1 4
Jimmy Nelson 1 0 2 0 3 6
Matt Garza 0 0 1 0 1 2
Taylor Jungmann 1 0 1 1 1 4
Chase Anderson 0 0 1 0 0 1

The order in which I put the five projected starting pitchers is completely subjective and makes no difference in the scope of the article, but I still try to order them based on some level of skill and/or team-defined hierarchy. It says a lot about the rotation's uniform mediocrity, 1-5, that I had trouble ordering this rotation. Wily Peralta is one of those classic examples, like Nathan Eovaldi or Joe Kelly in previous articles, whose plus stuff doesn't equate to a high watchability score. Peralta has a sinking fastball that can threaten triple digits and a hard two-plane slider, but at the end of the day, it just isn't as fun to watch a pitcher that gets hit around and doesn't strike out hitters. Jimmy Nelson is also a pitcher with big stuff, but his ratios, and consequently future prospects, look brighter than Peralta's.

The Brewers are in full rebuild mode, so they should have no issue booting someone like Matt Garza from the rotation when they need a spot for a promising youngster. Zach Davies seems to be the first one up that fits the description of 'youngster', but unfortunately it looks like Davies may just be a Chase Anderson with even lesser stuff. Later in the year, though, Brewers fans (and baseball fans) should get excited to see the debuts of promising starters Jorge Lopez and Josh Hader, not to mention any young starting pitcher they may receive if they deal Jonathan Lucroy.

St. Louis Cardinals:

Name Age Effectiveness Velocity K% Breaking ball usage Total
Adam Wainwright 0 1 0 0 3 4
Michael Wacha 2 1 2 1 0 6
Carlos Martinez 2 1 3 2 1 9
Jaime Garcia 0 1 0 0 0 1
Mike Leake 0 0 0 0 0 0

It was also tough to order this rotation, but as opposed to that of the Brewers, this one is so similarly deep and talented. Any of the top four, assuming health, has an argument for ace of the staff. Wainwright gets somewhat of the short end of the stick here because Steamer really doesn't like him, especially coming off the injury at this advanced age. Steamer projects him for an ERA north of 3.50 despite his career 2.99 mark. Also, Wainwright's strikeout rate has trended down since 2013, which helps explain his low watchability score.

Garcia also is rather low, and he helps illustrate some of the flaws in my process. I didn't include a pitch movement component, which is what Garcia relies on to create weak contact and generate outs. Subjectively, I don't think he's the most fun pitcher to watch out there, but he's definitely better than a 1.

Chicago Cubs:

Name Age Effectiveness Velocity K% Breaking ball usage Total
Jake Arrieta 0 3 2 3 3* 11
Jon Lester 0 2 1 2 0 5
John Lackey 0 1 1 0 2 4
Jason Hammel 0 0 1 2 3 6
Kyle Hendricks 1 1 0 1 0 3

*counting Arrieta's slider/cutter thing as a slider

There isn't a whole lot to say about the Cubbies' rotation. Other than maybe Hendricks, you pretty much know what you're getting with each pitcher. That isn't always a bad thing, though. If you want to watch pitchers that are effective, throw strikes, and get swings-and-misses, then this is your rotation to watch. If you're looking for one pitcher to watch in particular, I don't think I'm the first one to say that Arrieta is a pretty good one. If you like good pitchers that have three plus pitches and a pretty good changeup, with wicked movement on all of them (which you should!), then I suggest Arrieta. If you don't like these things, then I suggest soccer and for us not to be friends. Bye.

Pittsburgh Pirates:

Name Age Effectiveness Velocity K% Breaking ball usage Total
Gerrit Cole 1 2 3 2 1 9
Francisco Liriano 0 2 1 3 1 7
Jon Niese 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jeff Locke 0 0 0 0 0 0
Juan Nicasio 0 0 2* 0* 0* 2

*using Nicasio's 2014 numbers, his most recent season as a part-time starter

The summary of the guide on watching the Pirates' rotation is pretty simple -- stay for Cole and Liriano; avoid the rest. Juan Nicasio has some level of intrigue, though, should pitching coach Ray Searage's magic work on him as well. He's an interesting project that flashed mid-to-upper 90s heat and big strikeout potential out of the Dodger bullpen last season. On the other side of the coin, he has a consistently mediocre track record as a starter in the Major Leagues and possesses below-average secondary offerings. He's still someone to keep an eye on, though.

This rotation would receive a monumental boost in watchability with the arrivals of Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon. Both have prototypical power pitcher bodies, elite velocity heat with riding life, and wicked breaking balls. Either of their debuts, especially Glasnow's, would result in immediate viewership from yours truly.

Cincinnati Reds:

Name Age Effectiveness Velocity K% Breaking ball usage Total
Raisel Iglesias 1 1 1 3 1 7
Anthony DeSclafani 1 0 1 0 2 4
Brandon Finnegan 2 1 1 1 0 5
Alfredo Simon 0 0 1 0 0 1
John Lamb 1 0 0 3 0 4

This rotation is definitely interesting, to say the least. It was also very difficult to run through this process. To begin, the rotation is so beset with injuries that it was borderline impossible to find five starters. Do I include Robert Stephenson, who has zero MLB experience and will be sent down immediately after his start? Do I include John Lamb, who won't be back until around May, especially when I haven't included any other starters for other rotations that are projected to be out that long? Shouldn't I include Homer Bailey, then, who is in a similar situation?

At the end of the day, the only guys that are reasonable locks to spend the entire season in the MLB rotation are Iglesias and DeSclafani, ignoring DeSclafani's current oblique issue. Iglesias is a popular sleeper pick this season among the experts in charge of predicting fantasy baseball, and he's plenty interesting to watch due to his strikeout tendencies, above-average slider, and multiple arm angles. DeSclafani is pretty interesting, too, and that watchability score is based on his 2015 season as a whole (since he was a rookie last year). However, as Shawn Brody and Emma Baccellieri examined here and here, DeSclafani evolved throughout the year and was a very different pitcher in the second half. The only other statement that I'm willing to make with a reasonable level of certainty, in terms of this rotation, is that among the MLB starter ranks, Alfredo Simon is...not particularly good.

There are so many other candidates that could fill the other three rotation spots throughout the season that it's kind of pointless to run this exercise with the Reds and say, "Well, this number represents exactly how interesting the Cincinnati pitchers are to watch." Homer Bailey should be back at some point this season, and he was a pretty dynamic pitcher who was a joy to watch pre-injury. The aforementioned Robert Stephenson will hopefully be up for good at some point as well, and he has a legitimate case for best stuff out of any starting pitcher in all of professional baseball. Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, Tony Cingrani, Keyvius Sampson, Michael Lorenzen, and Cody Reed are other options that are all young and carry varying levels of intrigue with them. Because the Reds are in full rebuild mode, they will be looking to identify and develop any pitcher they believe will be a part of their next great team, so they're liable to trot out any of these names for extended periods in 2016.


The final scores for each of the rotations:

Cubs -- 29

Reds -- 21

Cardinals -- 20

Pirates -- 18

Brewers -- 17

Don't miss a start from Jake Arrieta, Gerrit Cole, or Carlos Martinez. In other news, water is wet. There are a few other intriguing youngsters in this division, but quite a few uninteresting veterans also reside here.

. . .

Austin Yamada is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score.