Finding Value in MLB Regular Season Win Totals: AL Central
Detroit Tigers 2019 Win Total
The Tigers are going to be sneaky good if they can get some pitching luck. That is my first impression when going over this roster. The Tigers have been in a rebuild for as long as I can remember. Has it been since the Prince Fielder era? OK, it hasn't been quite that long, but the Tigers traded Fielder mid-season to the Rangers in exchange for Ian Kinsler in 2014, the last year of four consecutive AL Central titles. In 2015 the Tigers inexplicably fired Dave Dombrowski, which looks to have been a terrible move, but not for Dave as he just won the World Series as President of the Boston Red Sox. The Tigers officially began their rebuild in 2017, after owner Mike Illitch passed away (his son Chris currently runs the team).
The 2019 squad has some upside on offense but preventing runs is going to be a significant challenge.
The 2019 squad has some upside on offense but preventing runs is going to be a significant challenge. Their rotation has Michael Boyd at the top, followed by the disappointing Michael Fulmer, and the barely alive Jordan Zimmerman. Tyson Ross will try to make a comeback as the #4 starter, and Matt Moore was rustled off his couch to serve as the #5 starter. The bullpen includes guys like D. Stumpf, B. Farmer, D. VerHagen, V. Alcantara, and Z. Reininger. I have no idea who any of these guys are. I do know who the two closer candidates are; Shane Greene is bad, and Joe Jimenez is a promising young arm. If you’re playing fantasy, draft Jimenez despite Greene likely opening the season with the job.
In the outfield, I love the power and patience combo from rookie Christin Stewart in left. JaCoby Jones has power and speed to go along with his fantastic name, and Nicholas Castellanos has developed into the hitting force he was always meant to be. The Tigers also have some intrigue on the infield, starting with Miguel Cabrera. If Miggy can get back to his former self, this offense could be fun to watch. Jemier Candelario has some upside at third, and Josh Harrison was signed to play second base. Harrison brings an all-around skill set to the table and was a shrewd signing. Jordy Mercer is the weak link at shortstop but is backed up by super-utility man Niko Goodrum who can play all four infield positions.
My Take on the Tigers Win Total: Detroit won 64 games in 2018, and I would expect them to get up to at least 69 games in 2019. This no longer looks like one of the worst teams in baseball, but they're still firmly an under-500 ballclub. I’ll say their over/under should be 69 wins. BetOnline has them at 68.5 wins, and I’m a little disappointed because I was hoping to be higher on the Tigers than the market.
Minnesota Twins 2019 Win Total
In the offseason, Minnesota took a look at their division and decided, why the hell not go for it? They added CJ Cron to play first base, Jon Schoop at second, Nelson Cruz at DH, and Marwin Gonzalez to play a valuable super-utility role. These veterans were added to a team already loaded with exciting young players featuring immense potential. The Twins are a team on the rise, and if all goes right, they will be competing for a playoff spot.
The Twins are a team on the rise, and if all goes right, they will be competing for a playoff spot.
Eddie Rosario will lead the Twins on offense, who has been bankable for a .290 average and at least 25 home runs the past two years. Rosario was putting up near MVP-level numbers in the first half last season before injuries got the better of him. If he can stay healthy for a full season, he has the upside of a .300 hitter with 30+ home runs. The other two outfielders are vastly different, but both have high ceilings in Byron Buxton and Max Kepler. Kepler increased his walk rate by 3.3-percent last year, moving it up to a robust 11.6-percent all while lowering his strikeout rate from 20.1 to 15.7-percent. His batting average, however, fell to .224 as a result of his BABIP falling from an already unlucky .276 in 2017 to an "I feel sorry for you" .236 in 2018. Kepler's ISO stayed right in the .180 range for the third straight season. A breakout here seems possible given his patience, contact, and above average pop. After a promising 2017 season for the former 2nd overall pick in the 2012 draft, Byron Buxton had an abysmal 2018 season that saw him play more games in the minors than in MLB. Buxton has elite speed, and plenty of raw power in his bat, but strikeouts remain a major issue. Another player with both strikeout issues and elite skills is third baseman, Miguel Sano. Sano hits the ball so hard that he’s shown the ability to produce batting average’s in the .260-range in the past, despite striking out at an obscene rate of over 35-percent. Last year, however, was not one of those years as Sano hit .199 and struck out 38.5-percent of the time leading to a demotion back to the minors. Last year was the only season that Sano has posted a wRC+ lower than 107 though, so I expect a rebound in 2019, and he should approach 40 home runs with regular playing time. Jonathan Schoop is another player that could use a rebound to skills he’s shown in the past after a forgettable 2018 season with the O’s in which he put up a putrid wRC+ of 80. Just two years ago that number was a well-above-average 122. Schoop is just 27-years-old so it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that his best years are still ahead of him.
The Twins have a potential ace in Jose Berrios atop their rotation, and the staff is rounded out by competent former top prospects in Kyle Gibson, Michael Pineda, Jake Odorizzi, and Martin Perez. In the bullpen, Trevor May emerged as a potential shutdown closer last year, and behind him it's more of the same solid but unspectacular approach with Taylor Rodgers, Addison Reed, and Blake Parker all serving as relatively reliable options. I’m a little surprised at how much I like the Twins pitching staff. I did not realize that in his 24 innings in relief last year, former starter Trevor May recorded a strikeouts-minus-walks percentage of 32.6. To put that in perspective, among relievers with at least 20 innings last year, May ranked fifth in K-BB% behind just Dellin Betances, Sean Doolittle, Josh Hader, and Edwin Diaz.
My Take one the Twins Win Total: With a capable starting rotation, strong bullpen and upside on offense, I think this Twins team will be better than .500 and could potentially challenge for the division. There’s a lot of variance in potential outcomes for their offense, however, so I think a fair total for the Twins would be more around 81.5 games. Well, I guess I’m not the only one impressed by the Twins as their win total at BetOnline sits at 84.5, which is too bad because I really wanted to be on the Twins Over. This will be a pass for me.
Chicago White Sox 2019 Win Total
Last year the marketplace was gobbling up the White Sox as an up-and-coming team brimming with top prospects ready to break out. The problem was that those top prospects were only going to be breaking out in the minor leagues, so I happily took the Under 68 wins at a juicy +120 price. For 2019, I'm hoping the reverse is true, and I can bet on the young White Sox to begin emerging at the Major League level. I'm quickly getting nauseous looking at this team, however, and now I'm really hoping to be on the Under.
The one player that will really upset the stomach’s of Under bettors on the White Sox is a player who won’t begin the year on the team, Eloy Jimenez. Big Eloy has the upside to quickly become a .300+ hitter with 35+ home run power, consistently delivering seasons with an OPS above .900. He’s no slouch on defense either, with a cannon for an arm and more athleticism than you’d expect from a non-base stealer. Yoan Moncada has yet to live up to his hype but has considerable power and speed. If he can learn to cut down his strikeout rate, he may become a star, but so far in the majors, he's been average at best on offense and a liability on defense. He shifts over to third base this year. Next to him at shortstop, Tim Anderson is another guy who needs to cut down on his strikeouts to become an asset on offense. To his credit, Tim has dropped his K-rate each year he’s been in the Majors, but he has yet to post a season with a wRC+ above 98. Contrary to Moncada though, Tim Anderson is an asset in the field and maintains star potential if he can continue to improve at the plate.
On the other side of the infield, Yolmer Sanchez is an all-glove, no-bat defender at second, while first baseman Jose Abreu is the opposite, offering close to star power on offense but is one of the worst defensive first basemen in the league. There isn’t much to say about Jon Jay or Adam Engel in centerfield, but Daniel Palka in left field may be the most intriguing under-the-radar players on the roster. Palka hit 27 home runs last year which helped him post a wRC+ of 109 despite striking out at an alarming 34-percent clip. Palka walked at a high rate in the minors but walked at just a 6.7-percent rate last year. If he can get his plate discipline near his minor league levels, he may be a very similar player to the other Chicago left fielder, Kyle Schwarber. I see two trends when looking through the White Sox position players: lousy defense, and lots of strikeouts. Maybe if their starting pitching was above average, this team could have a chance to compete, but even then, I’d likely pick them to be an under .500 team. The starting rotation, however, does not look even close to league average, leading me to believe this team’s win total shouldn’t be all that much different than the 68-win total set from 2018.
The starting rotation, however, does not look even close to league average, leading me to believe this team’s win total shouldn’t be all that much different than the 68-win total set from 2018.
If you try harder enough, you may be able to make a case that Carlos Rodon, Reynaldo Lopez, and Lucas Giolito could all reach their formerly lofty ceilings, but I’m not buying it. These pitchers are all deeply flawed in a way that I see mid-rotation starter as the upside, and bullpen piece as the downside for all of them apart from Reynaldo Lopez. Even then, I think if Lopez becomes a solid #3 it would be a huge win. The Sox did sign Ivan Nova who is a very capable #3 or #4 starter but is nothing to get excited about. Finishing up with the bullpen, I expected to hate on this bunch, but I like what the White Sox did here. The Sox added Alex Colome to be their closer, sending Omar Narvaez to the Mariners. Colome finished 2018 with a 3.04 ERA after 3.24 and 1.91 ERAs the previous two years. If Nate Jones can stay healthy, he'll be an asset, and the White Sox also added a potential closer in Kelvin Herrera. Jace Fry may have gone unnoticed by most last year, finishing with a 4.38 ERA in 51 innings, but he also had 70 strikeouts and a FIP of 2.67. Fry appears to be the best of the Sox relievers, giving them four quality options late in games.
My Take on the White Sox Win Total: My optimism for the Sox bullpen almost outweighs my pessimism for their pitching, but I can’t deny the pedigree most of those pitchers once had. There’s also Dylan Cease tearing up the minor leagues who could be a mid-season addition that immediately becomes the White Sox best starting pitcher. I think the White Sox win total should be set above the 68 wins it was a year ago, but you also have to consider the Sox could only muster 62 wins in 2018. I'm torn on this team. I'll go with 71.5 wins. BetOnline has the White Sox at 74.5 wins, and that seems a bit optimistic for my taste. I may have to invest in the Under after all.
Kansas City Royals 2019 Win Total
The Royals are a team that is going to be fun to watch. This team is composed of blazing speedsters to go along with big thumpers and if the recipe tastes as good as it looks this could be a productive and frustrating offense to face. On the mound, the Royals are much less exciting with a rotation led by Danny Duffy, Brad Keller, Jake Junis and Ian Kennedy. Those guys may give you a chance to win more times than not, but they won’t win many games when the offense gets shut down.
The fun starts up the middle for the KC offense. Whit Merrifield stole 45 bases last year with 12 home runs and slash line of .304/.367/.438 to go along with a decent glove at second base. His double-play partner is former top prospect and son of Raul, Adalberto Mondesi. Mondesi posted a 114 wRC+ in his rookie season bringing both power (.222 ISO) and speed (32/39 on the bases) while also playing excellent defense at shortstop. The scary part is that there is room for him to improve on his 3.8-percent walk rate and 26.5-percent K-rate. Behind Mondesi and Merrifield is new center fielder Billy Hamilton. Blazing Billy is still a liability at the plate, but when he gets on, he can wreak havoc on the bases. Hamilton’s true value lies in his defense as his speed gives him elite range. In the corners, Alex Gordon is in a sad, steady decline. His bat is now below average, but he does still provide some value on defense. In right field, Jorge Bonifacio showed patience at the plate, but his power from 2017 disappeared last year. Jorge Soler may ultimately win the battle of the Jorge's after an injury-plagued 2018. Soler still has plus power and better than average contact skills at the plate, and could play a passable right field. Two relative unknowns lie on the infield corners in Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn. Both could offer some patience and pop at the big league with the upside of solid three-true-outcome type players.
The fun starts to fall apart when you get to the Royals bullpen, which featured Wily Peralta as its closer at the end of 2018. Brad Boxberger is the big newcomer and should eventually become the closer, if for no other reason than having zero competition for the job.
My Take one the Royals Win Total: The Royals managed just 58 wins last year despite the stellar play of Mondesi and Merrifield. They should be an improved team, but even if the offense can put together an above average season, the Royals pitching is going to let them down more often than not. I’ll set this win total at 68. BetOnline has the Royals at 69.5 wins, -120 on the Over and even money on the Under. I may have to invest a bit on that juice-free Under 69.5 wins for the Royals.
Cleveland Indians 2019 Win Total
The Cleveland Indians won 91 games a season ago but failed to go over their Vegas win total of 94.5. The Indians have a team full of superstars but have not been acting accordingly as their ownership claimed that the previous franchise-record payroll of $135 million "was unsustainable," and the team was forced to scale back their finances through a series of trades and players leaving via free agency this offseason. The trades included shipping out Edwin Encarnacion, Yan Gomes, Yandy Diaz, Yonder Alonso, and Erik Gonzalez. The only impactful loss from that bunch is Edwin, and the Tribe did well to re-acquire Carlos Santana to replace him. Cleveland also received a promising 1B/OF from the Rays, Jake Bauers, in exchange for Yandy Diaz.
What went wrong for the Indians last year was a combination of injuries and a failure to perform expectations. That took place mainly in the bullpen, with Andrew Miller going down for an extended period, inconveniently while close Cody Allen was amidst his worst season as a professional. The Indians traded for elite reliever Brad Hand in July, and he will serve as the Indians closer in 2019. Andrew Miller is gone via free agency, but Cleveland has some interesting younger arms in Jon Edwards, Adam Cimber and Tyler Olson who each had ERA's below 3.00 last year. Veterans Dan Otero, Neil Ramirez, and Oliver Perez are also in the pen, mostly for moral support. Injuries struck the rotation as well, derailing Trevor Bauer from a potential Cy Young season. The 2019 rotation though, looks to be stronger than ever. Corey Kluber remains an ace of aces at the top and is joined by fellow aces Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer. Together, they form what could be the best 1-2-3 punch in the Majors. The final two starters also have a chance to be excellent in Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber. This rotation alone can take a team to the postseason.
Lucky for the Indians, they don’t have to as co-MVP candidates Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor man the left side of the infield. Veteran Jason Kipnis is now joined by Jake Bauers opposite the two superstars, forming one of the better infields in the league. The outfield, however, is in pretty rough shape. The current depth chart looks like this: Jason Luplow in left, Leonys Martin in center, and Tyler Naquin in right. This is where Cleveland acting like a small market team shines through in a bad way.
My Take one the Indians Win Total: I love this team mostly because it's impossible not to fall head-over-heels for that starting rotation. The Indians also have studs and upside on offense, a shut-down closer, and a sneaky solid bullpen overall. If I'm setting the line, I would put the Indians right back at 94.5 wins. BetOnline is more pessimistic, pegging the Tribe at 90.5 wins. I think I’ll have to sprinkle something on the Over 90.5 wins for the Indians.