MLB Preview 2016: AL Central

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Dayan Viciedo is a now Chunichi Dragon.

I’m writing divisional previews this year (I think) because I had way too much to write about the AL West.

AL Central
Indians*
Royals*
Twins
Tigers
White Sox

* = projected playoff team

I wrote a year ago that Cleveland would win the AL Central and in the bizarro world of Baseball Prospectus they did (~93 wins based on underlying statistics and quality of opponent, the 4th best record in baseball behind only the Blue Jays, Astros, and Dodgers).  Unfortunately, in the real world, the Indians only won 81 games despite a ridiculous amount of strikeouts from the rotation and underperformed by more wins than any other team in baseball (only the A’s and Astros were also double-digits worse than their projected third-order wins).  The Indians didn’t do much this offseason—if Mike Napoli and Marlon Byrd are upgrades, and they may be, their offense wasn’t that good to begin with—but their top three of Kluber-Carrasco-Salazar are back (Trevor Bauer is now in the bullpen), Francisco Lindor is here for a full season, Yan Gomes is healthy—as I wrote last year, the top negative indicator remains the word “Cleveland.”

Or perhaps the Royals, who brought back everyone worth bringing back from Your World Champion Kansas City Royals except for Johnny Cueto (replaced with Ian Kennedy; it’s the Royals, it’ll work), Ryan Madson (replaced with Joakim Soria; same difference), and Ben Zobrist (replaced with Alex Gordon in left, Christian Colon at second, Paulo Orlando in right, Sal Perez behind the plate …).  They won’t win 95 again, but they look like a playoff team to me.

The rest of the division, not so much.  The Twins were the opposite of Cleveland in the bizarro standings, a 73 win team that won 83 games—only the Cardinals (who won 100 rather than 89 games) overachieved by  more—but I don’t think the Twins will be terrible just because the best Twins (Sano, Buxton, Berrios, Park) are also the youngest Twins and (mostly) weren’t part of the 73 win Twins. 

As for the Tigers, if Seattle is the team no one loves except me (and Joe Sheehan, who has them winning the AL West at 89-73), Detroit is the team everyone loves except me.  Both major winter moves (Zimmermann and Upton) were good ones in isolation, the offense if everyone hits could be top five and the defense with Iglesias healthy decent, but the Tigers allowed 803 runs last season, the third most in the majors, ahead of only the Rockies and the Phillies (barely; their 4.99 RA/game was tied with Philadelphia). Zimmermann is a #2 (3.57 xFIP career), Verlander is now a #3 (xFIPs of 4.19 and 4.15 the past two seasons), Anibal Sanchez is a potential ghost (last season making 30 starts: 2012), and Mike Pelfrey and Shane Greene are Mike Pelfrey and Shane Greene.  The bullpen can expect regression from KRod, who may have fewer leads to protect than he did in Milwaukee.  This team is the 1988 Yankees at best, the 1989 Yankees at worst. 

The White Sox have Jimmy Rollins.

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