Projecting the NL Central

Will it be a photo finish this year?

Update II: Dan Szymborski provided us with some more reasonable win totals based on Zips that are both sans Wainwright and not Pythagorean-derived

UPDATE I: Adam Wainwright has 'significant injury' to his pitching elbow that could potentially require Tommy John. His spot could be taken by the likes of Kevin Milwood. Obviously, this development is not reflected here, so make of these projections what you will.

Projectin' is risky business - and sometimes, the whole exercise has more in common with sliding across a wood floor in your underpants than accurately predicting the outcomes of thousands of little sports events. Still, it's quite a bit of fun. There's the thrill of the coming season playing out in your mind (and on your spreadsheet). The spirited debate over how computerized regression squares with close, passionate fan observation. The feeling of being one step close to Asimovian "psychohistory" in which the notion of free will is done away with altogether.

While it's good to take a jaundiced view of projections, there's some strength in numbers. Even the most statistically-inclined urge us to take them with a healthy dose of sodium, but the process of taking projections from multiple sources - composting them or weighing them with their relative merits - can be illuminating. This post over at FanGraps urges just that - and gives a good side-by-side comparison for the major projection systems.

With both curiosity and caution, let's look at how various systems see the NL Central shaking out in 2011. This is not meant to be a final word on How It Will Be, but a good measure of the range of speculation. Based on how you personally envision the Reds doing this season, it can give some context to your expectations.

Zips

Here's what Dan Szymborski has for us on the NL Central, which applies Zips projections to a guess at playing time breakdowns for 2011. It's also the only projection here that currently removes Wainwright from the Cardinals rotation. Zips puts a gulf between four teams walking the earth and the two basement-dwellers. See thread for further detail.

Finish
Team
W
 L
Win pct
1
Cincinnati Reds
85
77
52%
1
Milwaukee Brewers
85
77
52%
3
St. Louis Cardinals
83
79
51%
4
Chicago Cubs
82
80
50.5%
5
Pittsburgh Pirates
69
93
43%
6
Houston Astros
68
94
42%

 

PECOTA

PECOTA was originally devised by "seer of seers" Nate Silver, who used the system in part as a springboard to election prognostication.  The Brewers made a big leap forward in the post Greinke and Marcum adjustments. PECOTA doesn't like the Reds offense very much, projecting it at second-worst in the division. That skepticism may be well-founded, but it didn't track at all last year. Any system that puts the Reds and Cubs on the same tier has my scorn. That's right, I said it: scorn.

Finish
Team
W
 L
Win pct
1
St. Louis Cardinals
87
75 54%
2
Milwaukee Brewers
85
77
52%
3
Cincinnati Reds
81
81
50%
4
Chicago Cubs 80
82
49%
5
Pittsburgh Pirates
71
91
44%
6
Houston Astros
68
94
42%


CAIRO

CAIRO likes the Reds, giving them a 32% chance of taking the division, so it's already out in front of the Projection Wars. However, if you round the win estimates to the nearest whole number - I had to break out my 5th grade MATH textbook to do so, you find out that the Reds, Cardinals and Brewers end up in a wacky playoff scenario reminiscent of last season's NL West. Numbers aside, I think CAIRO best captures the three-headedness most of expect from the NL Central race.

Finish
Team
W
 L
Win pct
1
Cincinnati Reds
87
75 54%
1
St. Louis Cardinals
87
75
54%
1
Milwaukee Brewers
87
75
54%
4
Chicago Cubs
76
86
47%
6
Houston Astros
67
95
41%
6
Pittsburgh Pirates
67
95
41%

 

Hardball Times/Oliver

This system is based on the Oliver method by Brian Cartwright, explained here. Really, a very nice projection system:

Finish
Team
W
 L
Win pct
1
Cincinnati Reds
91
71
56%
2
St. Louis Cardinals
90
72
55.5%
3
Milwaukee Brewers
84
78
52%
4
Chicago Cubs
79
83
49%
5
Houston Astros
66
96
41%
6
Pittsburgh Pirates
65
97
40%

 

Mashing it up

Compositing all of these standings into one meta-projection wouldn't be internally consistent, at least given my solar-powered calculator's limitations. With new numbers from Zips which leave out Wainwright, it's also apples and oranges.

A raw average of all the projected wins for the Reds stands at 86 wins, with a range from 81 - 91.There's a virtual consensus that the Reds will follow up 2010 with another winning season and finish no worse than third and the trend line for the wins projections also agrees with emerging Vegas odds, which have had the Reds hovering around 86-87 wins. The most pessimistic of the projection systems, PECOTA, still has the club finishing only 3.5 games back. To the extent that projection systems inform your attitude about the Reds going into 2011, this is mostly good news.

How do you see the Central stacking up?

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