Divisional Preview: AL Central

Following a season in which the Minnesota Twins won the division by a comfortable margin the 2011 AL Central should feature a much more competitive race at the top and some exciting young players at the bottom. The Tigers and White Sox spent big in the offseason bringing in power at the DH spot in the form of Adam Dunn and Victor Martinez, but will they be enough to take down the two time defending division champs? As for the remaining teams in the division, fans should be looking past 2011 and into the future. Both the Royals and Indians have young talent at the major league level or on the cusp of making the big club. Without any further discussion here, let’s get to the predictions.

1) Minnesota Twins (91-71)

The two times defending AL Central Champions did not make any big splashes in Free Agency this off season aside from retaining Carl Pavano and Jim Thome, but they brought in Japanese SS, Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Nishioka does not project as a star at the major league level, however he provides the Twins with depth in the middle of the field and some speed at the bottom or top of the lineup. For a more detailed scouting report of Nishioka check out Patrick Newman of Fangraphs here. Pavano provides the Twins with a serviceable #2 pitcher behind Francisco Liriano who trade rumors have been circling around for most of the off-season. Thome is unlikely to see similar results to 2010 when he posted a .437 wOBA, his best since 2002 but as a bat off the bench, part time DH and insurance policy to Justin Morneau, Thome should provide the Twins with excellent value once again.

The Twins winning the division will come down to a few things. First is the health of Justin Morneau. Returning from the highly publicized concussion last summer, Morneau could provide the Twins with a second MVP caliber bat in the middle of lineup to go along with Joe Mauer. If Morneau can stay healthy and even come near his 2010 production the Twins are the one team in the division that has the opportunity to run away from their competitors. Second is the ascension of Francisco Liriano to elite status in the American League. Following a 6.0 WAR season where he never saw his ERA catch up to his peripherals, Liriano could be in the mix at the end of the season for the AL CY Young award. The Final piece to the puzzle is the rest of the rotation and return to health of Joe Nathan. Can Carl Pavano provide another 200+ quality innings, will Brian Duensing provide 160 innings and push 3 WAR, and what about Kyle Gibson who could force his way into the rotation by mid season. The Twins have depth in the rotation, star power in the lineup and the knack for out producing expectations every year and as a result my pick to win a third straight division crown.

Players to watch: Justin Morneau, Tsuyoshi Nishioka

2) Chicago White Sox (88-74)

The always entertaining Chicago White Sox spent big dollars this offseason to add DH Adam Dunn from the Washington Nationals and to retain all-star 1B Paul Konerko. The $56 million spent on Dunn should improve what was a middle of the pack offensive club in 2010. Dunn has posted 38 or more home runs in all of the last seven seasons and never has he had a wOBA below .365 in that time. To go along with Dunn the White Sox have Konerko coming off a career year. Unlikely to repost 39 home runs or a .415 wOBA the White Sox would be pleased with anything close to career norms of .273/.356/.498 from Konerko this season. The biggest question mark in the 2011 White Sox lineup will be at 2B. Which Gordon Beckham should the Sox expect? The one who posted below replacement level numbers in the first 3 months of 2010 or the one who posted wOBA’s of .410 and .388 during the summer months. The answer of course is somewhere in the middle, Beckham has all-star potential at 2B, but likely not in 2011.

The 2011 White Sox season will come down to the rotation though. With a bullpen anchored by Matt Thornton and Chris Sale giving up leads late in games won’t be the teams issue, and scoring runs as discussed won’t be the problem. However with Jake Peavy not ready for opening day and reports from his doctor that 60 pitches might be his maximum at this point the top of the rotation has a really big red flag. Throw in the always inconsistent Edwin Jackson and White Sox fans could be on the edge of their seat all season trying to get through the first six innings. One thing we do know, Mark Buehrle is going to pitch 210 innings have an ERA around 4.00 and give the White Sox 3.5-4.0 WAR. If Gavin Floyd and John Danks could provide similar numbers the White Sox could challenge the Minnesota Twins in 2011, but as of opening day I do not see that happening.

Players to watch: Gordon Beckham, Chris Sale

3) Detroit Tigers (84-78)

Like their AL Central counterpart the Tigers spent big money on a DH this offseason, giving a 4 yr $50 million dollar contract to former Red Sox and Indian Victor Martinez. Although Martinez may see some time at catcher his primary duty will be as protection for AL MVP favorite Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera for all his off the field issues including a much publicized arrest early in Spring Training for DWI is still considered the American League’s best hitter. For the Tigers to be competitive the middle of the lineup Cabrera, Martinez and Maglio Ordonez will have to be excellent. With those three and young CF Austin Jackson at the top of the lineup the Tigers could score in north of 780 runs this season and push for the AL Central title but it seems unlikely at this point with two better teams ahead of them.

There are some very bright spots for the Tigers in the rotation however. Anchored by my pick for AL Cy Young this season, Justin Verlander and up and coming star Max Scherzer the Tigers sport what is the best 1-2 in the AL Central for 2011. Couple these two with Rick Porcello who has shown signs of being a competent to good #3 starter in age 20 and 21 seasons and Detroit Tiger fans have a lot to look forward to in the rotation over the next few years. However the #4 and #5 spots in the Detroit rotation are major question marks. Phil Coke makes the move from the bullpen to the rotation. In his two full years in the bullpen with the Yankees and Tigers, Coke has posted xFIPs of 4.13 and 4.40 of course in limited work where his left handedness could be used to exploit platoon splits. Coke was a starter early in his minor league career and if he can provide the Tigers with anything close to his bullpen numbers in the rotation and 150-160 IP they would be overjoyed. The final spot in the rotation will belong to Brad Penny who has either not been very good or hurt the last few seasons. If Penny has found a time machine and can give the Tigers anything close to what he was pre 2008 then the Tigers may end up with a fairly deep and stable rotation. Too many question marks surround this pitching staff and bullpen and several positions on the field to be overly bullish on the Tigers projections, thus the third place finish.

Players to watch: Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello

4) Cleveland Indians (66-96)

Cleveland barely edges out Kansas City for 4th place in the 2011 AL Central because their current roster construction is just a bit better than the Royals. Indians fans do not have a whole lot to look forward to in 2011 and without a lot if any top end of the rotation starters in the high-minors it may be a few years before the Indians are contenders again. All is not lost in Cleveland though. The Indians have a legitimate star in RF in Shin-Soo Choo who has posted back to back 5.0+ WAR seasons and will likely be the team’s representative on the all-star team. Along with Choo in the OF is Grady Sizemore the once budding super-star is attempting a comeback from major knee surgery and expectations should be kept at a minimum until he shows he is healthy. However the biggest reason to watch an Indians game this season is the young catcher Carlos Santana. Buster Posey got all the hype last season and deservedly so, but the Indians had themselves an offensive machine behind the plate for the 46 games he played before a gruesome knee injury ended Santana’s season. Posting 2 WAR, and a .382 wOBA in only 192 PA, the Indians could be looking at the anchor to their next round of rebuilding. Aside from that the Indians don’t look to have much else, the rotation is lead by Fausto Carmona who teases fans with flashes of brilliance and Justin Masterson whom posted a 3.87 xFIP over 180.0 IP proving some of the doubters wrong in 2010.

Players to watch: Grady Sizemore, Matt Laporta, Carlos Santana

5) Kansas City Royals (62-100)

In an offseason where they traded away their best player in Zack Grienke, and had Gil Meche return over $10 million dollars when he decided to retire, gutting an already weak rotation there is reason to be excited for the first time in years. With a deep farm system (for more information click here and here) the Royals will at some point add to their roster this year at least one if not a handful of high end prospects including Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. However with a current roster that includes a rotation of Luke Hochaver, Jeff Francis, Kyle Davies, Bruce Chen and Vin Mazzaro it is very hard to envision the Royals not losing 100 games in 2011 and if they did not call any of those prospects up this year anywhere from 105-110 losses could be on the table. All is not lost on the current major league roster though. Joakim Soria will continue his dominance in the bullpen, Billy Butler will continue to be a very good hitter, Kila Ka’aihue should hit enough this year before being displaced by Hosmer at some point to build up some trade value during the off season and the Royals can hope that Alex Gordon becomes even a fraction of what they once thought he would be.

Players to watch: Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Any of the Mid-season call ups

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4 Comments on “Divisional Preview: AL Central”

  1. Jeterian 2 Says:

    Well look it’s ESM42. How’s it going man? I like your preview. How do you like my predictions for this year?

    Playoffs :

    Red Sox over Angels

    Tigers over Yankees

    Tigers over Red Sox

    Phillies over Brewers

    Braves over Rockies

    Phillies over Braves

    Phillies over Tigers

    MVP :

    Miguel Cabrera/Troy Tulowitzki

    Cy Young :

    Justin Verlander/Roy Halladay

    Rookie of the Year :

    Jeremy Hellickson/Freddie Freeman

    Comeback Player of the Year :

    Derek Jeter/Pablo Sandoval

    Relief Pitcher of the Year :

    Mariano Rivera/Brian Wilson

    • trecker987 Says:

      The Angels will not be in the playoffs.

      Who are you?

      • Disco Says:

        YC.

        Yeah, Angels won’t be winning games with their O.

        Too many weak links: Mathis, Bourjos, Callaspo, Aybar, Kendrick. No elite hitters, just an aging Abreu, Wells, and Hunter. Morales is still hurt.

      • Jeterian 2 Says:

        YC

        Something about Haren and Weaver in a rotation that is alright. But the Athletics would be my second choice who also have a nice staff.

        Offense could be okay with Willingham/Matsui/Dejesus.


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