With two teams actively tanking, the National League Central Division is one of the weaker divisions in Major League Baseball. This means teams in the mushy middle could overperform expectations with help from a consistent starting rotation.
How do the NL Central starting rotations stack up? Let’s look at their performance in 2021 and projected performance for 2022. I have compiled information based on the players listed as rotation members in the MLB app depth charts. The 2022 projections are the ZIPS projections listed on FanGraphs.
2021 Team Record: 95-67 (1st)
2021 Rotation fWAR: 20.3 (1st in division, 2nd in MLB)
|2022 PROJECTED TOTAL:||17.1|
2022 Projected Rank: 1st in division
In recent years, the Crew have ruled the NL Central thanks to their excellent team pitching and look to repeat in 2022. Cy Young winner Burnes may not replicate his 7.5 fWAR total from 2021 but is still projected to be worth nearly five wins above replacement.
St. Louis Cardinals
2021 Team Record: 90-72-0 (2nd)
2021 Rotation fWAR: 7.9 (3rd in division, 21st in MLB)
|2022 PROJECTED TOTAL:||7.9|
2022 Projected Rank: 4rd in division
The Cardinals’ projected fWAR for 2022 is the same as their actual fWAR for 2021. Despite their bottom-third-ranked starting rotation, they managed 90 wins and a Wild Card appearance last year, which turned out exactly as expected when pitted against a 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers team.
2021 Team Record: 71-91 (4th)
2021 Rotation fWAR: 2.6 (5th in division, 29th in MLB)
|2022 PROJECTED TOTAL:||8.5|
2022 Projected Rank: 3rd in division
Unlike the Brewers and Cardinals, the Cubs’ current rotation depth chart only lists five pitchers. I added Miley, who started the year on the injured list, to the projected 2022 rotation. After a good 2021 season, ZIPS has a slightly higher outlook for Miley in 2022 than Cubs veteran Hendricks. Stroman is forecast as the Cubs’ best starter in 2022, but I have a hunch that Hendricks will rebound after a career-worst season in 2021. That said, this rotation as it currently stands would likely still rank among the bottom third of MLB.
2021 Team Record: 83-79 (3rd)
2021 Rotation fWAR: 13.9 (2nd in division, 9th in MLB)
|2022 PROJECTED TOTAL:||11.6|
2022 Projected Rank: 2nd in division
Castillo surprisingly remained on the roster as of Opening Day and is once again projected to lead a decent starting staff. However, I would not expect him to remain in Cincy for the full season. The other big question mark here is Mahle’s projected 3.2 fWAR. He posted 3.8 fWAR in 2021, but his previous best in a full season was only 1.6 (2019).
2021 Team Record: 61-101 (5th)
2021 Rotation fWAR: 3.9 (4th in division, 28th in MLB)
|2022 PROJECTED TOTAL:||6.9|
2022 Projected Rank: 5th in division
The Pirates also only have five pitchers listed on their rotation depth chart, so I added Kranick, who is currently on the 10-day IL. Their rotation was bad last year and this year’s forecast is only slightly improved.
The team to watch closely will be the Cardinals. Will their team batting (7th in MLB by fWAR) carry the starting pitching again this year?
Featured Image: South Tyrol, Italy – May 20, 2019. Used Major League Baseball (MLB) Baseball by HE Photography / Shutterstock.com.