Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Monday, February 18, 2008

Pre-Pre-Season Predictions: AL Central

This is the sixth and final post in a series that provides an extremely early (and now, thanks to a couple of trades, rather dated) look at the 2008 MLB season. My previous posts covered the NL West, the NL East, the NL Central, the AL West, and the AL East. While I recognize that there is still much to be done this off-season (free agent signings, trades, position battles during spring training), it is still interesting to see the shape of teams as they stand now.

This series will continue each Monday through February 18, which is also the day that the Twins will hold their first pitchers and catchers workout. I hope you enjoy reading the series, and when my predictions are woefully wrong 10 months from now, you can make fun of me mercilessly if you so desire. The actual numerical predictions for the AL Central can be found at the bottom of this post, after a capsule summary of each of the teams.


American League Central

Cleveland Indians

Projected Rotation

1.) C.C. Sabathia
2.) Fausto Carmona
3.) Paul Byrd
4.) Jake Westbrook
5.) Cliff Lee

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Joe Borowski
2.) Rafael Betancourt
3.) Rafael Perez
4.) Aaron Fultz
5.) Tom Mastny

Position Players
C - Victor Martinez
1B - Ryan Garko
2B - Asdrubal Cabrera
3B - Casey Blake
SS - Jhonny Peralta
LF - David Dellucci
CF - Grady Sizemore
RF - Franklin Gutierrez
DH - Travis Hafner

The top of the Indians' rotation is extremely formidable, with regular Cy Young contender C.C. Sabathia as the ace (at least for this season) and Fausto Carmona, who exploded onto the scene last year, backing him up. After that, I'm not convinced, however -- I've never been a big believer in Paul Byrd, and he's not getting any younger. He finished last season 15-8, but with a 4.59 ERA and a paltry 88 K's in 192.1 innings. Sorry Tribe fans, but I don't think he's going to turn in another season with 15 wins again. Jake Westbrook is alright (I actually like him better than Byrd), and considering he's in the fourth spot in the rotation, I think he can fill the role at least adequately. Adequate isn't good enough to get you to the World Series, though. After Westbrook, the Indians should be able to throw someone (if not Lee, then Jeremy Sowers or Aaron Laffey) who is reasonably competent. Again, though, I don't know if that's good enough. My concern with the pitching continues into the bullpen, or at least to the closer -- Joe Borowski had a 5.07 ERA last year. I don't care if he picked up 45 saves (in 53 chances); a 5.07 ERA is unacceptable from a closer. Cleveland will not win the World Series with him as their closer. My solution -- move the very solid Rafael Betancourt into the role.

As hesitant as I am about the pitching, however, I generally love the lineup. There are a few question marks (Dellucci in left and Gutierrez in right, for instance), but what's not to like about a lineup with Grady Sizemore, Vic Martinez, and Travis Hafner? Ryan Garko and Casey Blake aren't exactly slouches, either, and Peralta and Cabrera make a pretty solid crew up the middle. If the Indians improve at the corner outfield positions, they'll be as formidable as any offense in the league -- and that's saying something.


Chicago White Sox
Projected Rotation

1.) Mark Buehrle
2.) Javier Vazquez
3.) Jose Contreras
4.) John Danks
5.) Gavin Floyd

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Bobby Jenks
2.) Octavio Dotel
3.) Scott Linebrink
4.) Matt Thornton
5.) Boone Logan

Position Players
C - A.J. Pierzynski
1B - Paul Konerko
2B - Juan Uribe?
3B - Joe Crede
SS - Orlando Cabrera
LF - Carlos Quentin
CF - Nick Swisher
RF - Jermaine Dye
DH - Jim Thome

I'm not feelin' this starting rotation, I'll be honest. Mark Buehrle had a nice year last year, posting a 3.63 ERA -- and I still think he's got a lot left to contribute to this team. Javier Vazquez, meanwhile, commands respect with his 3.74 ERA and 15-8 record from 2007, along with 213 K's in 216.2 innings pitched. Jose Contreras, however, is getting old in a hurry, and is just not very good anymore (his 5.57 ERA in 189 innings seems to back that up), and John Danks and Gavin Floyd are not my idea of exciting starters either -- although I'll be fair and note that Danks is still quite young, and has just one year of experience under his belt, so he could turn out to be a gem. Honestly, though, I just don't think a lot of wins are going to come out of the back three in this rotation. As for the bullpen -- while I don't particularly like Bobby Jenks (I'm not really sure why, I just never have), he matured last year and posted a 2.77 ERA while racking up 40 saves (6 blown). Outside of Jenks, however, what is there in this bullpen? Is Octavio Dotel suddenly going to regain his long-lost form? Is Scott Linebrink a savior? Will anyone post an ERA under 4.00 other than Jenks?

The lineup has a mix of solid veterans (Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, Orlando Cabrera, and even A.J. Pierzynski) and young talent (Nick Swisher and Carlos Quentin). They should score their fair share of runs. This lineup is NOT good enough to compensate for what I see as a weak pitching staff (especially the bullpen), and it's especially not good enough to compete with teams like the Tigers and Indians.


Detroit Tigers

Projected Rotation

1.) Justin Verlander
2.) Kenny Rogers
3.) Jeremy Bonderman
4.) Dontrelle Willis
5.) Nate Robertson

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Todd Jones
2.) Fernando Rodney
3.) Jason Grilli
4.) Bobby Seay
5.) Tim Byrdak

Position Players
C - Ivan Rodriguez
1B - Carlos Guillen
2B - Placido Polanco
3B - Miguel Cabrera
SS - Edgar Renteria
LF - Jacque Jones
CF - Curtis Granderson
RF - Magglio Ordonez
DH - Gary Sheffield

Now this is a solid rotation -- although it has a few weaknesses. First, I have to admit that I've yet to hop on the Justin Verlander bandwagon, which is a bit silly considering that he has now put together two solid seasons in a row with a ton of strikeouts and approaching 20 wins (although never quite 20) with sub 4.00 ERAs. My questions aren't really about Verlander, though -- they're about Kenny Rogers and Dontrelle Willis. Rogers is now 43, and I think he's dominant days are behind him even if he can manage to stay healthy. Willis regressed significantly last year, and now has to make the transition to the American League. If both of them perform up to their potential, this will be a really, really solid rotation. If they struggle, it will merely be OK, and Willis could be brutal. As with the Indians, the Tigers have a butcher of a closer -- although Todd Jones was much better than Borowski last year, posting a 4.26 ERA (which is not very good for a closer, but is better by far than Borowski). The Tigers bullpen overall will look much better if Joel Zumaya comes back from injury quickly and effectively -- if not, the 'pen will merely be adequate, and potential fatal at the back end.

The lineup -- well, lets just say that as a Twins fan I'm not looking forward to facing this bunch of players 18 times this season. The Tigers upgraded everywhere that they needed to upgrade, notably by acquiring Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria to fill the left side of the infield. Carlos Guillen moves to first base to replace Sean Casey and make room for Renteria -- and I think that switch will benefit the Tigers, even if Guillen doesn't strike me as a first baseman. With Gary Sheffield and Magglio Ordonez in the middle of the lineup to drive in runs, and solid veterans like Pudge Rodriguez and Placido Polanco (and heck, even Jacque Jones, who lacked power with the Cubs last year but was by no means terrible) just season the lineup even further. This is going to be a scary good offense -- in my mind, as scary as the Yankees lineups of a few years ago. At least they were in the AL East . . .


Kansas City Royals
Projected Rotation

1.) Gil Meche
2.) Brian Bannister
3.) Zach Grienke
4.) Kyle Davies
5.) Luke Hochevar

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Joakim Soria
2.) Jimmy Gobble
3.) Joel Peralta
4.) Brandon Duckworth
5.) Ron Mahay

Position Players
C - John Buck
1B - Ross Gload
2B - Mark Grudzielanek
3B - Alex Gordon
SS - Tony Pena
LF - Jose Guillen
CF - David DeJesus
RF - Mark Teahen
DH - Billy Butler

When the Royals went out and signed Gil Meche to a huge deal prior to 2007, everyone (including me) thought it was folly. Turns out, it was a pretty good move -- Meche had a 3.67 ERA last season in 216 innings and established himself firmly as the staff ace. The Royals will be lucky to get Meche to duplicate that performance in 2008 (his career ERA is 4.44), but it was a great way to start things off. The Royals also have to be excited about young, talented Brian Bannister, Luke Hochevar, and even Zach Greinke, who seems to have overcome some personal issues to regain his status as a solid young pitcher (remember, this guy is still only 24, even though it seems like he's been around for a long time). I'm somewhat stunned that I'm saying this, but this Royals rotation should be fun to watch. The bullpen was also surprisingly stout last year, starting with closer Joakim Soria. If they can get a few guys to post ERA's in the neighborhood of 3.00, they should be in excellent, excellent shape -- and it's not as far fetched as you might think.

The lineup has a couple of veterans in Grudzielanek and Guillen, but for the most part is made up of a bunch of young, very exciting prospects. Alex Gordon struggled a bit in his rookie year at third, and David DeJesus and John buck underperformed, but this group could all take off at once. Further, players like Mark Teahen and Billy Butler, who have proven to a degree that they can hit for average, could easily start taking the next step and hitting for power. There are a bunch of guys in this lineup who could hit between .280 and .300 with 20+ homeruns -- and if they get that out of Butler, Gload, Gordon, Guillen, and Teahen, along with some solid production from DeJesus and Grudzielanek, this team will give a whole lot of managers headaches throughout the summer.


Minnesota Twins
Projected Rotation

1.) Francisco Liriano
2.) Scott Baker
3.) Livan Hernandez
4.) Boof Bonser
5.) Kevin Slowey

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Joe Nathan
2.) Pat Neshek
3.) Matt Guerrier
4.) Dennys Reyes
5.) Juan Rincon

Position Players
C - Joe Mauer
1B - Justin Morneau
2B - Nick Punto
3B - Mike Lamb
SS - Adam Everett
LF - Delmon Young
CF - Carlos Gomez
RF - Michael Cuddyer
DH - Jason Kubel

Sure looks funny without Johan Santana at the top of the rotation, doesn't it? The Twins, of course, go into 2008 with a generally young and unproven group of starters. Despite that, it's a pretty exciting crew. Scott Baker made a few great strides last year, and seems ready to make the leap into a consistent big league starter. I've placed Francisco Liriano at the top of the rotation because I think that by the end of the season, he'll be the teams undisputed ace, regardless of where he's lining up to make his starts. Unfair comparisons between Liriano and Santana will undoubtedly be made -- but Liriano shouldn't be expected to be that good yet (if ever). Still, he's got a great deal of talent, and I think he'll make a great staff ace. Beyond that, there are many questions in the rotation -- can someone like Glen Perkins, or Philip Humber, or Nick Blackburn, or any of a number of other young pitchers steal a spot in the rotation? It'll be a lot of fun to watch that develop in Spring Training. The bullpen is still very good -- Joe Nathan is one of the best closers in the game, and Neshek, Guerrier, Rincon, Reyes, and sixth man Jesse Crain (when healthy) make up the best bullpen in the AL Central, easily.

The lineup lost Torii Hunter but gained Delmon Young -- and while that's not yet a wash, I think Young could develop into a rare talent. I'm a bit worried about the idea of importing the Astros left side of the infield of Adam Everett and Mike Lamb, about Carlos Gomez in center, and about the second base job (which I think will go to Nick Punto over Brendan Harris for reasons that I've explained previously). However, a heart of the order that includes Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, and Young will put some runs on the board. Unfortunately, it probably won't be enough to counter for the inexperience of the rotation and a couple of offensive drains elsewhere in the lineup.


Predictions
1.) Detroit Tigers (99-63)
2.) Cleveland Indians (95-67)
3.) Minnesota Twins (82-80)
4.) Chicago White Sox (78-84)
5.) Kansas City Royals (75-87)

The only reason that I'm not picking the Tigers to win more than 100 games this season is that they have to play so many games against what should be tough AL Central competition. I think they'll be clearly better than the Indians, which will manifest itself in their head-to-head contests (I'm guessing the Tigers will win the season series 12-6). Everyone in this division will win plenty of games, however, and people outside of the division will want nothing to do with any of them. Last year, incidentally, I was way too kind to the White Sox. It's possible I'm being a bit too harsh this year. And maybe I'm giving the Royals too much credit. At this point, however, I think that while the wins and losses will certainly end up differently than I'm predicting, this order of finish seems to be a reasonable bet. And who knows -- maybe the Twins will get great performances out of the young rotation and find a way to creep closer to 90 wins. The playoffs, though, seem to be the most distant of dreams with the Tigers and Indians seemingly firmly on top of the division.

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6 Comments:

  • At Mon Feb 18, 11:42:00 PM , Blogger neckrolls said...

    Sensible predictions. I sure hope you're wrong about Punto, though.

    Do you think it would be advantageous to have Gomez start the year in Rochester? He's only got a little over 250 ABs above AA - it seems like the Mets rushed him a bit. Would Pridie or Span be in a better position to contribute out of the gate?

     
  • At Mon Feb 18, 11:53:00 PM , Blogger JST said...

    Believe me, I too hope that my Punto prediction is 100% wrong! I just have the suspicion that Punto starting at 2B is sort of inevitable unless he's HORRID this spring.

    As for Gomez -- my normal inclination would be to be very careful with a guy like Gomez, but considering that the alternative to Gomez is Pridie or Span (or, I suppose, the Twins could get really creative and put Delmon in CF), I would rather let Gomez learn on the job in the big leagues -- at least, unless he looks really bad this spring flailing away at everything he's thrown.

     
  • At Tue Feb 19, 08:14:00 AM , Blogger Josh's Thoughts said...

    I think Josh Fields will probably take over 3rd base if/when Joe Crede is traded. If he's not traded, I think he starts over Carlos Quentin.

    Good, fair predictions Josh.

     
  • At Sat Feb 23, 11:39:00 AM , Blogger Chris Goudoras said...

    Pretty good. I made my own predictions at http://ultimatebaseball-cgouds.blogspot.com if you want to check them out.
    I think you're selling the Royals out. They have the best pen in the division believe it or not, as well as the second best manager (as unproven as he might be) to Jim Leyland. They could very possibly suprise everyone this year!

     
  • At Sat Feb 23, 11:44:00 AM , Blogger Chris Goudoras said...

    Also, Yasuhiko Yabuta is definately one of the Royals top reliever

     
  • At Wed Oct 01, 01:12:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Well, you got the Royals record right anyway.

     

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