2013 Division Preview – American League Central

AL Central

Everything that was supposed to happen last year in this division didn’t. Detroit was supposed to run away with it – but didn’t. Chicago was supposed to finish dead last – but didn’t. Kansas City was supposed to be much improved – but wasn’t. On paper, the same thing is expected out of Detroit and KC in 2013. With the Twins in the division, Chicago might be safe from the basement. But, really, who knows?

Today we take a look at the AL Central.

Defending Champion

Detroit Tigers

Past Five Champions

2012 – Detroit

2011 – Detroit

2010 – Minnesota

2009 – Minnesota

2008 – Chicago

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 90.6

Best Player

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

He won the American League MVP. He captured baseball’s first Triple Crown in over 40 years. He reached 30 HR for the 6th consecutive year, 100 RBI for the 9th consecutive year, a .900+ OPS for the 4th consecutive year, 30 doubles for the 9th consecutive year, and a WAR of over 6 for the 3rd consecutive year. In other words, not only is Miguel Cabrera amazing – he is consistently amazing. Not even a position switch to third could slow him down, and he actually performed much better in the field than anybody anticipated. Nobody else in the division even comes close.

Honourable Mention: Prince Fielder, Tigers; Joe Mauer, Twins

Best Pitcher

Justin Verlander, Tigers

Just as no player comes close to Miggy, no pitcher comes close to Verlander. Think about this: last season, Verlander’s innings pitched, strikeouts, batters faced, and ERA+ were all down from his 2011 MVP season. Yet he still led the league in each of those categories. Toss in a 2.64 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 6 complete games, and you have the most dominant pitcher in baseball. He finished second in Cy Young voting to David Price, and 8th in MVP voting, and enters 2013 as the front runner to recapture the Cy.

Honourable Mention: James Shields, Royals; Max Scherzer, Tigers

Three Storylines For 2013

1. Weakest in Baseball?

It used to be the NL Central, or maybe the

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NL West. But it’s clear heading into 2013 that the AL Central has become the weakest division in baseball. Over the past five seasons, a team has won the diviison with fewer than 90 wins three times, including Detroit with 88 wins last year. The average number of wins by the division champions during that stretch is 90.6, over one full win less than the NL West. Detroit brings back last year’s team, and adds Victor Martinez (injury), Torii Hunter (free agent), and a full season from Anibal Sanchez, so they should be better. But Minnesota looks awful. Who knows what Chicago team will show up? Kansas City should improve, but we’ve been saying that for three straight years. And the Indians signed a bunch of castoffs and are a massive question mark.

2. Kansas City Dreamin’

When a team is stocked with so many young, talented players, it’s only natural to assume that their time is coming . With Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, and Billy Butler on the team, and other top prospects arriving, Kansas City should be ready to contend. But just like the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL, young talent doesn’t automatically mean success. The Royals slumped to 72 wins last year, mostly because of a pitching staff that was horrendous. Only one starter had an ERA of under 4.20, and three starters had ERA’s of over 5.00. So the Royals made a big move in the offseason, trading one of the game’s best prospect to Tampa Bay for James Shields and Wade Davis. Both pitchers instantly make the rotation better, and should be enough to push KC to the .500 mark. The key word, of course, is should….

3. Remade Tribe

A recent article in Sports Illustrated compared the 2013 Cleveland Indians spring camp to that of the ficitional Indians from the movie Major League. And why not? Cleveland has assembled a colourful bunch of characters put together via big-name free agent signings, trades, and off-the-wall, under-the-radar, shots in the dark. Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and new manager Terry Francona instantly give the Indians more credibility, as do Drew Stubbs (acquired from the Reds) and young fireballer Trevor Bauer (acquired from Arizona). And then you have the following: Scott Kazmir, Brett Myers, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Jason Giambi, all trying to prove that they still have what it takes to play in the bigs. If all goes right, Cleveland could become the surprise team of the year, and knock off the Tigers for the title. However, if it goes wrong, it could go spectacularly wrong…

Interesting Stat

The Minnesota Twins used to be a model of consistency. They were a team that had a few superstars, but were built around pitching and defense. Names like Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Francisco Liriano, and Joe Nathan were synonymous with both Minnesota and success. That was not the case in 2012 – not even close. According to baseball reference’s WAR stat, the Twins pitching staff put up a WAR of -3.3 in 2012. In other words, a staff full of replacement players, AAA-level players would have been three wins better! To put that in context, the division champion Tigers had an overall pitching WAR of 23.2, basically making them 26.5 games better. The Twins imported a few pitchers to try and improve that stat (Vance Worley and Kevin Correia), but something tells me it’s going to be another long year in Minnesota.

Who Should Win

Detroit.

Who Will Win

Find out in my season prediction column on March 25th.

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