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February 19, 2010

Division Preview

AL Central

by Christina Kahrl

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Last year's projections suggested that the division would be as tight as ever, but if truth seems to keep upping the ante on fiction, leave it to PECOTA to try to trump that by delivering what would be a logistical disaster for the postseason: a three-way tie between the likely contenders, with the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, and Detroit Tigers all initially being projected for 80-82 records. It's a long way until Opening Day, so that's not quite the same thing as saying that we predict the division will be won with an under-.500 record, but all these teams have problems, and if the 1973 New York Mets (82-79) or the 2005 Padres (82-80) are worried about their status as history's most feeble division winners, that's understandable.

Chicago White Sox
Projected record: 80-82
Why They Might Win: They've scrupulously followed the formula that worked in 2005 in assembling their 2010 team: a rotation so good that a former ace ranks as the fifth starter. That was Orlando Hernandez then, and it's Freddy Garcia now. A bullpen stocked with multiple closers? With the addition of J.J. Putz and the emergence of Matt Thornton to support Bobby Jenks, check. Power up the middle? With Alex Rios in center and Gordon Beckham moving to second to join shortstop Alexei Ramirez and catcher A.J. Pierzynski, that's looking good, too.
Why They Might Not Win: If Jake Peavy breaks down, the rotation starts to look a lot less impressive. If Rios continues to sleep-walk his way through the South Side portion of his career, he'll be the most expensive mistake ever made involving revocable waivers. And the thing about that 2005 planů did they really have to follow the part about getting a leadoff hitter who doesn't get on base? I see your Podzilla and raise you a Juan Pierre. The hitting portion of being a DH is non-optional, yet that's what the Sox are probably stuck with if they settle for Andruw Jones and Mark Kotsay.
Player Who Could Surprise: A healthy Carlos Quentin is already projected to slug .492 with 26 homers, but that's a median projection; you can reasonably expect more if he's all the way back, and the open DH slot might give him a few days and ways to avoid blowing out one joint or another.
Player Who Could Disappoint: The surgically repaired Garcia managed seven quality starts in nine turns last fall; he won't match that rate of success this year, so Rios is the obvious candidate. His slumbering bat down the stretch is all the Sox got to see, but he's projected for almost 60 extra-base hits; if he doesn't deliver, the club lacks the depth to adapt.

Detroit Tigers
Projected record: 80-82
Why They Might Win: The decision to blend something new with something old might turn into a fine transitional team, with headliners Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera getting support from finally healthy veterans like Carlos Guillen and Jeremy Bonderman-and new kids Max Scherzer in the rotation, second baseman Scott Sizemore, and more. One more bat would put them over the top, but is there enough Ilitch money to ink Johnny Damon?
Why They Might Not Win: If the Tigers get too much weak work out of veterans like Magglio Ordonez, Brandon Inge and Nate Robertson, they'll end up asking too much of the kids to carry the Kitties as far as contention-and kids like prospect Austin Jackson in center might not even be properly ready for The Show as is.
Player Who Could Surprise: It's a unit instead of a player, but the Tigers' bullpen could be loaded with flame-throwing talent to soak up innings and hand off leads to closer Jose Valverde. Whether or not Joel Zumaya comes all the way back, hard-throwing Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth are former first-rounders headlining a group that will be critical to repeating last season's fragile late-game success.
Player Who Could Disappoint: Rick Porcello got a lot of credit for his work down the stretch as a 20-year-old rookie last season, but careful handling and timely run support went a long way to get him to 14 wins. If he takes the step forward scouts expect, his strikeout rate will improve and his development will continue; if it doesn't, you've got a defense-dependent kid who caught a few breaks, and those don't break your way every time. PECOTA wants to see more before getting excited, projecting a 4.83 ERA-good work for 21, but less than people expecting the new Verlander.

Minnesota Twins
Projected record: 80-82
Why They Might Win: The division's best lineup isn't just The Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau Show anymore, because the commitment to Denard Span in center plus the additions of J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson in the middle infield spare the Twins last season's dependence on mighty mites. Plus, the slick-fielding Hardy and Hudson should help the strike-throwing staff bounce back from a bumpy 2009 season.
Why They Might Not Win: While adding Jim Thome to the bench creates interesting possibilities should Delmon Young struggle again, depth is a big issue. They can't afford to lose Mauer or Morneau or Michael Cuddyer; the fallbacks in the infield are last year's collection of punchless wonders. The rotation is far from a sure thing, what with Carl Pavano now being counted on and Kevin Slowey coming back from injury.
Player Who Could Surprise: Francisco Liriano isn't a lock to win the fifth starter's slot, but he is the candidate who could be a lot more important than just a fifth starter. His stuff is still electric, and if he can finally rise above the control and durability issues that hampered him last season, there's a chance for considerably more upside than his projected 4.47 ERA suggests. If that doesn't work out, there's always the hope that he can grow up to be the new Arthur Rhodes, a premium set-up southpaw in the pen.
Player Who Could Disappoint: Young has managed to be a pretty major disappointment already, so expectations should be low. Between poor fielding, a terrible command of the zone, and a bad approach, there's a point at which those quick wrists just aren't enough to guarantee him his job. Trading Matt Garza away was bad enough, but it's up to Young to deliver. PECOTA's skeptical, because a .290 batting average is nice, but a left fielder who slugs .432 is hard to put up with.

Cleveland Indians
Projected record: 77-85
Why They Might Win: Low standards plus creative management could provide the opportunity for deals that put them in a slow race. Things that need to happen, in order of some likelihood to less so: Grady Sizemore healthy, Shin-Soo Choo proving he's the real deal (PECOTA is a believer), Matt LaPorta making a splash and full-fledged comebacks from Jhonny Peralta and Travis Hafner. If none of the front three run away from the pack, it's possible that lineup can score enough runs, because it'll have to.
Why They Might Not Win: New skipper Manny Acta is only too familiar with this picture from his days with the Washington Nationals, but the rotation lacks a stopper. Or a good second starter. And maybe nobody you'd really call a third starter, depending on how you feel about a comebacking Jake Westbrook or Justin Masterson. And between Fausto Carmona's command issues and the low-upside alternatives at the back end of the rotation, it's hard to see how the Indians would score enough runs to remain competitive deep into the season.
Player Who Could Surprise: Asdrubal Cabrera seems to go through nagging injuries, minor setbacks and position changes that keep him out of the limelight. Now that the plus defender is finally set at shortstop, his combination of power, patience, and speed will deliver on PECOTA's top comp for him, former All-Star Tony Fernandez.
Player Who Could Disappoint: Beyond Travis Hafner's ugly case of the 30somethings, Carmona's the easy pick here, because it was expected he'd be an established front-end starter after his 2007 breakout. Instead, he's struggled to put hitters away with his sinker, and even after returning from a punitive demotion last season, his ERA was 5.29.

Kansas City Royals
Projected record: 74-88
Why They Might Win: As long as 80 is all it takes, the Royals are baseball's last-place prediction with the best shot at pulling off an upset, rating as the only cellar dweller projected within 10 games of first place. Maybe Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies and saber-fave Brian Bannister all blossom at once, giving Zack Greinke some real partners in crime, and not just guys wearing the same-colored double knits.
Why They Might Not Win: Attaining mediocrity in Kansas City seems about as realistic as building condos on the moon. The defense is a bit dodgy-none of their options for center, short, or second are plus defenders-the rotation beyond Greinke and Gil Meche is mostly a conversation about notional upside, and the bullpen isn't deep.
Player Who Could Surprise: Alex Gordon's career has been one flavor of disappointment after another, but he's healthy, he can build on the flashes of power he's shown in the past, and PECOTA likes both his potential to break out (20 percent) and simply improve (51 percent). His top comps involve plenty of risk (Eric Chavez, Hank Blalock), but also some outright greatness (Robin Ventura). Rick Ankiel is a close second now that he's healthy and guaranteed an everyday job.
Player Who Could Disappoint: Just give Yuniesky Betancourt his trophy already, and a career non-achievement Oscar while you're at it.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who

30 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Evan
(47)

Yuniesky Betancourt is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Feb 19, 2010 10:17 AM
rating: 2
 
dwinning

Would a damon-signing be enough to push the tigers (or whitesox, I guess) to 82 wins?

Feb 19, 2010 11:04 AM
rating: 1
 
jalee121

IIRC, Damon is worth about 3 wins, but that assumes he doesn't play defense and is a full time DH.

Feb 19, 2010 12:19 PM
rating: 1
 
T. Kiefer

Dear BP staff and readers,

How would the division winner be decided if the season actually ended with a three-way tie for first?

Also, as a thought experiment, assuming a three-way tie for first and the Wild Card selection coming from the AL Central, how would the division winner and the Wild Card winner be decided?

Thanks!

Feb 19, 2010 11:54 AM
rating: 1
 
srhoads629

PECOTA is so jacked this year. You have to be kidding me.

Feb 19, 2010 12:24 PM
rating: 2
 
shmigheghi

Completely agree. I'm surprised the writers are writing articles using the current (allegedly still in beta) PECOTA projections when there are clear issues with how they are being calculated.

Feb 19, 2010 13:38 PM
rating: 3
 
amazin_mess

Ridiculous. Three teams tie for first at 80-82?

Give me a break.

Feb 19, 2010 20:08 PM
rating: -3
 
TGisriel

Makes me wish the Orioles were in the Central so they could contend

Feb 19, 2010 13:16 PM
rating: 1
 
Luke in MN

Agreed, this is ridiculous.

Here's what happened. BP had the Twins winning the division by about 3 or 4 games. Then the Twins added Orlando Hudson, a significant improvement of at least a game or two. Then PECOTA got rejiggered and all the pitchers were upgraded to their 75th percentile projection or something. Except all the Twins pitchers' projected ERAs went up with no explanation.

So now, PECOTA has the Twins with a losing record. I ran projections using the first PECOTA spreadsheet and had the Twins winning the division by a significant margin.

BP's snarky attitude just doesn't work when they're way wrong, and I'm pretty convinced they're way wrong here.

Feb 19, 2010 14:01 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

The Twins are clearly the class of this division and for PECOTA and BP to pretend otherwise is absurd.

Feb 19, 2010 20:12 PM
rating: -3
 
sandriola

That's a pretty bold statement to make without explanation. Why don't the White Sox match up well with the Twins?

Feb 19, 2010 21:28 PM
rating: 3
 
David Coonce

Seriously? When your #2 starter is, errr, Carl Pavano, are you really "the class" of any division? The Twins are a good team, but they're getting below-average production from 3/5ths of their rotation and their left fielder is one of the worst players in the game, plus, as far as I can tell, they have no third baseman. They may luck into 86 wins, but (and I'm a Twins fan) they don't have the depth or pitching to do much better than that, in my humble opinion.

Feb 20, 2010 05:12 AM
rating: 3
 
Andrew Kneeland

Carl Pavano is the Twins' 4th pitcher, behind Baker/Slowey/Blackburn. And, like was said above, Liriano could jump in front of all of them.

I'm not saying the Twins have a strong rotation; they don't, and it's their biggest weakness. But I could see a 90- or 92-win season.

Feb 20, 2010 09:06 AM
rating: 1
 
jrmayne

I agree completely.

The worst part is that there's not a visible quest for truth here. To use RS/RA numbers that approach impossibility is not a good sign; to keep with them after people point them out seems unwise to me.

These are smart people running the show, and they know this is screwed up. Caring insufficiently to even note that they know its screwed up in these articles is regrettable.

BP's got enough well-earned cred that it'll take a long time to run the reputation to ground. I hope they don't.





Feb 19, 2010 20:18 PM
rating: -1
 
Luke in MN

I also posted this on the Twins depth chart and haven't seen any explanation:

"You have the Twins scoring 778 runs with an 802 OPS. If runs and OPS have the same relationship they've had the last couple years (a pretty darn close relationship btw), you're underestimating their runs scored by about 80 runs. I assume there's some glitch here.

Also, all pitchers' ERAs have gone up and some dramatically. Neshek was a predicted 3.86 ERA in the 2/01/2010 PECOTA spreadsheet, but is now predicted at 5.50!

I guess while it's still "beta" you don't know exactly what you're getting."

Feb 19, 2010 14:04 PM
rating: 2
 
pakdawgie

I'm looking forward to the annual apologies for PECOTA delays and errors and the false promises that it will be all be better next year.

I definitely feel that these projections are unusable at this time and am surprised that they are being published into the mainstream as final.

Feb 19, 2010 14:32 PM
rating: 0
 
akcolonial

Didn't the Padres win the NL West at 82-80 a few years back? That would make them the most feeble division winners ever.

Feb 19, 2010 18:12 PM
rating: 0
 
Henry F.

This.

Feb 19, 2010 18:47 PM
rating: -3
 
amazin_mess

Thank you Alexei...yes, the Pads claimed that record for their own in 2005.

Feb 19, 2010 20:15 PM
rating: -1
 
amazin_mess
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

That gets a negative rating? Are you guys fucking serious?

Get a life!

Feb 21, 2010 13:00 PM
rating: -5
 
greensox

"clearly the class" LOL. Bad pitching plus signing a couple of decent, but declining players, isn't real "classy".
Slight favorites, more like it.

Feb 19, 2010 22:47 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

How much do you want to wager that the Twins win it?

Feb 20, 2010 08:39 AM
rating: -5
 
greensox

Should say bad starting pitching.

Feb 19, 2010 22:48 PM
rating: 0
 
millerho

With all of the legitimate complaints about PECOTA, I ask seriously, why are you here? I ask not to be snarky but because my subscription is up in nine days. There's a lot of quality to read here, but PECOTA is so disappointing. And articles built in part on beta/delayed/questionable projections are even more disappointing.

Feb 20, 2010 03:53 AM
rating: 5
 
T. Kiefer

Am I one of the few that thinks this projection is roughly correct? Adding to all of the better comments about the Twins' problems, I think PECOTA is over-projecting for them. The Metrodome easily got them 4-8 wins a year, so I think they'll be around 76-80 wins now they're in Target Field. (Reason: The Twins offense and defense was trained to take advantage of the astroturf; now that team has to unlearn all that.)

80-84 wins is about right for the Tigers (not counting Johnny Damon) and 80-84 wins about right for the White Sox. I can EASILY imagine 2010 is a year where a 163rd game is required; this time it'll be between the White Sox and the Tigers.

Feb 20, 2010 08:31 AM
rating: 1
 
elbelz

I agree. While comparing the depth charts of these teams, I simply don't think anybody can say there is a powerhouse in the AL Central. The AL West was more aggressive in acquiring highly effective pieces and the AL East bought up and traded for the best goods again. As far as I can see, the AL Central merely aged in this offseason.

Feb 20, 2010 11:18 AM
rating: 0
 
spinkate

Really, Twins win 86 games last with year with no Mauer in April, no Morneau in August or September, Slowey gone from late June on, Liriano sporting a 5 something ERA, and the 4 black holes at 2nd, 3rd, SS and RF. How could they be any worse this year.

Feb 21, 2010 01:16 AM
rating: 0
 
West21

It all depends on how they adapt to their new park.

Feb 22, 2010 15:20 PM
rating: 0
 
Luke in MN

I don't begrudge people their opinions on the Twins, but I just can't get BP's own numbers to make sense. I guess I'm just grappling for what I can believe in here and for a little bit of explanation.

First, you simply can't score only 804 runs with an 802 OPS unless something is historically bizarre (the run estimate for the Twins has come up from 778, but it still is way too low). In the last 3 years, there have been 7 teams with OPSs between 790 and 810. They scored an average of 867 runs with a high of 887 and low of 845. On the other hand, teams scoring between 790 runs and 810 runs averaged a 774 OPS, with a high of 785 and a low of 761.

Second, I've heard no explanation for why a team's pitchers' ERAs would go up from the earlier versions of PECOTA to the most recent (2/20). Here's what I've heard (with the 2/13 version):

" There is really only one significant change that went into this projection set from the last one - the pitchers are shown based on their 75% score, not their 50% score."

So you'd expect ERAs to go down, but in fact most Twins pitchers' ERAs have gone up significantly from the 2/1 version to the 2/20 version, and the changes are anything but uniform among pitchers (some pitchers improve slightly, but some go up more than 2 earned runs!). Based on the EqERAs in the 2/1 spreadsheet, BP's Twins depth chart gives you a team EqERA of 4.25. The EqERAs on the new 2/20 spreadsheet give you 4.49. So a pretty major overall jump.

Third, the pitchers' ERAs on the 2/20 depth chart are even worse than what's on the 2/20 spreadsheet. I get a team ERA of 4.55 using the ERA figures in the 2/20 spreadsheet, but a 4.74 ERA using the figures on the depth chart. Apparently "ERA" means something different on the depth chart than on the spreadsheet.

I'd love to use the PECOTA data they're putting out, and to read articles like this and feel like I'm learning something, but I just don't know what I can rely on.

Feb 21, 2010 15:10 PM
rating: 6
 
West21

PECOTA has Peavy pitching 162.1 innings, if he pitches 200 the White Sox could have 800+ innings of an ERA below 4 from their starting pitching. That alone should be enough to win this division.

Feb 22, 2010 15:14 PM
rating: 1
 
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