Tuesday, May 6, 2014

AL Central: Who else? The Tigers

The Detroit Tigers really have no peer in the American League Central Division, which they have won in each of the last three seasons. The Tigers are so far ahead of this pack that everyone knew the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals made upgrades last year just to bid for wild cards.


Looks like Joe Mauer is hanging up the catcher's gear for the Minnesota Twins (Keith Allison/Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license).

By BILL PETERSON
Big Leagues in Los Angeles

The Detroit Tigers remain the team to beat in the American League Central until someone else can beat them, and the reasons are obvious.

Even after dealing away pitcher Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals during the offseason, the Tigers still have outstanding front-line pitching. And no one in the game hits better than Miguel Cabrera.

But there are signs of life down the division. The Cleveland Indians made some additions last year, knowing they needed to in order to become relevant. It worked on the field, where the Indians advanced to the 2013 playoffs, but it didn't work in the stands, as the Indians continued to draw poorly. And the Kansas City Royals made a bid for the playoffs, which is saying something.

The Minnesota Twins are an interesting group, though the additions of pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes would have improved no other pitching staff across the game. The Chicago White Sox are a badly under-powered club with no serious chance of contending.

Following is a list of each team in the division, giving each club's "top half" position players by 2013 WAR, its "second-level" position players, its top-level pitchers and second-level pitchers. For the top-half position players, we give the player's position and where he ranked at the position across big league baseball in 2013 WAR, then the actual WAR value for the player. For every other category, we give the player's overall 2013 WAR ranking, understanding that pitchers and position players are ranked separately.

More about all of this, including some important clarifications, can be found here. Bear in mind, though, that the 2013 WAR totals for each club only include these top players, and every club will have players with little, no or negative WAR value that actually would drag down its totals.

Detroit Tigers (48.1 in 2013 WAR) 

Top-half position players — 1B: Miguel Cabrera, 1, 7.2; 2B: Ian Kinsler, 5, 5.0; CF; Austin Jackson, 12, 3.4. Totals: Three players, 15.6 WAR.

Second-level position players — Jose Iglesias, 145, 1.9; Rajai Davis, 152, 1.8; Victor Martinez, 188, 1.2; Andy Dirks, 199, 1.1; Alex Avila, 230, 0.7. Totals: Five players, 6.7 WAR.

Top-level pitchers — Max Scherzer, 5, 6.7; Anibal Sanchez, 6, 6.3; Justin Verlander, 15, 4.6; Joe Nathan, 41, 3.2; Drew Smyly, 60, 2.6; Rick Porcello, 70, 2.4. Totals: Six pitchers, 25.8 WAR.

With three starting pitchers in the top 15, no one matches the Tigers for a front three. Nathan should be a huge upgrade for a club that has struggled in recent years to close out leads. But we can see here that even with all that quality in the front of the staff, it includes only six pitchers in these rankings, against eight for the average club. A lack of depth on this staff could be a problem.

Simply moving Cabrera from first to third will improve the club's interior defense, but the additions of Kinsler at second base and Iglesias at shortstop will make it better, still. On the whole, there are better teams than the Tigers, but not in this division.

Kansas City Royals (38.6 by 2013 WAR)

Top-half position players — 1B: Eric Hosmer, 12, 3.6; 2B: Omar Infante, 11, 2.4; RF; Nori Aoki, 10, 3.0; CF; Lorenzo Cain, 14, 3.2; LF: Alex Gordon, 4, 4.2; Salvador Perez, 7, 4.1 (6, 20.5)

Second-level position players — Jarrod Dyson, 152, 1.8; Billy Butler, 165, 1.5; Danny Valencia, 235, 0.7; (3, 4.0)

Top-level pitchers — James Shields, 22, 4.1; Greg Holland, 47, 3.1; Luke Hochevar, 88, 2.0; Bruce Chen, 113, 1.7; (4, 10.9)

Second-level pitchers — Louis Coleman, 158, 1.2; Jeremy Guthrie, 177, 1.1; Danny Duffy, 193, 0.9; (3, 3.2)

By adding Infante, Ioki and Valencia, who combined for 6.1 WAR in 2013, the Royals may have nudged themselves past the Indians as a wild card from this division. Gordon is becoming what he was supposed to be, and the same might yet happen for Hosmer.

The price for adding Shields to the starting rotation truly was steep, but he gave this club what it needs. Hochevar and Chen, dispatched from the rotation to the bullpen last season, emerged as solid contributors. The Royals still could use more achievement in their starting rotation, but they've come from nowhere to somewhere, which is a begining.

Cleveland Indians (36.3 by 2013 WAR) 

Top-half position players — 1B: Nick Swisher, 11, 3.8; 2B: Jason Kipnis, 3, 5.9; LF: Michael Brantley, 9, 2.7; C: Carlos Santana, 4, 4.4; Yan Gomes, 9, 4.0; (5, 20.8)

Second-level position players — Ryan Raburn, 129, 2.1; Lonnie Chisenhall, 178, 1.4; Asdrubal Cabrera, 191, 1.2; Elliot Johnson, 203, 1.1; (4, 5.8)

Top-level pitchers — Justin Masterson, 32, 3.4; (1, 3.4)

Second-level pitchers — Corey Kluber, 141, 1.4; Cody Allen, 141, 1.4; Danny Salazar, 165, 1.2; Zach McAllister, 186, 1.0; Bryan Shaw, 221, 0.7; Matt Albers, 234, 0.6; (6, 6.3)

Lots to like here among the everyday players. Santana is moving to third base this year, giving the Indians a chance for a very strong infield. Center fielder Michael Bourn doesn't appear in these rankings and, for that, he has to rank as a disappointment. If he can become something this year, the Indians might be a potent offensive club.

Masterson, by 2013 WAR, would rank as a No. 2 starter, which isn't bad, but it isn't No. 1, and that's where he'll work in this starting rotation. This staff also has no clear closer, and not even much to fill out the rotation by these rankings. However, these pitchers are young with chances to improve. And if the Indians can just repeat as the fifth-best club in the AL, they're back in the playoffs.

Minnesota Twins (24.6 in 2013 WAR)

Top-half position players — 1B: Joe Mauer, 6, 5.4; 2B: Brian Dozier, 7, 3.8; (2, 9.2)

Second-level position players — Pedro Florimon, 131, 2.1; Trevor Plouffe, 145, 1.9; Aaron Hicks, 232, 0.7; Josmil Pinto, 235, 0.7; (4, 5.4)

Top-level pitchers — Glen Perkins, 81, 2.1; Ricky Nolasco, 106, 1.8; Anthony Swarzak, 110, 1.7; Kevin Correia, 120, 1.6 (4, 7.2)

Second-level pitchers — Sam Deduno, 130, 1.5; Caleb Thielbar, 153, 1.3; (2, 2.8)

With Mauer moving to first base, this interior defense is looking good with Dozier at second base and Florimon at short. The weak link in this infield is Plouffe at third base. Hicks in center field struggled in his rookie campaign, but he just looks like too much talent to not develop.

The pitching might not be terrible going down the staff, but going up the staff there really is nothing to be found. The Twins should be better than in 2013. Almost anything would be better than the Twins in 2013.

Chicago White Sox (20.0 in 2013 WAR)

Top-half position players — SS: Alexei Ramirez, 12, 2.6; (1, 2.6)

Second-level position players — Gordon Beckham, 219, 0.8; (1, 0.8)

Top-level pitchers — Chris Sale, 4, 6.9; Jose Quintana, 11, 5.4; (2, 12.3)

Second-level pitchers — Matt Lindstrom, 131, 1.4; Scott Downs, 161, 1.2; John Danks, 190, 0.9; David Purcey, 208, 0.8; (4, 4.3)

When your best pitcher is Sale, you're better off than a lot of clubs. When your best position players are Ramirez and Beckham, not so much. The White Sox are rebuilting this year as they say good bye to Paul Konerko and wait out Adam Dunn's contract. Maybe next year.

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