Despite the fact that the American League Central Division has been perceived as one of the weaker divisions in baseball over the years, the division has been much improved in the last handful of years.
Believe it or not, the AL Central has combined for the most World Series appearances in baseball over the course of the last five years. The Kansas City Royals have been there twice, and of course the Detroit Tigers were there once. No other division has been represented in the Fall Classic more than twice over that span.
Over the course of those five years, three teams in the division have a winning record, with the Tigers leading the way.
|AL Central||2011-16 Record|
|Kansas City Royals||413-397|
|Chicago White Sox||376-434|
|AL East||2011-16 Record|
|New York Yankees||448-362|
|Tampa Bay Rays||430-381|
|Boston Red Sox||405-405|
|Tampa Bay Rays||404-406|
|AL West||2011-16 Record|
|Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim||436-374|
The Central Division’s winning percentage over those five years is .490, compared to a .521 clip in the AL East and a .503 mark in the AL West. While that is not a knock on the division as a whole, it shows that the division has been quite top-heavy, at least for the last five years.
For the sake of comparison, notice that over the last five years, only the New York Yankees have won more games in the American League over the past five seasons than Detroit
The Tigers have won the AL Central crown four out of the last five seasons, all before finishing in the cellar last season, in which the Royals took home the division crown before dispatching the Mets in the World Series to win their first title in 30 years.
The American League batting champion has come from the Central Division in four of those five years (Miguel Cabrera in 2011, ’12, ’13, and ’15), and the AL MVP has come from the division three times in that span (Justin Verlander in ’11, Miguel Cabrera in ’12 and ’13).
Now that we see that the division has been trending up over the course of the last few years, lets summarize each team’s off-season, as well as predict how the 2016 season will break down.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
2015: 95-67, Won AL Central & World Series
Key additions: SP Ian Kennedy, RP Joakim Soria
Key losses: SP Johnny Cueto, 2B/OF Ben Zobrist, RP Greg Holland, RP Ryan Madson, RP Franklin Morales, RF Alex Rios (still a free agent)
Keeping Alex Gordon in the mix was a key to the off-season for the Royals. After losing their mid-season rental starter Johnny Cueto to free agency, as well as three big pieces of their bullpen, scoring runs will need to be a priority in Kansas City this year.
Adding Ian Kennedy to the rotation will help, but he’s not close to the level of Cueto. Joakim Soria re-joins the mix with the Royals as well, but with the overall losses in the bullpen, he may not get as many chances to close games out as he is used to.
The team did not improve their lineup, losing Alex Rios and Ben Zobrist, with no replacements brought in.
Overall, I expect the Royals to take a step back this year.
2015: 83-79, 2nd in AL Central (missed playoffs)
Key additions: 1B Byung Ho Park, C John Ryan Murphy
Key losses: C/OF Chris Herrmann, CF Aaron Hicks, SP Mike Pelfrey, RP Brian Duensing, RP Blaine Boyer, RF Torii Hunter
The Twins made a splash in international free agency this off-season, bringing South Korean slugger Byung Ho Park over.
Prospect center fielder Byron Buxton is expected to start the season with the big club, as well as prospect starter Tyler Duffy. While there is no reason to believe the Twins will make any kind of serious jump in the standings this year, they are always a pesky team.
I expect that they will finish this year similarly to last year.
2015: 81-80, 3rd in AL Central (missed playoffs)
Key additions: 1B Mike Napoli, OF Rajai Davis, RP Dan Otero
Key losses: RP Nick Hagadone, OF Ryan Raburn, SP Gavin Floyd, INF Mike Aviles, RP Ryan Webb
With the addition of Mike Napoli, the Indians have plenty of pop in the middle of their lineup. Outside of that, not much will have changed since 2015.
Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar form the top of the rotation, after both struggling through last season. Jason Kipnis and youngster Francisco Lindor had solid seasons in the three and four spots in the lineup last year, and will be relied upon to do the same this year, more so early on with superstar Michael Brantley likely out for the first month of the season, possibly more.
If Kluber and Salazar can straighten things out and the offense can provide enough support for 162 games, the Indians could make things interesting in the Central.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
2015: 76-86, 4th in AL Central (missed playoffs)
Key additions: SP Mat Latos, C Dioner Navarro, 3B Brett Lawrie, 3B Todd Frazier, C Alex Avila, RP Tommy Kahnle
Key losses: SP Jeff Samardzija, SS Alexei Ramirez, C Tyler Flowers, C Geovany Soto, 3B Gordon Beckham
While the Sox made plenty of moves over the off-season, it doesn’t seem likely that they will be able to replace the production they got from Samardzija, Ramirez, and Beckham.
Anchored by starter Chris Sale, their rotation will look much like last season’s, minus Samardzija. Offensively, youngster Tyler Saladino will start the season at short, with newcomers Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie flanking him at third and second respectively. Chicago did sign former Tiger backstop Alex Avila to call the shots from behind the plate.
It’s hard to imagine the White Sox will improve from last season’s totals, and I predict that they will win fewer games this season.
2015: 74-87, 5th in AL Central (missed playoffs)
Key additions: OF Justin Upton, SP Jordan Zimmermann, OF Cameron Maybin, CP Francisco Rodriguez, INF Mike Aviles, RP Justin Wilson, RP Mark Lowe, SP Mike Pelfrey
Key losses: C Alex Avila, OF Rajai Davis, SP Randy Wolf, RP Al Alburquerque, SP Alfredo Simon, P Kyle Lobstein, RP Neftali Feliz
The Tigers have had a very busy off-season. With Rajai Davis being the only position player not coming back next season, the additions of Justin Upton and Cameron Maybin should do nothing but bolster an already impressive lineup.
With J.D. Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, and Upton all being viable middle-of-the-order options, the bottom of the order will finally have some flexibility as well. The additions of Mark Lowe and Justin Wilson should give the bullpen more stability, and newcomer Jordan Zimmermann gives the team a legitimate one-two punch at the top of the rotation with Justin Verlander.
The team has improved its roster significantly in the off-season, and that should reflect in a quite respectable uptick in wins in the upcoming season.
If these predictions hold true, or at least the order in which the teams will fall in the standings, the Central Division should look something like this when all is said and done:
- Detroit Tigers 92-70
- Kansas City Royals 88-74
- Cleveland Indians 87-75
- Minnesota Twins 85-77
- Chicago White Sox 70-92
The best part about all of this? Well, none of it really means anything until the teams hit the fields and start playing. Luckily for us, the day that it all begins is right around the corner.