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Marty’s Musings: AL Central preview

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A numbers-based preview of the AL Central.

Tampa Bay Rays v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Welcome to “Marty's Musings,” my weekly column of numbers summarizing the happenings across Major League Baseball. As part of our regular season preview at Beyond the Box Score, I will be your guide in discussing various numbers and metrics that will determine the fate of all 30 MLB teams.

So far in the series, we have looked at the American League and National League West. In this week's Musings, we take a look at the American League Central. Cleveland came incredibly close to their third-ever championship in 2016 and are the heavy favorites to win the division again. Based on the projections, the other four teams in this division are in for a long and arduous year. Perhaps we can find a silver lining in the numbers.

All projected 2017 records are based on FanGraphs Depth Chart projected standings and PECOTA Depth Charts as of the weekend before publication.


Cleveland Indians

2016 Record: 94-67

2016 Results: First place, lost in World Series to Cubs (4-3)

2017 FanGraphs Projections: 92-70, first place

2017 PECOTA Projections: 92-70, first place

12 - Projected games that the Indians will win the division by, in both PECOTA and FanGraphs’ Depth Charts. While the second-place team differs, the distance between first and second place is stark in both models. Right now, Cleveland looks like the all-out favorite to breeze to a division crown.

93 23 - Innings pitched by ace reliever Andrew Miller in 2016. Over 19 of those innings came in the highest leverage situations throughout the postseason, but the question remains how and if Terry Francona will use him in similar spots during the regular season. Considering the distance between the Indians and their divisional foes, it is probably best to save some bullets in Miller’s arm until an inevitable postseason run.

11 - Games played by all-star Michael Brantley in 2016. Brantley is only two years removed from his six-win season in which he broke out for a 20-homer, .327/.385/.506 slash line. Cleveland demonstrated success last year while fielding seven different left fielders. Brantley continues to rehab from a shoulder injury which has the potential to derail his career. It is possible Brandon Guyer sees more reps in left field than Brantley.

3 - Starting pitchers projected for 170 or more innings. There is a double-edged sword here, as the Indians would like nothing more than a healthy and productive starting rotation throughout the duration of the regular season. However, by relying on their big-three, the Indians do not have the depth of, say, the 2016 Dodgers to absorb any missed time. Terry Francona also wants to make sure these guys are healthy and at the top of their game for the postseason.

28.3 - Percentage of sinkers thrown by Trevor Bauer, who changed his usage from nearly half fourseam offerings to a mix. Bauer ditched a slider he previously threw about 20 percent of the time in favor of a curve/cutter/sinker mix of pitches. He had his most valuable season last year, and Cleveland fans hope he can continue to refine his pitch selection to improve his results.

1 - Rank on baseball’s longest-drought-between-championships list. It’s the fifth-longest drought in the history of the sport, and the time is ripe for the Indians to break through and try to do what the Royals did when they won the 2015 World Series after losing a gut-wrenching Game Seven in 2014.


Detroit Tigers

2016 Record: 86-75

2016 Results: Second place, missed playoffs

2017 FanGraphs Projections: 80-82, second place

2017 PECOTA Projections: 79-83, third place

194.3 - Payroll (in millions of dollars) for the Tigers going into 2017. With Mike Ilitch at the helm, the Tigers spent a lot of money chasing a World Championship. Ilitch passed away this offseason, and there is speculation that the next generation will reign in the spending. Sitting in third in payroll, behind the Yankees and Dodgers, fan expectations and projections vary greatly.

28.1 - Average age of the Tigers roster last season. This season that’s likely to increase, as there’s not much youth on the team, and the main cogs (Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, JD Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Justin Verlander) are all obviously one year older. If the window is open, 2017 may be the last gasp for Detroit. Henry Druschel analyzed the Tigers’ roster to make a similar point; with their current crew, the time is now.

72 - ERA- for the reigning AL Rookie of the Year, Michael Fulmer. The Tigers are generally an older team, but Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris’s youth are key parts of a staff led by veterans Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmerman. Norris only threw 69 innings last year but will be handling a much larger workload in the middle of the rotation.

.330 - 2016 team wOBA, good for second in the American League. The Tigers trailed only the Red Sox in both team wOBA and weighted runs created. The potent offense was hindered by a lack of speed; the Tigers finished in dead last at reaching base on an error and tied for last (with the Mets) on Baseball Reference’s Extra Bases Taken stat.

2008 - The only year since Miguel Cabrera’s rookie season in which he posted lower than a 4.4 fWAR. Cabrera remains one of the best hitters on the planet, and last season slugged 38 home runs while maintaining a .316 average and .393 OBP. The nearly 34-year-old Cabrera looks as good as ever at the plate and will be instrumental if the Tigers are to make another deep playoff run.


Kansas City Royals

2016 Record: 81-81

2016 Results: Third place, missed playoffs

2017 FanGraphs Projections: 74-88, tied for third place

2017 PECOTA Projections: 71-91, fifth place

-0.2 - 2016 fWAR for first baseman Eric Hosmer. Hosmer was arguably one of the least valuable players in 2016 considering he played 158 games of lousy first base. He was average at the plate and despite a normal (for him) BABIP, only posted a .266 average.

55 - wRC+ for Salvador Perez in the second half of 2016. He played 139 total games, but Salvy’s production took a nosedive after the All Star break. His OBP dropped from .348 to .248 and his slugging dropped from .500 to .357. Ned Yost needs to figure out how to give Perez days off, because this is more a pattern than anything else. In 2015, Perez’ wRC+ decreased from 92 to 78 in the second half.

3.1 - fWAR for Jarrod Dyson, the highest fWAR on the Royals in 2016. Kansas City did not have a WAR leader with that low a number in the history of the franchise prior to last season. Since their inception, the Royals always had at least one player with more than 3.1 wins above replacement (even in the strike years). Players on that list include: more recently, Alex Gordon, Zack Greinke, and Carlos Beltran; less recently, Johnny Damon, Jose Offerman. Gary Gaetti, and Kevin Appier. Going back further you’ll find George Brett and even Amos Otis on the list. In 2016 the Royals did not have any impact players, which led to a pedestrian 81-81 record.

3.1 - Danny Duffy’s projected fWAR for 2016, the highest projection on the entire team. It’s no wonder the projection systems have them down for 74 and 71 wins, respectively.


Minnesota Twins

2016 Record: 59-103

2016 Results: Fifth place, missed playoffs

2017 FanGraphs Projections: 74-88, tied for third place

2017 PECOTA Projections: 80-82, second place

15 - Projected improvement over 2016’s record, per the FanGraphs Depth Chart projections. Per PECOTA, it’s even larger, at 21 games. Even so, the Twins don’t look likely to sniff the postseason, as a record of 80-82 isn’t going to cut it in the tough AL Wild Card.

2 - Contract years left for second baseman Brian Dozier, who is coming off a career year in 2016. Last season Dozier posted a 5.9 fWAR. His 42 home runs were third in the majors behind only Mark Trumbo (who doesn’t get on base) and Nelson Cruz (who can’t play defense). Many thought Dozier’s value would never be higher than this past offseason, but the Twins did not like the offers they received in the market and have decided to hold onto him for the time being.

33 - Age of face-of-the-franchise Joe Mauer. Mauer takes a lot of heat on talk radio (just ask Aaron Gleeman), but he’s finally starting to show signs of mortality, having put together three consecutive subpar seasons. Mauer is officially off catching duties, instead splitting his time between first base (where he played two-thirds of his time last year) and DH. The door is closing on a successful career, but it’s doubtful he’ll get another playoff chance in a Twins uniform.

2010 - The last time the Twins made the playoffs and could really be described as a contender. Despite finishing in second in 2015, they were still 12 games out of the division. Attendance has fallen the last two years as the team has been mired in irrelevance.

2.6 / 2.7 - Depth chart projections for Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano’s respective WARs. Two of the Twins top prospects, both gained high expectations through the minors, but have failed to live up to them thus far. Both players are coming off average seasons and will have to really take a step forward in 2017 if they’re going to anchor a Minnesota resurgence.


Chicago White Sox

2016 Record: 78-84

2016 Results: Fourth place, missed playoffs

2017 FanGraphs Projections: 70-92, fifth place

2017 PECOTA Projections: 75-87, fourth place

4 - Top-100 prospects acquired this winter via trades made by General Manager Rick Hahn. Hahn traded Chris Sale and Adam Eaton for large hauls from the Red Sox and Nationals, respectively. The deals netted the South Siders prospects Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, and Reynaldo Lopez.

25 - Home runs for Cuban slugger Jose Abreu. He broke out as an MLB rookie with 36 homers in a 2014 season where he generated an impressive 5.3 fWAR. Since then it’s been a steady downward slide. Last season Abreu posted his lowest home run total, his lowest wRC+, and his lowest WAR. He’s entering his age-30 season in 2017 and may have to carry a decent amount of the offensive load on his back.

2020 - The last year of Jose Quintana’s team options on an extremely team-friendly contract. Quintana will make $6.6 million this year, $8.8 million next year and then has two club options for $10.5 million in 2021 and 2022. If Hahn wants to continue the rebuild, the price for Quintana this summer should be pretty high. No one will be surprised if he ends up being dealt elsewhere in 2017.

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20 - Days to Opening Day!

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano