The So What? NL Central Bullpens (4/11/18)

By Mark Dankenbring @MarkDank

The So What? NL Central Bullpens

The National League Central has been one of the more parity driven divisions in baseball over the last seven years. It's featured four different division champions, leaving the Pirates as the odd man out, although Pittsburgh managed a Wild Card berth in three straight years from 2013-15. Overall, the Central has sent seven teams to the Wild Card since 2011, including both participants in the one-game playoff in 2013 and 2015. They appear to be on track to repeat history once again this season, as the NL Central joins the AL East as the only division with three teams to have at least a 29.7% chance to advance to the postseason. The Cubs entered the season as large favorites to make the playoffs at 92.1%, with the Cardinals (52.9%) and Brewers (29.8%) combining to make the playoffs 82.7% of the time.

With the season only two weeks underway, both teams have already seen roster shakeups. The Cardinals signed veteran closer Greg Holland to a one-year, $14 million deal, while the Brewers lost closer Cory Knebel to the DL for at least six weeks and placed Christian Yelich on the 10-day DL due to an oblique strain. Both teams have already illustrated the need for a lock-down closer in their matchups this season. St. Louis blew a 4-3 lead in Milwaukee last week when Dominic Leone surrendered back-to-back homers in the 9th to Ryan Braun and Christian Yelich. This past Monday, the newly-signed Holland walked four, including the go-ahead run in the 10th inning in his Cardinals debut. The following game showcased even more bullpen instability, as the Brewers blew leads in the 9th and 10th, and lost the game on an 11th inning home run from Matt Carpenter. Therefore, we thought this was the perfect time to project how these bullpen additions and subtractions would affect each team's season long win total and playoff chances.

The So What?

Let's start by looking at the current projections for the Cardinals and Brew Crew, followed by the worst-case scenarios for both clubs.

Knebel out six weeks, Yelich out two weeks, and Holland on the roster for the rest of season:

Brewers - 82.7 wins, 28.4% playoffs, 0.8% World Series
Cardinals - 84.8 wins, 39.0% playoffs, 1.8% World Series

Worst Case Brewers: No Knebel or Yelich for rest of season with Cardinals 100% healthy:

Brewers - 80.5 wins, 14.3% playoffs, 0.4% World Series
Cardinals - 85.0 wins, 39.6% playoffs, 1.8% World Series

Worst Case Cardinals: No Holland, Brewers 100% healthy:

Brewers - 83.5 wins, 32.0% playoffs, 1.0% World Series
Cardinals - 83.4 wins, 31.6% playoffs, 1.3% World Series

No Knebel for Brewers, but Yelich and Holland both healthy:

Brewers - 82.2 wins, 27.1% playoffs, 0.7% World Series
Cardinals - 84.6 wins, 37.1% playoffs, 1.7% World Series

By looking at all of these scenarios, we learn that Knebel and Yelich are worth 2.2 wins to the Brewers season total if they return from their injuries in the allotted time. In the meantime, Milwaukee should expect 0.8 fewer wins in their absence. While 2.2 wins may not seem gigantic at this stage of the season, it cuts their percentage of reaching the playoffs essentially in half, dropping from 28.4% to 14.3%.

The Cardinals' side of things is more promising, as Holland's signing should add 1.4 wins to their total and increases their playoff chances by 7.4%. St. Louis fans should be much happier with how things project at the moment, because a perfect Brewers scenario (no Holland, Yelich and Knebel healthy) would've given the Brew Crew the slimmest of edges to reach the playoffs over the Redbirds (+0.1 wins, +0.4% playoffs).

When we directly compare the closer impact, Knebel is worth 0.5 wins and 1.3% in playoff chances, while Holland stays at his mark of 1.4 wins and a 7.4% increase in playoff probability. These numbers aren't a perfect representation of the talent for both pitchers, as Knebel might very well have overtaken Holland as the superior arm talent in 2017 (Knebel: 14.92 K/9 and 2.97 xFIP vs. Holland: 10.99 K/9 and 4.05 xFIP). However, it showcases that Holland is slightly more important to the Cardinals' bullpen when factoring in all the talent surrounding both closers. St. Louis needed to shore up the back end of their bullpen, so Cardinal fans should be ecstatic they were able to land a quality arm in Holland, as anyone would be excited about 1.4 more wins and a 7.4% better chance to play October baseball.