The Indians Are A Dark Horse To Win The AL Central

Without a doubt, the weakest division in baseball this year is the AL Central. No single team in that division is particularly strong, nor are any few teams strong enough to make the division a challenge to win. Rather, it will be a test of the least average team. Each of the White Sox (offense), Tigers (defense, pitching depth) and Twins (health, offense beyond Mauer/Morneau) have big questions which keep any from running away with the division.

Given how up for grabs this division is, do not be shocked if the Cleveland Indians make a play for the division title. Check out CHONE projections for the starting nine and then the pitching staff:

C- Carlos Santana, +2.0 WAR (-2 offense, -10 defense, +20 replacement, +12.5 positional)
1B - Russell Branyan, +2.9 WAR (+16 offense, +0 defense, +20 replacement, -7.5 positional)
2B - Luis Valbuena +2.2 WAR (-2 offense, +1 defense, +20 replacement, +2.5 positional)
SS - Asdrubal Cabrera, +3.8 WAR (+13 offense, -2 defense, +20 replacement, +7.5 positional)
3B - Jhonny Peralta, +2.4 WAR (+0 offense, +1 defense, +20 replacement, +2.5 positional)
LF - Matt LaPorta, +2.0 WAR (+14 offense, -7 defense, +20 replacement, -7.5 positional)
CF - Grady Sizemore +5.8 WAR (+28 offense, +7 defense, +20 replacement, +2.5 positional)
RF - Shin-Soo Choo, +3.9 WAR (+24 offense, +2 defense, +20 replacement, -7.5 positional)
DH - Travis Hafner, +2.0 WAR (+17 offense, +20 replacement, -17.5 positional)

That's a strong core of offensive players, with no one projected to be worse than the replacement level player. It also features 3, maybe 4, all-star caliber players and one superstar. The Indians also have young CF prospect Michael Brantley waiting in the wings as their potential 4th OF, despite possessing starter level talent and ability.

Then there is the pitching staff:

SP1-Justin Masterson (4.19 FIP)
SP2-Jake Westbrook (4.38 FIP)
SP3-Aaron Laffey (4.50 FIP)
SP4-Fausto Carmona (4.55 FIP)
SP5-Jeremy Sowers (4.85 FIP)

Clearly, the starting pitching staff is nothing to brag home about, but they are all-around average (could be worse, I suppose) and I happen to be big on Justin Masterson as a breakout candidate for 2010.

The bullpen is much stronger than the starters:
Kerry Wood (3.42 FIP, if he ever pitches)
Tony Sipp (3.64 FIP)
Chris Perez (3.76 FIP)
Jason Grilli (3.77 FIP)
Jamey Wright (3.90 FIP)
Rafael Perez (3.80 FIP)
Jensen Lewis (3.89 FIP)
Jess Todd (4.02 FIP)
Joe Smith (3.89 FIP)

What I see here is a team with a strong offense, a solid bullpen, a quality defense and an average or slightly below average starting rotation. From here lie the pieces to compete now. As Fangraphs notes, several things will need to go right for the Indians to win in 2010. However, those things are all within the realm of possibility.

Additionally, ESPN2 just explained WAR on Baseball Tonight and featured analysis by David Appelman of Fangraphs (as opposed to Steve Phillips), so you know...anything's possible.

9 comments:

Sexy Rexy said...

Absolutely not. Not only are those really bad FIPs for their starters and but those are pretty bad FIPs for relievers as well.

Realistically, the team will compete with the Royals for the last place in the division. The Royals have a better rotation with Grienke and Meche than anyone the Indians will have (absent a trade).

This Indians team is awful and adding Branyan and a healthier Sizemore will help things, but only to maybe MAYBE get third.

Unless crazy, massive injuries happens to the Tigers, White Sox, and Twins rotations, the Indians will be a bottom 10 team

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

How are sub-3 FIPs for all your relievers or sub 4.5 FIPs for all your starters bad? The league average FIP is above 4.5

Sexy Rexy said...

Because if you want to win a division, you need at least two or three relievers under 3 and AT LEAST ONE starter under 4.00.

The relievers FIP are good for starters but are not good for relievers. And if the Indians best pitcher has a 4.15 FIP, the Tigers and Twins will have three starts with a better FIP and the White Sox will have four

David "MVP" Eckstein said...

Only 24 relievers in all of the majors had a FIP of 3.00 or lower.

Indians have a better offense than the Tigers or the Twins or the Sox

Sexy Rexy said...

Guys who will guaranteed have better FIPs than the Indians best starter who play in the AL Central

-Verlander
-Scherzer
-Floyd
-Danks
-Buerhle
-Peavy
-Floyd
-Baker
-Slowey
-Grienke
-Meche

This list doesn't include guys like Rick Porcelo and Nick Blackburn who will be comprable players to to the Indians "ace"

And I agree, the Indians do have a better offense than the ChiSox or Tigers. But they also had a better offense than both those teams last year as well (ranked 12th in runs scored) and they still were awful because that pitching staff was and still is AWFUL!

Also, you were praising Carl Pavano to me earlier- who is on the Twins, not the Indians. And you were also praising Jeremy Sowers with his 4.80+ FIP.

The Indians only won 65 games last year and the lost Cliff Lee. Adding Branyan and Sizemore (assuming you can) with minimal contributions from Santana and Hafner doesn't add 22-24 wins- which is what is takes at minimum to win the AL Central

The 'Bright' One said...

I agree with sexy rexy, as does every other human alive.

Sportsbook has the indians winning the division as 8 to 1. Put $100 on them and win $800 if you think you know something the rest of us dont.

http://www.sportsbook.com/livesports/indexmember.php?sportsname=baseball

Sexy Rexy said...

Last year, the Indians had the second worst FIP in the AL, second worst FIP among starters and the worst FIP among relievers

I like Justin Masterson a lot- that's why I drafted him in both our fantasy leagues- but adding him and losing Cliff Lee is an overall negative to the Indians (at least for the 2010 season)

Don't get me wrong, I like the Indians line up a lot and getting Sizemore back makes them better. But scoring all those runs won't make a lick of difference when you're rotation and you're pitching staff is THAT BAD.

And I still stand by my statement that I would take the healthy opening day Royals pitching staff (2nd best AL starter FIP in 2009 with a 4.25) than a healthy Indians rotation (4.75 in 2009)

Sexy Rexy said...

And finally something TBO and I can agree on!

Sexy Rexy said...

Even more ranting, according to CHONE's projections (the ones you used in your post to project), here are the pitchers he does project will have a better nERA in the AL Central than the Indians best starter(and ones that I don't base off of my own subjective thinking like in my last comment)

-Peavy
-Buehrle
-Floyd
-Danks
-Baker
-Verlander
-Scherzer
-Grienke
-Meche

(so essentially everybody minus Kevin Slowey)

And here's the rest of the pitchers projected to be better than the Indians second best starter:
-Kevin Slowey
-Daniel Hudson (The White Sox maybe 5th starter)
-The rest of the Royals rotation

Let this sink in, the Royals and White Sox are projected to have ten pitchers combined that will be better than the Indians projected second best pitcher.

I know I'm a broken record, but the Indians pitching BLOWS

You know what, even though we already have a crazy amount of board bets, I'll put it on the board that the Indians won't finish first or second in the AL Central