Working Sabermetrics to Predict 2016 NL Central Edition Wins

Mark Lathrop

Tuesday, March 15, 2016 7:40 PM GMT

Our MLB Handicapper is back this year with his successful sabermetrics based method of picking O/U season win totals. Check how he breaks down the NL Central MLB odds and picks!

Introduced in the 2015 season, my method of predicting O/U season win totals using two sabermetrics projection systems proved very profitable. One of the most common metrics discussed in sabermetrics is WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. This metric takes into account many separate statistics and combines them into a single value indicating how much more valuable, or not, a player is compared to the league average. It’s such a popular metric that there are many versions of calculating and projecting it, such as fWAR (i.e. Fangraphs WAR) and Steamer. These individual projections can be combined to create a WAR value for an entire MLB roster, and therefore a likely win-loss record for the upcoming MLB season.

This season, I’m only using the Steamer projection system to create my win-loss totals projections. While the fWAR projections cashed over 66% of the time (20-10), there wasn’t a trend in which direction the system was stronger in. However, the Steamer projection system was stellar in indicating teams that would come in below their O/U win total (8-1 or 88.8%). Since the Steamer projections were across the board more bullish than the other systems, this year I’m including results that come within 2 games as “Under” leans. Given this same method last year the Unders would have cashed at a rate of 73.3%.

Let’s take a look at the season record projections for the NL Central using Steamer and see if we can’t uncover some betting value when compared to the season O/U futures and the overall NL Central division race.

2016 Projections

TEAM

Projected WAR

Steamer Projected Wins

O/U (Bovada)

Diff.

Lean

CHC

51.7

102.15

92.5

9.65

Over

CIN

27.6

78.77

70.5

8.27

Over

MIL

21.1

72.47

69.5

2.97

Pass

PIT

37.7

88.57

86.5

2.07

Pass

STL

36.9

87.79

87.5

0.29

Under

 

Chicago Cubs
Steamer was correct in indicating that the Cubs would exceed the 82.5 O/U line last year, as they went on to win 97 games. This year, the line has jumped by 10 games at Bovada, to an impressive 92.5 game hurdle. That is the highest win total posted on the board for any MLB team this year. As such, the Cubs are favored to win the division with -150 odds.

The Cubs have an envious collection of superstars, with 5 players projected to accrue more than 4 WAR over the season. There are clubs that don’t have one player that will be worth more than 4 WAR this year in the MLB. That depth will allow Chicago to beat up on teams like Milwaukee, who know they don’t have what it takes to compete so are saving payroll for a better day. The team that will win the NL Central will win a ton of games, and right now there isn’t a reason to believe that won’t be the Cubs.

 

St. Louis Cardinals
Steamer predicted that St. Louis would win more than 88.5 games last year, and boy did they ever by winning 100 games. This year St. Louis is asked to win just 87.5 games, and my system gives a lean towards the Under. The looming threat of the Cubs make a wager on the Cardinals to win the division a too-risky proposition.

St. Louis’ strength is in their pitching, as they are ranked 8th in projected WAR across the MLB. All five of the projected starters are picked by Steamer to put up more than 2 WAR. That kind of depth will be needed though, as four of the five starters, except for Mike Leake, have dealt with serious injuries in the past. A pitching crisis in a division with the Cubs and Pittsburgh will prevent the Cardinals from winning 88 games or more. The value in this line is in the Under of 87.5.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates
Steamer had only a slight lean on the Pirates exceeding 84.5 wins last year, but the direction was still right as the Pirates won 98 games. This year they have to exceed 86.5 games at Bovada, while the odds to win the division can be found at +300. The projections based on WAR indicate that this is a very sharp line which we should pass on.

While the Pirates offense is in steady hands behind the bats of Andrew McCutchen (5.6 WAR) and Starling Marte (4 WAR), the pitching is too shallow to be trusted. Gerrit Cole (4.2 WAR) will be good for fantasy owners, but he won’t be enough to carry the Pirates past the Cubs in this division. Pass on the O/U line and the division odds this year.

 

Cincinnati Reds
Cincinnati significantly underperformed Steamer projections last year, and although they were only to slightly exceed the O/U total set at 77.5, the only won 64 games in 2015. This year, Steamer projection models have the Reds winning almost the same amount of games in 2015, just over 78, yet the O/U at Bovada has been set at 70.5 games.

This lean is one of the strongest to come out of my models this year, and for it to come to fruition the Reds will need steps forward from starting pitchers Anthony DeSciafani (2.1 WAR) and John Lamb (1.5 WAR). The Reds also have the opportunity to field a decent lineup, anchored by a slimmer Joey Votto (4.5 WAR). Take over 70.5 games for the Reds this year as the bar has been set a little to low for this team.

 

Milwaukee Brewers
Milwaukee also significantly underperformed Steamer projections last year, coming in as a loser for my model as they won just 68 games. This year their bar is set at 69.5 games at Bovada, while the projections indicate that line is very sharp.

With Chicago, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh all having much better teams than Milwaukee, they are going to have stretches of division play in which they don’t pick up much wins. If the Cubs can finish 20 games over .500, some team will have the chance to finish 20 games under .500. Milwaukee is projected to have 9.2 WAR from their offense this year. In comparison, Mike Trout is expected to put up 9 WAR by himself. Hopefully there are some good beer specials in Milwaukee because the baseball might not be any good this year. 

Must Read: National League Schedule Strenght Analysis

MLB Futures Odds For NL Central Winner[/]{"component":"oddswidget", "eventId":2957176, "sportsbooksIds":[19,1096,999996,93,169,139], "LineTypeId":2, "PeriodTypeId":1}[/]