AL Division Review: AL Central

AL Division Review: AL Central

The American League Central has seen a surprise outpouring of success in the early going from the Twins, who are one only game behind the Astros for the best record in the AL. The Indians have underwhelmed so far, being only three games over .500 while having the second-lowest batting average as a team in baseball. The White Sox were 10-28 after May 15th of last year and they enter today 19-22 despite a rash of injuries to the organization. The Tigers and Royals are in the early stages of rebuilds. This is a division that can potentially end up coming down to an interesting race between the Indians, the Twins, and maybe even the White Sox.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins have had one of the best offenses in baseball, helping their early surge to a four game lead in the division. They rank 2nd in wRC+,wOBA, Isolated Power, and are tied-2nd in batting average. They also are running out a solid rotation, ranking 12th in FIP, 14th in xFIP, and 11th in SIERA. The bullpen has been about as good as the rotation, just slightly less so, ranking 13th in K/9 and ERA, 18th in xFIP, and 16th in SIERA. They are 7th in DRS, tied-3rd in UZR, and are tied-7th in Fielding%, so they arguably have one of the best defenses in baseball to supplement a middle pitching staff.

Key Contributors

  • SS Jorge Polanco (165 wRC+, 2.2 WAR in 39 games)
  • C Mitch Garver (202 wRC+, 1.6 WAR in 25 games)
  • DH Nelson Cruz (127 wRC+, 0.6 WAR in 35 games)
  • SP Jake Odorizzi (42.2 IP, 2.83 FIP, 1.4 WAR in 8 starts)
  • SP/RP Martin Perez (46.1 IP, 3.47 FIP, 1.0 WAR in 9 appearances)
Mitch Garver - CBS Sports
Mitch Garver – Photo courtesy of CBS Sports

Cleveland Indians

The Indians have largely disappointed so far, being below .500 and four games back in second place in mid-May. They have arguably the worst offense in the American League (2nd-worst wRC+ in baseball, 4th-worst wOBA, 2nd-worst Isolated Power). The rotation so far has been one of the better units in the game, but that may not be so for much longer. They have already been without Mike Clevinger for a while due to a back injury that he opted not to have surgery on. His timetable is uncertain and he is currently on the 60-day IL but has resumed throwing. And then Corey Kluber was struck with a 102-mph line drive and won’t know for another couple of weeks of his timetable for a return. With Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Shane Bieber, they have the potential for a great 1-2-3 punch in the playoffs and Jefry Rodriguez has filled in ably for the injured Clevinger (2.62 ERA/3.92 FIP in 24.2 IP). Thank god for the bullpen though, which has ranked as one of the better groups in baseball. They are 2nd in ERA and BB/9, 5th in K/BB, and tied-5th in WHIP. Defensively, they have been sufficient as they rank tied-12th in DRS, 15th in UZR, and tied-9th in Fielding Percentage.

Key Contributors

  • RP Brad Hand (17.2 IP, 2.03 FIP, 0.7 WAR in 19 appearances)
  • SP Carlos Carrasco (47.1 IP, 3.19 FIP, 1.3 WAR in 9 starts)
  • SP Trevor Bauer (59.2 IP, 3.56 FIP, 1.3 WAR in 9 starts)
Carlos Carrasco - Scout.com
Carlos Carrasco – Photo courtesy of Scout.com

Chicago White Sox

The Rebuild has been rather harsh on the White Sox. Kopech is out from Tommy John Surgery and won’t be back until next year. And more recently, “The Elbow Gods Punish the White Sox Again“, with Rodon out for the next 12-16 months with his very own TJS, top prospect Micker Adolfo out for the rest of 2019 from arthroscopic knee surgery, and Nate Jones also being shut down for the year. Yikes. Despite all of this, some optimism still remains on the big league squad, partly explained by the record improvement I previously mentioned compared to a year ago. Offensively, the results are so-so and inconsistent. They rank tied-16th in wRC+, 20th in Isolated Power, 17th in OBP, and feature one of the lower walk rates and higher strikeout rates of all teams in major league baseball. They have one of the worst rotations in baseball and that is before accounting for the fact that they lost Rodon, who was seemingly on his way to good fortunes in the near future if not for the injury (3.51 FIP/3.89 xFIP/3.91 SIERA in seven starts). The Sox starters have tied for the highest opponents batting average allowed this year, as well as the the 2nd-highest walk rate, WHIP, and ERA. Double Yikes. The bullpen haven’t done a whole lot to bail the starters out, ranking 14th in ERA but 22nd in FIP and K/9, tied-25th in xFIP, and tied-24th in SIERA, showing a disparity in their actual and perceived performance, indicating negative regression from their already middling (by ERA) bullpen. The defense is definitely partially the problem for the pitching as they rank 25th in DRS and 2nd-worst in UZR and Fielding Percentage.

Key Contributors

  • C James McCann (166 wRC+, 1.3 WAR in 25 games)
  • 3B Yoan Moncada (134 wRC+, 1.1 WAR in 40 games)
  • SS Tim Anderson (133 wRC+, 1.3 WAR in 38 games)
  • 1B Jose Abreu (123 wRC+, 0.7 WAR in 41 games)
  • SP Lucas Giolito (38 IP, 3.05 FIP, 1.1 WAR in 7 starts)
Yoan Moncada - FantraxHQ
Yoan Moncada – Photo courtesy of FantraxHQ

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers are grappling with a rebuild, Bret Hart-style, in 2019. They boast a solid farm system, ranking 10th by MLB.com and eighth by FanGraph’s Post-2018 Farm System rankings in terms of prospect value. While the Tigers have a shimmering future, the present is bleak. The offense has been just about as bad as the Indians, who are one of the worst in the league as I mentioned above. Their rotation has been underwhelming, but sufficient enough for a rebuilding ball club. They are 14th in FIP, 16th in SIERA, tied-17th in K/BB, and have allowed the 8th-lowest HR/9. But when a Tiger starter turns the ball over to the bullpen, bad things tend to happen. The relief corps has combined for the 3rd-worst ERA, xFIP and SIERA, and the 2nd-worst FIP. The Tigers rank 24th in DRS, 21st in UZR, and tied-17th in Fielding Percentage, leaving Detroit fans underwhelmed with the group,

Key Contributors

  • 2B/SS Ronny Rodriguez (173 wRC+, 1.2 WAR in 21 games)
  • SP Matthew Boyd (54.1 IP, 2.85 FIP, 1.8 WAR in 9 starts)
  • SP Spencer Turnbull (44.2 IP, 3.62 FIP, 0.9 WAR in 8 starts)
  • RP Shane Greene (18 IP, 2.94 FIP, 0.6 WAR in 18 appearances)
Matthew Boyd - Photo courtesy of CBS Sports
Matthew Boyd – Photo courtesy of CBS Sports

Kansas City Royals

If it wasn’t for the Miami Marlins, the Royals would be in good standing for the number one overall pick this upcoming draft, which may very well be Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman. The Royals have actually managed to have half-way decent offense this year. They rank 11th in Isolated Power, 16th in BB/K, and tied-17th in wOBA. They have one of the lesser rotations in baseball; they are 26th in ERA, 28th in WHIP, and 22nd in FIP. The bullpen has only been slightly better, ranking 19th in FIP, xFIP, and SIERA. The Royals have actually had a pretty solid defense this year; they rank tied-8th in DRS, 11th in UZR and lead baseball in Fielding Percentage.

Key Contributors

  • 3B Hunter Dozier (171 wRC+, 2.0 WAR in 38 games)
  • OF Alex Gordon (143 wRC+, 1.6 WAR in 39 games)
  • 2B/OF Whit Merrifield (131 wRC+, 1.5 WAR in 42 games)
  • OF Jorge Soler (119 wRC+, 0.4 WAR in 42 games)
  • RP Ian Kennedy (18.1 IP, 1.63 FIP, 0.6 WAR in 16 appearances)
Whit Merrifield - Photo courtesy of the Athletic
Whit Merrifield – Photo courtesy of the Athletic

I see the Twins coming back down to Earth but definitely still remaining competitive. It should be a battle between the Indians and the Twins, but with possible regression coming from the Twins, a possibly shaky Indians rotation, and a Sox team that has as much financial might as any team in baseball with some studs already in place and still a great farm system, this could get interesting.


Featured Photo Credit: David Richard/USA TODAY Sports

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