Basic concepts. I've used fWAR for position players and bWAR for pitchers, because I think these give the best measure of actual "production" for a player. For pitchers, fWAR is based off xFIP, which reduces everything to strikeouts, walks and home-runs, because it's intent on removing defense from the picture. While probably a more accurate predictor of future performance, it feels too reductive as a metric of actual value. And it's not like any of the offensive numbers try and exclude defense, where it's surely as important.
I haven't bothered trying to generate full rosters for each division, because that would lead to over 100 players being selected, Having the likes of Kyle Blanks and his 1.2 fWAR (#62 in the NL) being chosen, would demean the concept irreparably. Can't believe I wrote that with a straight face. So, it's just one player at each position, three for the outfield (with an apolitical complete lack of concern for left, right or center), with a left- and right-handed starting pitcher, and the same for relievers. Commentary on each position for the West is provided, with an overall view for the other two division, and all individual stats are through July 6.
National League West
- C. Buster Posey, Giants (3.4)
Not close, Posey easily beating out the Dodgers' A.J. Ellis for the starting job. The Giants should genuflect in the direction of St. Buster, because while the SF offense has sputtering (they're 36 runs down on the pace from last year), Posey has been worth twice as much as any of their other position players, except for Pence.
- 1B. Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs (3.3)
Goldzilla is another easy pick, worth as much as any two other first basemen in the division combined (Gonzalez and Belt being the alternates). It's not just with his bat, either. He ranks #2 in the National League at the position for fielding, behind Belt, and is first for base-running - it's those aspects which have allowed him to overtake Votto overall.
- 2B. Jedd Gyorko, Padres (1.7)
This one was actually a tie, with the Giants' Scutaro posting the same WAR, but Gyorko gets the edge because he has done it in fewer games played. Besides, Gyorko is one of those words that are just fun to say, like "plinth." Really sounds like he should be fighting in the UFC, rather than occupying the middle-infield.
- SS. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies (3.9)
Obviously Tulowitzki isn't going to be playing anything until quite a while after the break. But we do have a credible injury replacement for the division, in the Padres' Everth Cabrera, who has blossomed very nicely this season, and has been worth 3.6 WAR so far. Honorably mention to Hanley Ramirez, who has less than 100 PAs and has 1.8 WAR.
- 3B. Chase Headley, Padres (1.7)
Toss-up between this and second-base as the weakest position in the division thus far, with San Diego providing the best of a mediocre lot at both spots. Headley edges out the Rockies' rookie Arenado and the Dodgers' certainly-not-a-rookie Uribe, But it's not exactly an inspiring set of players, with Headley a pale shadow of 2012's MVP candidate.
- OF. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (3.6)
OF. Hunter Pence, Giants (2.7)
OF. Gerardo Parra, D-backs (2.5)
Actually, you could argue Dexter Fowler over Parra, as both have the same WAR, and if I'm going to be "consistent" (see 2B above), Fowler has played less. Fortunately, we are not constricted by such things here, and I'm damned if I'm going to have more Rockies than Giants in this entirely fictional exercise, so Parra it is. Does look like the long-term signing of CarGo and TroyBoy could be well worth the money, but not sure the rest of the team is good enough. Oh, and in case you're wondering - and I'm sure you are - Y*s**l P**g hasn't even reached two WAR, contrary to what the hyperventilating media would have you believe.
- LHSP. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (5.1)
RHSP. Jhoulys Chacin, Rockies (3.4)
No doubt, Kershaw is the best pitcher in the division this year - but would you have had De La Rosa and Chacin as second and third? Thus spake fWAR: all told, the Rockies have the second best pitching in the NL this far, which isn't quite what most people expected, coming into this season. Patrick Corbin comes in third among southpaws: trailing Kershaw is hardly a disgrace, especially as Corbin is about 16 months younger and 133 major-league starts less experienced. Rather have him than de la Rosa, certainly.
- LHRP. Rex Brothers, Rockies (2.3)
RHRP. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers (1.2)
Did I mention the Rockies' pitching? Seriously, Brothers' numbers have been insane: a sub-two ERA at Coors, and he has not yet allowed a run anywhere else, in 16 appearances. Ottavino is right there with Jansen from the other side of the rubber too. You have to go quite a way down the list to find any members of the Diamondbacks bullpen, with Collmenter and Reynolds both coming in at the 0.7 WAR mark thus far.
National League Central
- C. Yadier Molina, Cardinals (3.7)
- 1B. Joey Votto, Reds (3.2)
- 2B. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals (4.1)
- SS. Jean Segura, Brewers (3.5)
- 3B. Todd Frazier, Reds (2.2)
- OF. Carlos Gomez, Brewers (4.5)
- OF. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates (3.8)
- OF. Starling Marte, Pirates (3.1)
- LHSP. Travis Wood, Cubs (3.0)
- RHSP. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (4.5)
- LHRP. Aroldis Chapman, Reds (1.1)
- RHRP. Mark Melancon, Pirates (1.8)
Have to say, this is probably the strongest line-up, top to bottom, of the three divisions. Third base is the only spot without someone worth at least three WAR, and a few "one player you don't let beat you" candidates, such as McCutchen and Votto. I wouldn't fancy facing Wainwright as a starter, with Chapman coming in to close out a lead in the ninth [assuming it's good Chapman, not the version we enjoyed in one of our games against Cincinnati]. Somewhat surprised that Wood is the best left-handed starter in the division so far: the Pirates' Jeff Locke is the only other one worth even two WAR. Definitely an area where the West is not the Worst.
National League East
- C. Brian McCann, Braves (1.5)
- 1B. Freddie Freeman, Braves (1.5)
- 2B. Chase Utley, Phillies (2.6)
- SS. Ian Desmond, Nationals (2.9)
- 3B. David Wright, Mets (4.5)
- OF. Marcel Ozuna, Marlins (2.1)
- OF. Domonic Brown, Phillies (1.8)
- OF. Evan Gattis, Braves (1.8)
- LHSP. Cliff Lee, Phillies (4.5)
- RHSP. Matt Harvey, Mets (4.2)
- LHRP. Luis Avilan, Braves (1.1)
- RHRP. Craig Kimbrel, Braves (1.4)
On the other hand, I look at this line-up and am not exactly scared: outside of Wright, there isn't anyone who has set the league on fire this year, though Utley is having his best season in a while, at least offensively. But the pairing of Lee and Harvey as starting pitchers is certainly a match for any 1-2 punch the other divisions can serve up, and two from the apparently endless line of Braves bullpen arms (no Venters? No problem!) would provide solid relief. But it's a team that would seem more likely to beat you 2-1 than 8-7. S'funny though, how many of the "all-star" starters here the D-backs have beaten this year: Harvey, Wainwright, Kershaw, Kershaw, Kershaw. :)
The fact the D-backs' record wouldn't be good enough for the lead in the other NL divisions - indeed, we'd be fourth in the Central - has been used to show the division isn't actually very good. However, the above suggests that's not necessarily the case, and what we're seeing here is more down to intra-divisional parity, than "weakness." This is supported by the record of teams in the West against other opponents. Collectively, they have a winning record against the East (50-48) and only fractionally below .500 against the Central (37-38). The East, meanwhile have been beaten badly by the Central, going 40-59. The West's weakness is in interleague-play (18-35).
If you look at total fWAR for the divisions, this is what you get:
- NL West: Hitting, 59.1; Pitching, 26.8; Total = 85.9
- NL Central: Hitting, 55.7; Pitching, 37.0; Total = 92.7
- NL East: Hitting, 34.9; Pitching, 37.6; Total = 72.5
That would seem to be in line with the divisional records, and not far off what the All-Star lineups would suggest. The Central are the best division overall, while the East has the weakest offense, but the best pitching. The West's total WAR sits in the middle: it would seem that claims they are the "NL Worst" seem little more than facile headline-hunting.