This is part two of a two/three-part series on the best divisions in each respective league. This part analyzes the best division in the National League, part one obviously analyzed the American League. I will do a quick breakdown of how I achieved my data but if you are interested in the full work or the American League part of the article you can read it HERE. If I decide to make a part three it will compare the two best divisions from each league to find the best division in baseball.
All my data comes from Fangraphs projections and 2018 team statistics. I arrived at my data by looking at the 2019 projected records for each team in the division and averaging it out to get average division totals. I then take the WAR of players in the division who have a WAR of 4.0 or greater and divide it by five and then add that value to the division’s win total. I also analyze each teams wRC+ values to measure their offense, the team defensive ratings to measure their defense, and their ERA and FIP to measure pitching. I average out the values among the teams in the division to get one division value.
Honestly, I think it is too close to call and the data will show a tie between the NL East and the NL Central. I believe the NL East has stronger pitching and the Central has stronger defense and hitting. The NL East certainly is on the rise and has a lot of young talent and potential but the Central has more established veterans, especially with the Cardinals addition of Paul Goldschmidt.
NL EAST: The last World Series winner to come out of the NL East was the 2008 Phillies, good for the longest drought amongst all divisions in baseball. All that can change very soon as the NL East has four teams ready to compete for a title right now. The Nationals are still projected to win the division even without Bryce Harper, going 92-70. The Mets, who have made significant changes this offseason, project to finish in second at 85-77, barring the whole team gets injured of course. The 2018 division winner Braves are projected to finish 82-80 but have strong enough young talent that anything is possible. The Phillies, currently without Harper or Machado, are projected to finish 80-82. The addition of either could change that significantly and put them as high as second. And once again the Marlins are projected to finish at the bottom at 67-95. Hey, at least it’s an improvement. The total division record is 406-404, which is a 0.501 win-percentage. The 162-game division record would be rounded to 81-81. I would have expected a couple of more wins from the Braves and the Phillies, but I guess their offseason moves simply aren’t enough, yet. The runs scored per game average is 4.272 and the runs allowed per game average is 4.268.
The Nationals had the highest team wRC+ in the division with 101, 11th overall. The Braves were the average for wRC+ with 97. The Mets were 18th with 95, the Phillies were 21st at 91, and the Marlins were 2nd worst with 83. The division’s average wRC+ is 93.4 which would finish 20th in the MLB. The Braves led all Major League Baseball in defense with a 65.3 rating. The Marlins finished 6th with a 44.1 rating. The Nationals were 11th with a rating of 28.9. The Mets were 20th with a 0.9 rating and the Phillies were 21st with a –9.5 rating. The total NL East had an above average defensive rating of 25.94, good for 12th in the MLB. The NL East has two of the best rotations in baseball between the Mets and the Nationals. The division contains the NL Cy Young Winners of the past two seasons, deGrom and Scherzer, and all three finalists for Cy Young this past season, the previous two and Aaron Nola. While the starters in the division were great, the bullpens in the NL East were not so perfect. Overall, among all pitchers, the Braves had the best team ERA in the division with a 3.75. The Nationals and Mets finished 15th and 16th with 4.04 and 4.07 respective ERAs. The Phillies finished 18th with a 4.15 ERA and the Marlins finished 25th with a 4.76. The average ERA for the division was 4.15. The Phillies had the 7th best FIP in baseball with 3.83. The Mets finished 9th with a 3.97. The Braves, Nationals and Marlins had a 3.99, 4.15, and 4.57 respectively. The FIP for the division stands at 4.10. In 2018, the NL East averaged 13.9 WAR among all of its players. This number is affected heavily by the outlier Marlins who had a 3.4 team WAR, the worst in the MLB. The division gets a total of 7.66 wins (rounded to 8) from Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Aaron Nola, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Freddie Freeman, and Josh Donaldson’s projected 2019 WAR values. This brings the NL East’s win total to 89 games. This would be good for second in the NL East and a wildcard spot.
NL CENTRAL: The NL Central was very competitive in 2018 but looking at the 2019 projections, it might just be a two-horse race. The Cubs and the Cardinals are projected to tie for first place with an 87-75 record, though the Cardinals finished with 88 wins last year and added Paul Goldschmidt. The Pirates are projected to finish third with an 80-82 record. The biggest surprise here is that the Brewers and the Reds are projected to finish tied for last at 79-83. The Reds went out and made a huge trade with the Dodgers adding Alex Wood and Yasiel Puig to improve their club while the Brewers have added Yasmani Grandal but are still projected to decline significantly. The division is still projected to finish 412-398, which is a 0.508 win-percentage. The division’s 162-game record is 82-80. The division is projected to score 4.49 runs per game on average and allow 4.42 runs per game on average.
The Cubs finished with a 100 wRC+ and the Brewers and Cardinals finished right behind them with a 99 and 98 WRC+ respectively. The Pirates had a 96 wRC+ and the Reds had a 95 wRC+. The average wRC+ for the NL Central is 97.6. The Cubs were second in the MLB in defense with a 63.9 rating. The Brewers finished third with 61.2. The Cardinals finished fifth with 51.6. The Pirates were eighth with 39.1 and the Reds were tenth with 30.3. The average division defensive rating was 49.18, good for fifth in the MLB, or amazing. The Cubs had a 3.40 ERA and a 4.14 FIP, the Brewers had a 3.73 ERA and a 4.01 FIP, the Cardinals had a 3.85 ERA and 3.97 FIP, the Pirates had a 4.00 ERA and a 4.06 FIP, and the Reds had a 4.65 ERA and 4.68 FIP. The NL Central had a 3.93 ERA and a 4.172 FIP good for thirteenth and twentieth respectively. In 2018, the NL Central had a 12.98 WAR among all its players. This is the equivalent of the Chicago Cubs 2018 team War. The division gets four extra wins from Kris Bryant, 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich, Anthony Rizzo and Paul Goldschmidt. The division is projected 86 total wins, equal to the Rays 2019 projection and a game back of the tie for first place in the Central.
NL WEST: The NL West, home of the back-to-back World Series runner-ups the Los Angeles Dodgers, and four other teams. The Rockies could be good enough for a wildcard spot, but the Dodgers are likely to win this division easily. The Dodgers are projected to win the NL West again, this time going 94-68. Second is the Rockies at 82-80. Third is the Paul Goldschmidt-less Diamondbacks going 79-83. The Padres and Giants are projected to finish tied for last at 76-86. The NL West is projected to finish 407-403, a 0.502 win-percentage. The 162-game average is 81-81. The division averages 4.32 runs per game and allows 4.31 runs per game.
The Dodgers led all of baseball in wRC+ with 111. The NL average wRC+ is 94. The Rockies and Diamondbacks finished 24th and 25th with a 99 and 98 wRC+. The Padres had an 84 wRC+ and the Giants finished last in the MLB with an 82 wRC+. The NL West was home to the best and worst wRC+’s in 2018. The average wRC+ for the West is 94.8, slightly above the league average. The Diamondbacks had the best defensive rating in the West with 51.6, which was fourth in the MLB. The Rockies had a 42.4 defensive rating, the Dodgers had a 20.5, the Giants had a 17.5, and the Padres had a 5.9. The NL West had a 27.58 average defensive rating, good for twelfth in the MLB. The Dodgers were second in the MLB in ERA with 3.40, they also had a 3.60 FIP. The Diamondbacks were fourth in the MLB with a 3.73 ERA and had a 3.91 FIP. The Giants had a 3.95 ERA and a 3.98 FIP. The Rockies had a 4.33 ERA and a 4.06 FIP, yes, we know they play at Coors and it is expected. The Padres had a 4.41 ERA and a 4.10 FIP. The average ERA in the division was 3.96 and the average FIP was 4.04. The NL West averaged 16.22 WAR among all its players in 2018, this is about the equivalent of the Rays. The NL West gets three extra wins from Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Nolan Arenado. This brings their win total to 84 wins. 4 wins would put the NL West in second place in the NL West and they’d have the same projected record as the Angels.
Overall, I was expecting each of the three divisions to be a lot more competitive. I believe the Braves and Phillies will do slightly better than their projection and the Nationals will do worse making the NL East a four-team race into September. In the NL Central I expect the Cardinals to do slightly better and the Brewers to do much better. I even think the Pirates could surprise as they have a solid squad and could easily finish with 83 wins. I also like the direction the Reds are going and think they could even finish at .500 if they make one or two more moves. I expect the Dodgers to take the NL West again, but I believe they will be worse than their 94-win projection. I have them winning about 90 games with the Rockies winning about 88 right behind them. I think the rest of this division is accurate. As close as I think each division will be the results and projections do not lie and my data is based off those projections.
The NL West might have had the World Series representative the past two seasons, but they are not the best division in the National League due to their weak bottom half. They have the worst projected record among the three divisions. They have the second-best overall pitching among the three divisions led by their bullpen. I believe the starting pitchers in the West are third best in the NL, beyond the Dodgers it is very weak. The West also had the second-best defense in the NL. The Dodgers may have had the best offense in baseball, but the West had the worst wRC+ among the three NL divisions.
If the Brewers weren’t projected for a serious decline the NL Central would easily be the best division in the NL, however like I said I am going based off projections and stats, not opinions. The Central is projected second in the NL in wins. They have the best pitching, which comes from a mixture of their rotation and their bullpen, unlike the West. They have the best defense in the National League, and the best in baseball.
In about three years the NL East will be the most competitive division in all of baseball. The talent is there for every team. The Braves proved they can compete now and still have an amazing farm system of almost MLB ready talent. The Phillies are in the middle their development being fully ready and a Harper or Machado could leap frog them into first. The Mets claim they are in a win now, and have a good young core that if they don’t “Mets-it-up” could keep them competitive for a while. With or without Harper, the Nationals are still able to compete with one of the best rotations in baseball and solid young talent like Juan Soto. The NL East is projected first in wins in the NL, three wins ahead of the Central. According to the data, the NL East is the third best in the NL in wRC+, defense, and pitching. The numbers are so close in every category for everything in the NL that being third in the NL does not necessarily mean they are the worst.
So, which division is the best division in the National League? That would be the NL Central. The Central leads in three of the four categories and are only projected three games behind the National League East for the most wins. The Central may not have the best starters in the NL, deGrom and Scherzer, or an overall juggernaut team like the Dodgers, but each team holds their own especially in depth and bullpen. Each team in the Central is well balanced and can honestly all compete in 2019 to make the division very competitive.
TLDR; its the NL Central… I’m disappointed in y’all and your short attention spans
Featured Image by Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images