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Nuance Free AL Central Projections

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A brutally honest look around the division

Another year in the AL Central. The Twins are good, but are the Indians still good? The White Sox made a ton of moves, but will they pay off? Are the Tigers and Royals going to be better? Let’s break it down team by team, starting with KC for some reason.

HELP (Brady Singer)

Kansas City Royals

Look, are the Royals bad? Well, yes. Are they 100 losses bad? No, but they have a tenuous hold on avoiding that outcome.

Do they have reinforcements coming? Just one, it’s Brady Singer and that’s great, but at this point he’s a two pitch pitcher and may be more of a #3 starter long term.

More than Singer’s upside is what he could bring to the Royals rotation in the aggregate, which is five above average starters. If Singer can pitch like a #2 before the league figures him out, they could have a better rotation than the Twins until they get back to full strength. Hear me out:

Danny Duffy – He’s a guy that has shown he can do it in 150 inning doses, and wasn’t that bad last year pitching around some injuries. He was never as good as he seemed in 2014 when he had a 2.53 ERA in 149 innings- he had a 113/53 SO/W ratio that year, which is pretty meh. What he really is, is someone who might give you 180 innings if he stays healthy, he’ll strike out 8 per 9 and allow less hits than IP. Good #3. Or he could fall off a cliff because he’s 31 now.

Brad Keller – Only 24, Keller was a rock for KC’s rotation last year. He’s competitive on the mound, has great HR allowed numbers (only 15 for the year), and this was backing up a rookie season where he went 140 innings with a 3.08 ERA. It was 4.19 last year, but he didn’t get a lot of favors from his defense or bullpen, either. Rock solid #3.

Mike Montgomery – Sort of a junkballer who has excelled enough as a swingman that he has gotten his shot to start for the team that drafted him in 2008. Other than pitching the last out of the first World Series in 108 years for the Cubs, his career hasn’t been too interesting, but he’s a fine #5.

Jakob Junis – Kind of a darkhorse breakout guy coming into 2019, he wasn’t very good last year. He stopped throwing his excellent slider, which indicates to me he was either hurt or given bad advice. But he has shown the ability to strike guys out, even last year with 164 over 175 innings, and is going to be 28 with potentially a more competitive team behind him. He’s a decent #4 given his potential to bounce back.

So that’s a #2, two #3’s, a 4 and a 5.

The Twins have Berrios who is an imaginary number, Odorizzi as a 3, Maeda as a 3, Bailey as a 4 and Chacin/Dobnak/Thorpe as their 5. That is, until Pineda and Hill are available. It’s a bit of stretch to compare given Duffy’s injury history, Montgomery’s lack a of a track record and Junis’ regression, but all I’m saying is that on June 1st, the Royals could have a lower starters’ ERA than the Twins.

The offense shouldn’t be bad either, with Jorge Soler figuring to at least have a high SLG given his hard hit rate. They also have Hunter Dozier, who may figure to be the better Dozier when all is said and done. He isn’t much defensively, but seeing 1st base is the least occupied position for the Royals, maybe they can fit him in over there rather than waiting for Ryan O’Hearn the way the Twins waited for Matthew LeCroy/Butch Huskey/Brian Buscher. Maybe that’s a bad analogy, but it feels like a good one.

Adalberto Mondesi is dynamic and Whit Merrifield is a championship caliber 2nd baseman, who should probably play for a championship team soon since he’s already 31. Also maybe they should stop jerking him around and let him play 2nd, since he’s good at it and you don’t need to make room for Nicky Lopez.

Salvador Perez is a legend, Alex Gordon is league average, and Maikel Franco, well, Maikel Franco is terrible. But playing in Philly has gotta suck, so maybe having the pressure of being Philly’s only prospect for 16 years wore on him, and he’ll bounce back and hit 32 home runs, with an .810 OPS, .450 BABIP, bad defense and an injury riddled follow up year. Then he’ll keep getting minor league deals every year with teams hoping to see that 2020 form again, only to cut him in April. And then some day, playing only against fastball chucking lefties for the Rays, he’ll hit a pinch hit home run that clinches the 2027 ALDS.

Best Offensive WAR: Dozier if they don’t let him play a lot of third. Otherwise Merrifield.

Best Pitching WAR: Glenn Sparkman. Keller

Record: 72-90

Someone tell this man to stop chewing tobacco, did Tony Gwynn mean NOTHING to you people?

Cleveland Indians

Gotta hand it to the Indians, they really showed a lot of gumption in 2019. I had zero belief in them entering the year because:

a) The Twins underachieved hard in 2018

b) The Twins got a lot better in the off season

c) The Indians did nothing

d) The Indians lost Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, Cody Allen and Edwin Encarnacion

And then Francisco Lindor got hurt to start the year, Corey Kluber was terrible and then hurt and Jose Ramirez was Matt Tolbert until July. I really don’t know how they pulled off 93 wins. And I’m glad the Twins won the division last year, because this Indians team is better.

First of all, the Trevor Bauer trade was a stroke of genius. The Reds make terrible trades, just ask the Dodgers, and this one was a doozy. For trading 1.5 years of a mercurial, expendable, inconsistent #2 in Bauer, the Indians got five years of Franmil Reyes and three decent prospects, with Logan Allen being the best and according to Baseballprospectus, their #7 prospect overall. Oh, and they got Yasiel Puig for the stretch run. God, I hate the Reds.

Anyway, the Indians now have reinforcements, with underrated Cesar Hernandez taking over for human dumpster Jason Kipnis. They also have a full season of OF Oscar Mercado, who showed a lot last year, and RP James Karinchak, who looked terrifying in his cup of coffee and has disgusting triple A numbers. Reyes can play DH where he belongs and figures to at least Dave Kingman himself to 30 home runs, 10 of which will come against the Twins.

Lindor is a god, Ramirez will be a god for half the season (which half, nobody knows!), and I can’t find a reason that Shane Bieber won’t continue to be great. Mike Clevinger is an ace but who knows about his knee since that’s the same knee he whips around and kicks a field goal with on every pitch.

Carlos Santana has a sign stealing garbage can for a brain- in other words he has never swung at a ball out of the strike zone in his life and has given me emotional problems as a result.

Their issues are going to be figuring out center field, where Delino DeShields’ son will roam and put up a 74 OPS+, and right field, where I will enjoy watching Domingo Santana trundle after Luis Arraez line drives all summer.

Best offensive WAR: Lindor

Best pitching WAR: Bieber

Record: 96-66

TFW Jordan Zimmermann is starting instead of you (Casey Mize)

Detroit Tigers

You can squint and see some potential here, although the Tigers are great at squandering talent. Remember when they had Verlander, Scherzer, peak Anibal Sanchez, peak Doug Fister and young Rick Porcello, as well as peak Miguel Cabrera on the same team? How did they not get past the ALCS??

Oh, right.

The potential is harder to see now, by a few orders of magnitude, but it’s there. They have a lot of guys with obvious talent who struggled in 2019, like Christin Stewart and Jeimer Candelario. Jacoby Jones started to bust out and then got hurt. He could be a big factor in 2020, especially if his defense is more like 2018, when he had 7 OOA (Outs above average). He’s sort of like a Byron Buxton lite- he’s so dynamic that putting up a 95 OPS+ could make him a huge contributor.

Dawel Lugo is a darkhorse for me in 2020. I felt like he crushed the Twins in 2019, and then confirmed just now that he slashed .396/.408/.667 against them in 49 PA. He’s a bad ball hitter with some speed and pop, and though he is allergic to walks, could carve out an Eddie Rosario-in-the-infield type of career.

Victor Reyes flashed some dynamic ability, playing good outfield defense and hitting .304. But I might be overstating his ability because he did hit .364 against the Twins.

The pitching has the overrated Matthew Boyd (I’m pretty sure he was underrated just a year ago), a solid Spencer Turnbull, a decrepit Jordan Zimmermann (Who is somehow only 33?), whatever Ivan Nova is, and the man who finished 2nd on the Tigers in bWAR last year, Daniel Norris. Norris was big news when he was traded to Detroit as part of the David Price to Toronto deal, a high draft pick who struck out 163 batters in 124.2 AA innings in 2014. He had a great breaking ball and lived in a van because he was quirky or something and the Tigers were glad to get him. But he never performed great before that trade in the minors (despite being ranked Baseball America’s #18 prospect pre 2015), and he hasn’t performed great since, so him putting up 2.9 bWAR as a 26 year old is nice and maybe it will lead to a follow-up approaching the 107 ERA+ he had plus some more innings.

Other good news is that this is Zimmermann’s last year and one of the worst contracts in baseball history can finally go away and be replaced by #1 overall pick Casey Mize, Matt Manning or Tarik Skubal, all of whom could debut in 2020. You figure Zimmermann is just staying on the roster so he can get his $25M and barring a miraculous comeback will get bought out sooner or later, and Nova will get traded or released by the deadline. All of a sudden this team then has some pitching- sign some free agents for 2021 with that 25M that came off the books and this team could be .500 next year.

Not this year, though.

Best offensive WAR: Jones

Best pitching WAR: Turnbull

Record: 65-97

#1 on the pop charts in Cuba (Yoan Moncada)

Chicago White Sox

Say what you will about teams that “won” the off season, but this one fortified itself in legitimate ways. I don’t see big weaknesses anywhere. You have a borderline ace in Lucas Giolito. You added Dallas Keuchel, who even if merely above average will give you innings and competitive games. Reynaldo Lopez made 32 starts with a 108 ERA+ in 2018 but took a step back in 2019 with an 85 ERA+. However, he still made 33 starts, so he has shown durability, and he has also flashed dominance at times, with his 14 strikeout game last April in only six innings, or his complete game gem against the Indians on September 5th, striking out 11 to a team then still very much in the race for the division, standing out. Remember how he and Giolito came over in the same trade for Adam Eaton? It will be looked at like the Chris Archer trade by the time 2020 is over.

In the back, Gio Gonzalez can give you 130 innings of average ball, and Dylan Cease has electric stuff. Michael Kopech was once revered as a god, and everyone gets the benefit of the doubt after TJ surgery, especially if you are a god of some sort. There is plenty of variance in the rotation, but if everything breaks average, they can stay in games, which is nice because:

The bullpen was already good, with Aaron Bummer developing into a lockdown 8th inning guy from the left side, and Alex Colome remaining solid in the 9th. Evan Marshall posted a 2.49 ERA with a devastating change-up that will haunt Miguel Sano forever, and Jimmy Cordero came on the scene with a 2.75 ERA that backs up his odd persona. And they have former top 10 overall picks Carlos Rodon and Carson Fulmer milling about, too.

Is their offense bad or something? Nope, they added catcher Yasmani Grandal to a core that includes batting champ SS Tim Anderson, multi-dimensional superstar 3B/teen hearthrob Yoan Moncada, and dependable 1B Jose Abreu. Sprinkle in some DH Edwin Encarnacion and developing superstar (with only one dimension) LF Eloy Jimenez to top 10 CF prospect Luis Robert, and you’ve really got something. Anderson is probably the weakest link since he is doubtful to hit .335 again and never walks.

There is a strange situation at catcher, with James McCann (3.8 bWAR) good enough to start for… every team, but he will ride the pine behind Grandal at C and Encarnacion at DH. Maybe instead of trading for he of 1.8 career bWAR in 4 seasons Nomar Mazara*, they should have just stuck McCann in right field.

*The guy they traded for Mazara, 2018 2nd round pick CF Steele Walker, had a .361 OBP in A ball last year with a 78/50 SO/BB ratio. Looks like he can control the strike zone, or at least has the potential to do so. We have 4 full seasons of data proving that Mazara cannot. Nor can he run, or field, or maintain more than average game power.

Their rotation will determine whether they are on the bubble for the 2nd wild card, or in the race for the division till the end. If their young guys pitch anywhere near their talent level, the rotation will be a huge strength. If Giolito is more of a 3.80 ERA guy, Lopez proves 2019 is the real him and Cease and Kopech don’t develop before our eyes, it will be a struggle to keep up with two legitimately good teams.

Offensive WAR: Moncada

Pitching WAR: Lopez

Record: 88-74

Dick Mountain AKA Rich Hill
AP

Minnesota Twins

I think the Twins are better in 2020, but they won’t win as many games for a couple reasons:

a) The AL is better overall

b) Everyone in the Central is better

c) There are a couple regression candidates

We’ve been over how everyone in the Central is better, and outside of maybe Cleveland, it isn’t arguable. The Twins also likely won’t go 6-1 against the Angels*, as they are much improved, in addition to the Blue Jays and Rangers becoming more competitive.

*This pains me because I hate the Angels so, so much.

And nobody is appreciably worse, save perhaps the Red Sox, who lost Mookie Betts, but they can’t expect to get so little from Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi again, right?

We should also expect some regression from the following Twins:

-Luis Arraez (But he’ll still hit .300)

-Mitch Garver (Still good, though)

-Jorge Polanco (Maybe not as bad as he’s projected, I was saying all season that he was playing through something, and turns out his ankle was all messed up. He was wincing through swings from June on)

-Nelson Cruz (Old)

-Miguel Sano (They will throw him change-ups)

-Josh Donaldson (Old, struck out more than ever in 2019)

-Jake Odorizzi (Gave up 16 HR as a fly ball pitcher in the year of the juice)

-Tyler Duffey (Track record)

-Zack Littell (Rookie, rattled in playoffs)

-Tyler Clippard (Old)

That’s a lot, but mitigated by improvement from:

-Everyone in the outfield

-Maybe Jose Berrios

Even if all that regression happens, there is still depth and that is what separates this team from the early-oughts, when one injury or underperformance could result in missing the playoffs or being deeply flawed when they got there, like how the Mauer-less ’04 team had Lew Ford as its offensive centerpiece, or how the ’06 team lost Francisco Liriano and had to rely on Boof Bonser as its #2.

The 2019 team lacked starting pitching depth, obviously, and to Falvine’s credit they addressed that issue this off season. They could have done what the Cardinals, Rockies, Red Sox, or Athletics did and not spend a dime on pitching, hoping that some guys return to form, or a rookie comes and saves the day, but they didn’t. They acquired Homer Bailey, Rich Hill, Michael Pineda, Odorizzi, Kenta Maeda and Jhoulys Chacin for a rotation that goes 6-7 deep not including guys like Lewis Thorpe and Randy Dobnak, who were in different ways over matched last year but still have potential to contribute a lot in the years to come. That’s called hedging your bet, and I like it.

The offense will regress, certainly, but it also wasn’t very healthy. The only player who didn’t have an extended DL stint and played all year was Polanco, and he probably should have gone down with his ankle injury. Even the Yankees, as injury ravaged as they were, could rely on Gio Urshela, DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres all year.

The lineup goes 10 deep with Marwin Gonzalez, and unlike some years, there are reinforcements who could have legitimate impact in Brent Rooker, Trevor Larnach and Alex Kiriloff. Jake Cave and Lamonte Wade, although Rooker could certainly end up a quad A player with his swing-and-miss approach.

The one thing that could ruin this thing would be an injury to Berrios, who has been phenomenally healthy to this point in his career. He and Hill are the only starters capable of delivering #2 type results, and Hill can only do it for 60 innings a year. If Berrios did go down, however, that would up the stakes in terms of getting that ace type starter the Twins have lacked for so long. Which begs the question, would you rather have a postseason rotation of:

  1. Berrios
  2. Odorizzi
  3. Hill
  4. Maeda/Pineda (say it ten times fast)

OR

  1. Mystery Box Ace
  2. Odorizzi
  3. Hill
  4. Maeda/Pineda

Of course, the preference would be for Berrios to stay healthy and to get the mystery box, but Minnesota fans are never so fortunate, as we all know.

Offensive WAR: Buxton

Pitching WAR: Berrios

Record: 97-65

Is it a good division? Sorta. There are three well rounded teams capable of winning 90 games, which is similarly true of only the NL East, and maybe the AL West, although I certainly hope that means Texas and not those god-awful Angels, bless Mike Trout.

The Tigers and Royals, though improved, are a little ways out from true relevancy, and are also not designed to win, and that’s what sets this division back. The talking heads on the coasts aren’t going to be taking the Twins, Indians or White Sox seriously (fair or not) until at least 4/5 teams are trying. The way the top 3 teams are built though, with the Twins strong through at least 2023, the White Sox longer than that, and the Indians forever competitive provided they trade Lindor before it’s too late, there should be full scale competition by 2022, when the Tigers join the fold again. The Royals are harder to track- they draft badly and botch most of the prospects who seem to have promise. Anyone heard from Ashe Russell or Nolan Watson lately? How about Brandon Finnegan, Foster Griffin, Chase Vallot or Nick Pratto? (Those were all their 1st rounders from 2014-2017).*

*Perhaps more importantly, it’s hard to see their plan. It’s clearly a tank style rebuild, but how is it going to work? Their drafting and development has to be great, and that hasn’t been the case. They would also have to find trade value for Merrifield and Soler, which 1) It doesn’t look like they will be traded and 2) The Royals would get fleeced if they did make a deal. Can’t you imagine them trading Merrifield for some athletic Yankees prospect with no bat to ball skills? They are a dinosaur organization, and their 2015 title kept them from learning that lesson.

I can’t believe you got this far. Next week I’ll do the NL Central.