AL Central Preview (Part 2)


Part 2 of my AL Central preview focuses on the pitching staffs, benches and managers of each team. The staffs were broken down and ranked by starting rotation, closers, and the rest of the bullpen. I ranked them 1-5 with 1 being the best and 5 being the worst. For my 2009 stats I used an average of the projections from Baseball Prospectus, Bill James and CBS Sports.com with my own judgment sprinkled in. Age listed in parenthesis is the player’s age on opening day.

Rotations:

 

 

 

2008

2009 Projection

 

 

 

SO/9

WHIP

ERA

SO/9

WHIP

ERA

1

MIN

Scott Baker (27)

7.38

1.18

3.45

7.17

1.25

3.75

 

 

Francisco Liriano (25)

7.93

1.39

3.91

9.06

1.32

3.62

 

 

Kevin Slowey (24)

6.92

1.16

3.99

7.24

1.18

3.60

 

 

Nick Blackburn (27)

4.48

1.36

4.05

4.63

1.33

4.18

 

 

Glen Perkins (26)

4.41

1.47

4.41

5.92

1.43

4.63

2

CWS

Mark Buehrle (30)

5.75

1.34

3.79

5.53

1.33

3.99

 

 

John Danks (23)

7.34

1.23

3.32

7.53

1.34

4.25

 

 

Gavin Floyd (26)

6.33

1.26

3.84

6.30

1.42

4.47

 

 

Jose Contreras (37)

5.21

1.36

4.54

5.22

1.49

5.24

 

 

Bartolo Colon (35)

6.23

1.38

3.92

5.71

1.43

4.88

3

KC

Gil Meche (30)

7.83

1.32

3.98

7.71

1.35

3.89

 

 

Zack Greinke (25)

8.14

1.28

3.47

8.38

1.24

3.52

 

 

Kyle Davies (25)

5.65

1.45

4.06

6.47

1.41

4.32

 

 

Sidney Ponson (32)

3.83

1.60

5.04

4.15

1.59

5.22

 

 

Horacio Ramirez (29)

3.13

1.46

4.37

3.89

1.62

5.73

4

DET

Justin Verlander (26)

7.30

1.40

4.84

7.19

1.40

4.45

 

 

Edwin Jackson (25)

5.31

1.51

4.42

5.84

1.57

4.62

 

 

A. Galarraga (27)

6.34

1.19

3.73

5.97

1.45

4.86

 

 

Rick Porcello (20)

High Class-A

5.18

1.71

5.83

 

 

J. Bonderman (26)

5.58

1.56

4.29

6.39

1.45

4.47

5

CLE

Cliff Lee (30)

6.86

1.11

2.54

6.43

1.36

4.15

 

 

Fausto Carmona (25)

4.31

1.62

5.44

5.51

1.59

4.76

 

 

Carl Pavano (33)

3.97

1.50

5.77

4.76

1.52

5.64

 

 

Scott Lewis (25)

5.63

1.08

3.82

5.99

1.35

4.61

 

 

Anthony Reyes (27)

4.59

1.27

2.76

6.44

1.38

4.54

The best rotation 1-5 in the division belongs to the Minnesota Twins. They are all young, all have at least a year of experience, and all project to get better in the coming years. Baker, Liriano, and Slowey give the Twins a top three that can match up against any other top three in the division. Blackburn and Perkins are not flashy, but do possess good control and are consistent for their rotation slots. Baker and Liriano have the best SO/9 of any duo in the division outside of Meche and Greinke in Kansas City. In 2008 only 2 starters had a SO/9 higher than 7.00 outside of Greinke (8.14), Liriano (7.93), Meche (7.83), Baker (7.38), Danks (7.34) and Verlander (7.30). Kevin Slowey likely will join that group in 2009 giving the Twins 3 starters with solid strikeout stuff in addition to their excellent control.

The second best rotation in the division belongs to the Chicago White Sox. Buehrle is about as solid as they come and he anchors the Sox rotation, followed by two young guns in John Danks and Gavin Floyd. Danks is legit and at only 23 has a lot of excellent baseball ahead of him. Gavin Floyd figures to take a step back as his BABIP comes back to the norm, but he will still be an effective middle of the rotation starter. Contreras and Colon are wildcards due to their injuries and age, but when healthy can still be very good.

The Royals rotation comes in third just a tick behind the White Sox. As far as their top 3 starters, they are in the mix with the Twins and White Sox if Kyle Davies proves his late- season success is for real. Meche and Greinke can match up against anyone else in the division. The Royals drop off significantly with Ponson as their 4th starter, and drop off again with Horacio Ramirez as their 5th starter. Ho-Ram is the worst starting pitcher of the 30 in the division. If I am starting a franchise today and can have any one of the 25 starters listed above to start my team, the choice is Zack Greinke hands down.

In fourth comes the Detroit Tigers rotation, which has talent but a whole slew of question marks surrounding it. Justin Verlander is a potential ace, but at 26 he is going in the wrong direction. The 2008 version of Verlander was nowhere near the 2006 and 2007 versions. I personally am convinced there is something wrong with his arm, mechanics, or both. Edwin Jackson has talent, but that alone does not make for a good pitcher. He is only 25 and could break out any year, but we could also spend his entire career waiting for the results that may never come. He has had relatively low strikeout numbers despite the fact that he throws in the mid-90s and has an excellent slider. Armando Galarraga overachieved in 2008, and will take a step back this season. Last year was likely the best season of his career. He’s only 27 but there just isn’t that much ability there. Last season he had a .239 BABIP despite having major league average stuff. Statistical irregularities have a way of evening out in the long run, just ask Brian Bannister. Rick Porcello is a very talented prospect who has a very bright future in the majors. For 2009 we need to keep in mind that he is making the jump from Single-A to the majors, so there is not much chance of him being successful this year. Check back in 2-3 years and the Tigers could really have something, assuming they don’t blow his arm out in the process. Jeremy Bonderman rounds out the rotation, and won’t be back till the end of April after having surgery last year to address thoracic outlet compression syndrome. If he can make it all the way back, the Tigers will have another middle of the rotation guy with the ability to get strikeouts in bunches.

Coming in a distant last is the Cleveland Indians rotation. Cliff Lee drastically overachieved last season and will come back to earth in 2009. The good news for Indians fans, while he can’t repeat his 2008 season, is he still figures to be one of the better starters in the AL Central. The problems with the Indians rotation begin after Cliff Lee. Their number 2 starter, Fausto Carmona, last year issued more walks than strikeouts. Yes, he was good in 2007, but he was real bad in 2006 as well so which Carmona shows up in 2009 is anyone’s guess. Like Galarraga’s 2008 season with Detroit, Carmona’s 2007 was probably his best season of his career. Carl Pavano is bad, real bad, and joins Ponson and Ramirez of the Royals as the only 3 starters in the division to have a SO/9 less than 4.0 in 2008. Years of injuries have sapped him of the talent he once had and the fact the Indians are counting on him as their 3rd starter speaks volumes for the rest of their staff. Scott Lewis knows all about the injury bug himself, but he did have a good 24 inning audition last season with the Indians. Lewis is an unknown in the rotation, but at the time of writing this he has already found his way onto the 15 day DL. Anthony Reyes takes the 5th spot in the Indians rotation, and could have a breakout season. He pitched well in his 34.1 innings after coming over from the Cardinals, and wasn’t pitching that poorly in St. Louis before the trade. Reyes has talent and potentially could fill the role of third starter on this team by the end of the year.

Closers:

 

 

 

2008

2009 Projection

 

 

 

SO/9

WHIP

ERA

SO/9

WHIP

ERA

1

MIN

Joe Nathan (34)

9.84

0.90

1.33

10.59

0.99

1.99

2

KC

Joakim Soria (24)

8.87

0.86

1.60

9.30

1.02

2.16

3

CLE

Kerry Wood (31)

11.45

1.09

3.26

10.91

1.23

3.51

4

CWS

Bobby Jenks (28)

5.55

1.10

2.63

6.75

1.19

3.10

5

DET

Fernando Rodney (32)

10.93

1.59

4.91

9.17

1.42

4.08

It has gone largely unnoticed by pretty much everyone out there, but Joe Nathan has matched Mariano Rivera statistically over the last 5 seasons. Rivera is still the gold standard for closers because of his longevity as an elite level closer. Closer greatness changes from year to year, and a guy able to do it on an elite level for even 3 years in a row is improbable. Doing it for 5 years as Nathan has is remarkable. Doing it for 12 years like Rivera has is absolutely absurd.

With apologies to Jonathan Papelbon, Joakim Soria is the best young closer in all of MLB, but he doesn’t have the track record or stats to surpass Joe Nathan in 2009 as the division’s best. The AL Central and AL East are the only two divisions in all of MLB that Soria doesn’t merit the top ranking. The fact that he is mentioned along with guys like Nathan and Rivera even though he is 10-15 years younger speaks volumes about his potential.

After Soria and Nathan the quality drops off to the second tier. Kerry Wood and Bobby Jenks are both slightly above average ML closers. I rank Wood higher than Jenks largely on the merit of the SO/9 numbers between the two. Wood’s injury history does knock him down a bit, but since Jenks is a bit of a meathead with a straight fastball I consider those factors to cancel out.

Bringing up the back of the pack is Fernando Rodney. To call him a ML closer is a bit of a stretch. In reality he is a decent middle reliever who gets first crack at losing the job. I fully expect the Tigers will use 2-3 other guys in this role even if Rodney can stay healthy.

Bullpen:

 

 

 

1

KC

Juan Cruz (30)

 

 

Kyle Farnsworth (32)

 

 

Ron Mahay (37)

 

 

Robinson Tejeda (27)

 

 

Doug Waechter (28)

 

 

Jamey Wright (34)

2

CWS

D.J. Carrasco (31)

 

 

Octavio Dotel (35)

 

 

Scott Linebrink (32)

 

 

Mike MacDougal (32)

 

 

Clayton Richard (25)

 

 

Matt Thornton (32)

3

MIN

Luis Ayala (31)

 

 

Craig Breslow (28)

 

 

Jesse Crain (27)

 

 

Brian Duensing (26)

 

 

Matt Guerrier (30)

 

 

Philip Humber (26)

4

DET

Eddie Bonine (27)

 

 

Brandon Lyon (29)

 

 

Ryan Perry (22)

 

 

Juan Rincon (30)

 

 

Nate Robertson (31)

 

 

Bobby Seay (30)

5

CLE

Rafael Betancourt (33)

 

 

Vinnie Chulk (30)

 

 

Zach Jackson (25)

 

 

Masa Kobayashi (34)

 

 

Jensen Lewis (24)

 

 

Rafael Perez (26)

 

 

Joe Smith (25)

*Bullpen’s Listed as of Opening Day

Trying to predict what guys in a bullpen are going to do from year to year is equivalent to throwing darts at a spinning dartboard while blindfolded. I did not list the 2008 stats because they are not relevant indicators of a pitcher’s value and ability with respect to the 2009 season. I did not include 2009 statistical projections either since those would have as much merit as ESPN’s latest projected 2010 NCAA field of 65. By the time this is finally posted, several players listed above will have been swapped out for any number of factors. Ranking bullpens is also difficult because their usage and workload is dependent on the effectiveness of the starting rotation and the tactical whims of each team’s manager. My above rankings are made independent of the team’s rotation and manager. You could make an argument for ranking these 5 bullpens in any order, although the Indians’ bullpen is, by far, the worst of the bunch.

Bench:                                   *Bench Listed as of 4/22/09*

1

MIN

CI

Brian Buscher (27)

 

 

OF

Michael Cuddyer (30)

 

 

IF

Brendan Harris (28)

 

 

C

Jose Morales (26)

2

CLE

OF

Trevor Crowe (25)

 

 

IF

Tony Graffanino (36)

 

 

C

Kelly Shoppach (28)

3

DET

OF

Josh Anderson (26)

 

 

CI

Jeff Larish (26)

 

 

MI

Ramon Santiago (29)

 

 

C

Matt Treanor (33)

4

KC

U

Willie Bloomquist (31)

 

 

C

John Buck (28)

 

 

OF

Mitch Maier (28)

 

 

C

Brayan Pena (27)

 

 

SS

Tony Pena Jr. (28)

5

CWS

OF

Brian Anderson (27)

 

 

CI

Wilson Betemit (27)

 

 

MI

Brent Lillibridge (25)

 

 

C

Corky Miller (33)

The Twins bench lacks speed and isn’t great defensively, but they are by far the best contact hitting group of the bunch and have decent pop to boot. Outside of Morales, they all have a fair amount of ML experience. All 4 guys can start in case of injury and contribute to the team while doing so. Cuddyer is already in the starting mix with the other 3 outfielders. Buscher very well could be the starter at 3B by season’s end if Crede gets hurt or continues to be ineffective. Harris can step in at 2B or SS and offensively provide an upgrade at either position. Finally Jose Morales may push Redmond off the team when Joe Mauer comes off the DL.

Cleveland’s bench is currently short but features a good prospect in Crowe, a power option in Shoppach, and a valuable veteran in Graffanino. Shoppach also give the Indians a leg up on other teams since he is the best backup catcher in the division.

Detroit’s bench has two young guys that figure into the team’s future beyond the 2009 season. Larish has serious power potential and gives the Tigers a nice late inning threat when a long ball is needed. Josh Anderson brings excellent speed and good on-base skills that figure to improve as he develops. Santiago is a solid middle infielder who has hit .280 the last two seasons coming off the bench. Matt Treanor is the weak link in the group and would be the division’s worst backup catcher if not for Corky Miller. If Larish and Anderson play well this group could be the division’s best by the end of the season. For now I ranked them 3rd since they are untested and unproven at the ML level.

Kansas City’s bench consists of 2 backup catchers, a super utility player, a 4th outfielder, and a SS that shouldn’t be on a ML roster. Carrying 2 backup catchers limits the Royals options on most days, and seems like a luxury they cannot afford. Bloomquist can play pretty much anywhere and will provide passable defense at all the positions. He can hit a solid .270 as a part time player, but will provide absolutely no pop at the plate. Tony Pena Jr. is below average defensively and well below average offensively, but the Royals keep him around for some reason. Mitch Maier is a solid ML 4th OF who can provide defense, speed and maybe more if the Royals finally give him a chance to play.

Chicago’s bench is simply bad. Corky Miller is the worst backup catcher in the division. Lillibridge is a career .270 hitter in the minors with no power and decent speed. Brian Anderson is one of the many failed CF prospects the White Sox have tried to prop up over the years. The fact he couldn’t beat out DeWayne Wise for the starting spot adequately sums him up. Wilson Betemit at one time had a lot of potential, but he’s now with his 3rd organization while carrying a career .264 average, dwindling power numbers, and no speed.

Managers:

 

 

 

1

DET

Jim Leyland

2

CWS

Ozzie Guillen

3

MIN

Ron Gardenhire

4

CLE

Eric Wedge

5

KC

Trey Hillman

I think this order speaks for itself.

This concludes Part 2 of my 2009 AL Central Preview.

Tags: AL Central Minnesota Twins MLB