Club-Friendly Contracts: The Best Players Who Aren’t Cashing In MVP Series Part V: National League Central

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(Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)

by Duncan Wallis

This is the fifth installment of a multi-article series about the true value of the best MLB players. Today, we’re looking at the National League Central. For a brief introduction or a quick refresher on the basis of this discussion, check out the intro from our first Club-Friendly Contracts article.

National League Central

Chicago Cubs

Cubs Finalists

Jose Quintana, $5.3 M, 3.9 WAR, 1.359 M/WAR

Anthony Rizzo, $ 6 M, 4.0 WAR, 1.500 M/WAR

Brian Duensing, $0.5M, 0.7 WAR, 0.714 M/WAR

Cubs 2017 MVP: Brian Duensing, 0.714 M/WAR

What may be most impressive is that the Cubs found this value for only $500,000 to pair with young, cheap stars like Quintana and Rizzo as well as pricey veterans Jon Lester and Jason Heyward. Brian Duensing was a surprise bounce-back candidate from the Baltimore Orioles with the Chicago Cubs this year. He was a middle-man reliever pitching 62.1 innings with a 2.74 ERA. However, interestingly enough his FIP and xFIP were 3.41 and  3.82 respectively in 2017. Those two numbers suggest he could regress back towards his Oriole form. With the Cubs new pitching coach, Jim Hickey, however, he could also continue to improve. Only time will tell.

Milwaukee Brewers

Brewers Finalists

Eric Thames, $5.3 M, 2.1 WAR, 2.524 M/WAR

Chase Anderson, $5.875 M, 3.3 WAR, 1.780 M/WAR

Eric Sogard, $2.4 M, 1.1 WAR, 2.182 M/WAR

Brewers 2017 MVP: Chase Anderson, 1.780 M/WAR

Anderson started 25 games for the Brewers this season and accumulated a 2.74 ERA, 8.47 K/9 ratio, and a low 0.89 HR/9 ratio that point to his success. However, his BABIP against of .265, FIP of 3.58, and xFIP of 4.33 suggest that he, as well, may regress next year (see a pattern?). This may be due to the lack of predictability with Major League pitching. As our own Jared Wolff just wrote about, the Mets staff is a great example of this back and forth. You never know when a pitcher will get hurt with all the stress on their arm, when they will regress, or when they will improve. Anderson is no different. The Brewers benefited greatly from Anderson’s success and will need him again in 2018 while Jimmy Nelson recovers from shoulder surgery.

St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals Finalists

Matt Carpenter, $8.66 M, 2.9 WAR, 2.986 M/WAR

Carlos Martinez, $10.2 M, 3.3 WAR, 3.091 M/WAR

Jedd Gyorko, $7 M, 2.5 WAR, 2.8 M/WAR

Cardinals 2017 MVP: Jedd Gyorko, 2.8 M/WAR

Jedd Gyorko, the Cardinals 2017 utility infielder, was their Club-Friendly MVP. He had a solid .272/.341/.472 slash line with a .344 wOBA and 112 wRC+ which makes him a little above the Major League average. However, again, his BABIP of .312, much higher than his career average, suggests he will regress a little in 2018. His career BABIP is hovering closer to .275 which means he was probably getting lucky hitting ‘em where they ain’t in 2017.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates Finalists

Starling Marte, $6.2 M, 1.2 WAR, 5.167 M/WAR

Andrew McCutchen, $8.583 M, 3.7 WAR, 2.320 M/WAR

Josh Harrison $6.825 M, 2.6 WAR, 2.625 M/WAR

Pirates 2017 MVP: Andrew McCutchen, 2.320 M/WAR

The long-tenured Pirate, now turned Giant, was the MVP during a rough 2017 Pirates campaign. With a solid M/WAR of 2.32 and a great WAR of 3.7, McCutchen returned to his previously elite form. In 2017, he brought his strikeout percentage back down to around his career average, brought his BABIP back up to close to his career average, and had a wRC+ of 122—17 points better than 2016. Now as a Giant, hitting in the expansive outfield in AT&T Park, his BABIP should further improve, and since he is a fast runner he will be able to turn more singles into doubles and doubles into triples. Look for McCutchen to keep on improving in 2018.

Cincinnati Reds

Reds Finalists

Joey Votto, $22.5 M, 6.6 WAR, 3.409 M/WAR

Raisel Iglesias, $3.857 M, 1.8 WAR, 2.143 M/WAR

Tucker Barnhart, $4 M, 2.0 WAR, 2.000 M/WAR

Reds 2017 MVP: Tucker Barnhart, 2.000 M/WAR

Joey Votto. Wow. That just speaks to how good a player he is that he is even on this list. Making an average of $22.5 million a year, there is only a handful of players that would even come close to this list, and apparently, Votto is one of them. However, his teammate Tucker Barnhart beats him out for the true MVP honors with a 2.000 M/WAR. His slash line was .270/.347/.403, earning him a .317 wOBA and a wRC+ of 92. That wRC+ means he was actually below Major League average and his BABIP of .312 is a little higher than his career average. Again, he is a candidate for regression in 2018 because of the lack of historical success and his advanced numbers suggesting that he wasn’t as good as he looked on the surface.

Conclusions

The NL Central’s 2017 MVP is an underrated Cub, Brian Duensing. For now, he is the Cubs’ 2017 MVP and the NL Central’s MVP, as well. However, I would bet that Rizzo or Quintana overtake him easily now that he is getting paid $3.5 million a year on his new contract. Rizzo’s WAR was more than a full win less than the past few seasons making him a prime candidate to be the Cubs 2018 MVP. Back to Duensing, though, we see that he was one of the best relievers in the Cubs’ bullpen this year. He had a K/9 ratio of 8.81, a low HR/9 ratio of 0.87, and ERA of 2.74, all of which made 2017 a successful season for him.

Earlier I talked about how his FIP and xFIP being much higher than his ERA at 3.41 and 3.82, respectively, suggest he may regress in 2018. However, he also had a high BABIP against of .306 which means that hitters were getting luckier than normal when they put the ball in play. That statistic would indicate that he could improve even more in 2018, and perhaps that is what Epstein, Hoyer, and Co. saw when they chose to bring him back to a revamped bullpen with Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek. If Duensing continues this success in his age 35 and 36 season, the Cubs will definitely have gotten their money’s worth. For now, he remains ultra-valuable on a club-friendly contract in 2017 to make him the Cubs’ and the NL Central’s 2017 MVP.

 

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