The most unpredictable division in baseball is particularly unpredictable this offseason. Breaking down how each team might (?) see itself.
If you set out to list the five most surprising and the five most disappointing teams of 2015, there’s a good chance you would name at least four of the five American League Central clubs along the way. The Royals, you know about, but don’t forget the Twins, whom Sports Illustrated foresaw losing 100 games, but who were eliminated from the playoffs only on the final Saturday of the season. The same publication also picked the Indians to win the World Series, but Cleveland went 81-80. Personally, I picked the White Sox to win the division on the heels of their aggressive winter—but Chicago won 76 games. And PECOTA’s pick to cruise into October was Detroit, but the Tigers’ competitive window closed a year early, and they went 74-87.
I mention this because, if confounding expectations was the theme of the 2015 season in the AL Central, utter inscrutability might just be the theme of the winter there. I wouldn’t know where to begin forecasting next season’s standings in that division, and the major reason for that is that it’s virtually impossible to tell what any of the five teams are going to do with their offseasons. In most of the other divisions, there are clear favorites or co-favorites, and the objectives of at least three or four teams are very clear. Not in the AL Central. Let’s examine these teams one at a time.
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The last playoff battle is a good one, and got tighter still on Thursday.
The Thursday Takeaway
The 2015 season has been filled with unpredictability. The Nationals collapsed. The Mets clinched the NL East with a week and a half to go in the season. The Blue Jays became a super team. The Royals defied the projections and have had the AL Central in the bag for a couple of months. The Twins are still playing meaningful games!
The Twins' pitching has cratered, and maybe it should have.
It was a Baseball Prospectus co-founder, Gary Huckabay, who coined the truism: There Is No Such Thing as a Pitching Prospect. Years and years after Huckabay first posited that, though, two of his fellow BP alumni proposed a modification that, while even more radical, rings truer every day we get older.
Is the Twins' most underrated player also their best deadline chit?
Trevor Plouffe cracked a three-run home run for the Twins on Thursday afternoon, and those three runs proved to be the only ones that crossed the plate all day. A strong outing from Ervin Santana (eight innings, four hits, no runs or walks, seven strikeouts) carried Minnesota from there, snapping as bad a four-game losing streak (one wasted comeback, then three straight blowouts) as a team can have. The Twins now stand at 51-44, three games ahead of the Blue Jays for the second wild card berth in the American League. They’re clear deadline buyers, and more than that, they’re solidifying a status that was unthinkable before the season began: favorites to reach the playoffs.
At the same time, there’s plenty of room for doubt about this team. The offense has scored enough runs to win very often this season, but that’s happened partially on the strength of good sequencing luck, and partially on the strength of unsustainable overachievement. They’re a better offense than many people realized, and they’ve made a commendable adjustment to the new way of the world: They no longer take the first pitch of plate appearances at an unusual rate, let alone the extreme rate at which they took them last season.
The Twins trailed the Blue Jays 4–1 after five and a half innings on Sunday, but after a Joe MauerRBI single, a two-run home run from Trevor Plouffe, and a two-run double from Torii Hunter, they turned that into a 6–5 lead by the end of the seventh. From there, the shutdown relief combination of Blaine Boyer and Glen Perkins sewed up the team’s 21st win in 28 games. Not long after they finished their comeback win, the Cubs beat the Royals at Wrigley Field, vaulting the Twins (the Twins!) into first place in the AL Central at the end of May. They’re 30–19, and 19–7 at home.
The Twins pull up a hot-and-cold prospect to replace Oswaldo Arcia.
The situation: Minnesota placed Oswaldo Arcia on the 15-day disabled list with a flexor strain in his hip, opening up a spot for Rosario.
Background: Rosario’s stock has fluctuated over the years. He started as a relatively unknown fourth-round pick out of Rafael Lopez Landron High in Puerto Rico. The left-handed-hitting outfielder performed well at the lower levels and showed impressive tools, and quietly established himself as an intriguing outfield prospect. Concerns over his position and a 50-game PED suspension saw his stock sink, but he seemed to reestablish himself after a strong 2013 campaign in which he posted a .810 OPS and 10 homers. Just as quickly, it sunk once more, as he was terrible in 2014, struggling to a .246/.283/.387 line between High- and Double-A. Those struggles, in a strong Minnesota system, saw him looking in at our Top 10 Twins prospects this offseason, though he was listed as one of the three factors on the farm.
Chris Sale doesn't get much help from his defense, neither does Jacob deGrom, Ryan Howard and Mike Moustakas handle the shift differently, and Mike Leake let's hit bat do the talking when it comes his opinion on the DH in the NL.
Let’s say you’re a terrible baseball team. You’re the kind of team that could get swept in the Tigers in its opening series by an aggregate score of 22-1 and not have Baseball Twitter coming within a mile of defending you as small sample size victims.
Four young pitcher whose teams made four interesting choices with them: Carlos Martinez, Alex Meyer, Tanner Roark and Danny Salazar.
This is a story about a surfer who became a pop star, and a pop star who became a clairvoyant.
Jack Johnson was born in Hawaii, the son of a professional surfer, and he might have been one himself if, at 17, he hadn’t lost a bunch of blood and teeth in a serious accident during competition. Maybe it was then that he gained supernatural powers of divination. Maybe it was some other, much later occasion. I wouldn’t dare to speculate. Somewhere along the way, though, Johnson became an unwitting portal through which the universe spoke of the future fall of men. Consider the following insipid ditty from Johnson’s third album:
How the Twins stick to the fundamentals of drafting and player development.
Every day until Opening Day, Baseball Prospectus authors will preview two teams—one from the AL, one from the NL—identifying strategies those teams employ to gain an advantage. Today: the mainstream fundamentals of the Twins, versus the hipster indie-ball scouting of the Diamondbacks.