AL Central Preview: Royals vs. Indians

The Royals and Indians battled it out all year in 2010 to see who could grab the cellar in the AL Central; the Royals pulled away in the end, finishing two games behind Cleveland. Neither team has much reason to hope for significant improvement in 2011. The Royals are probably worse than they were a year ago, while the Indians could improve with better health. It is safe to say the rest of the AL Central is not too scared of either team.

Keep in mind I do not follow the Indians closely, and all of the below analysis is only from a quick crash course on the current state of the Indians. Tip of the hat to Indians blog Let’s Go Tribe and Gary Schatz’s appearance on this week’s i70baseball radio show for their info; See today’s guest post from Gary for a more informed look at the 2011 Indians. The 2010 WAR numbers found in the charts below are from Fangraphs.com, and the 2011 projected ERA and wOBA are by Bill James as found on Fangraphs.com.

Here is how the teams stack up at each position heading into 2011:

Rotation:

‘10 WAR ‘11 proj ERA ’10 WAR ’11 proj ERA
Fausto Carmona 2.7 4.26 Luke Hochevar 1.7 4.65
Justin Masterson 2.7 4.11 Kyle Davies 2.0 4.89
Carlos Carrasco 0.6 4.45 Vin Mazzaro 0.0 4.05
Mitch Talbot 1.4 4.73 Sean O’Sullivan -0.2 4.88
Josh Tomlin 0.6 4.08 ?
total 8.0 4.32 total 3.5 4.65

Josh Tomlin


The Royals rotation does not compare well against any team right now. When your opening day starter figures to be Luke Hochevar, you know things are not good. The Royals are just hoping this ragged collection will not embarrass themselves too badly before all the young arms in the minors start breaking through. The Indians rotation is not especially fearsome on paper either, though Carmona and Masterson are a solid pair and sophomore-to-be Tomlin shows promise.

Advantage: Cleveland

Catcher:

’10 WAR ’11 proj wOBA ’10 WAR ’11 proj wOBA
Carlos Santana 2.0 .376 Brayan Pena 0.4 .321
Lou Marson 0.4 .307 Lucas May -0.3 n/a
Jason Kendall 0.6 .278

Carlos Santana

With Jason Kendall on the DL for the beginning of 2011, GM Dayton Moore is so far sticking with the young pair of Pena and May to hold down catching duties until Kendall’s return. Pena has shown a decent bat when given regular playing time. Lucas May remains an unknown at the big league level. The Indians have an exciting backstop in young Carlos Santana who made his MLB debut in 2010 with an .868 OPS in 46 games before his year was cut short by injury. He is expected to be ready for spring training, and could be a major bright spot for Cleveland in 2011.

Advantage: Cleveland

First Base:

’10 WAR ’11 proj wOBA ’10 WAR ’11 proj wOBA
Matt LaPorta -0.6 .340 Kila Ka’aihue 0.3 .366
Billy Butler 3.4 .373

First base projects to be a two-headed monster for KC in 2011, with Ka’aihue and Butler sharing time there and at DH unless one displays a clear defensive superiority at the initial sack. Ka’aihue is thought to have a slight defensive edge. Either way, first base should be a strong suit for KC, with Butler now a proven beast with the bat and Ka’aihue showing tremendous potential at the AAA level. Ka’aihue struggled at first during his short time in the majors at the end of last season, but hopes are high for a breakout in 2011. Matt LaPorta came to Cleveland in the CC Sabbathia deal, and has so far been a disappointment. He only has 162 major league games under his belt, so still has time to figure things out, but Indians fans have real reason for concern.

Advantage: Kansas City

Shortstop:

’10 WAR ’11 proj wOBA ’10 WAR ’11 proj wOBA
Asdrubal Cabrera 0.5 .338 Alcides Escobar 0.6 .305

These two shortstops with names that are fun to say are mirror images of each other: Cabrera has a good bat with suspect defense, and Escobar draws raves for his glove but possesses a weak bat. Add it up, and you get…

Advantage: wash

Third Base:

’10 WAR ’11 proj wOBA ’10 WAR ’11 proj wOBA
Jayson Nix -0.1 .303 Mike Aviles 1.5 .322
Luis Valbuena -1.5 .310 Wilson Betemit 1.3 .340


Third is murky for both clubs. Betemit came out of nowhere to have a big season at the plate for KC last year, but his defense at third was not pretty. A repeat of his season offensively may be a long shot. Aviles may get the opportunity to start at third, and KC hopes his hot end to 2010 was the real Aviles after fully recovering from Tommy John surgery. Whoever starts out at third will just be keeping the hot corner warm for Mike Moustakas. Things are even more muddled in Cleveland, where Nix and Valbuena are listed on the Indians official depth chart, neither of whom can be too exciting for Indians fans. Nix may serve as a stop-gap until prospect Lonnie Chisenhall is deemed ready.

Advantage: Kansas City

Second Base:

’10 WAR ’11 proj wOBA ’10 WAR ’11 proj wOBA
Jason Donald -0.2 .319 Chris Getz -0.1 .307
Jayson Nix -0.1 .303 Mike Aviles 1.5 .322
Luis Valbuena -1.5 .310

Chris Getz had a year to forget in 2010, and Mike Aviles ended up with the bulk of playing time at the keystone sack for KC. Getz will probably get another shot to hold down second in 2011 and will need to play out-of-this-world defense to offset his feeble bat. Second and third seem to have a lot of moving parts right now in Cleveland with no clear indication how the positions will shake out. The official Indians depth chart lists Donald and Valbuena; Nix may be part of the mix as well. None of the options are inspiring.

Advantage: wash

Left Field:

’10 WAR ’11 proj wOBA ’10 WAR ’11 proj wOBA
Michael Brantley -0.7 .315 Alex Gordon -0.2 .355
Austin Kearns 1.5 .327

Alex Gordon will get another chance to break out, but this time it will be in left field instead of third base. Gordon looked surprisingly comfortable in the outfield after making the switch last season, and there is still a slight glimmer of hope he can be a productive hitter at the big league level. His .244 career average is ugly, but he’s been close to an average hitter when judged by more telling numbers (career 95 OPS+). In Cleveland, the young, speedy Michael Brantley is still mostly an unknown after playing just 100 MLB games. He has shown the ability to get on base at a good clip and steal a lot of bases in the minors. Left field is another spot with a bunch of question marks for both clubs, leading to another toss-up.

Advantage: wash

Center Field:

’10 WAR ’11 proj wOBA ’10 WAR ’11 proj wOBA
Grady Sizemore -0.3 .355 Melky Cabrera -1.2 .320
Lorenzo Cain 1.2 .331

Sizemore was an elite player from 2005—08, dropped off slightly in 2009 and had his 2010 shortened to just 33 games due to injury. He’s only 28, so if he can get and stay healthy, may have some monster years left in him. The Royals find themselves with a bit of a glut in center after signing Cabrera and then trading for Cain in the Zack Greinke deal. Cain seems a better bet on paper, but the Royals have floated indications that Cabrera may be the starter initially.

Advantage: Cleveland

Right Field:

’10 WAR ’11 proj wOBA ’10 WAR ’11 proj wOBA
Shin-Soo Choo 5.6 .383 Jeff Francoeur 0.5 .320

This may be the most lopsided position between the two clubs. Choo is in rarified air with the best AL right fielders, while Francoeur has been downright dreadful for three straight years.

Advantage: Cleveland

DH:

’10 WAR ’11 proj wOBA ’10 WAR ’11 proj wOBA
Travis Hafner 1.9 .364 Billy Butler 3.4 .373
Kila Ka’aihue 0.3 .366

Hafner has been a beast with the bat for a long time, but will be 34 next season. Butler will be just 25 next year, and already has four years under his belt. They may put up similar numbers next year, but I give the edge to Billy based on age alone. However, Ka’aihue will probably end up sharing a lot of time at DH, and may still have things to figure out at the big league level.

Advantage: wash

Bullpen:

’10 WAR ’11 proj ERA ’10 WAR ’11 proj ERA
Chris Perez 0.9 3.23 Joakim Soria 2.1 2.42
Rafeal Perez 0.5 3.82 Dusty Hughes 0.3 4.75
Tony Sipp -0.8 3.71 Blake Wood -0.2 5.19
Frank Herrmann -0.1 4.02 Jesse Chavez -0.5 4.76
Joe Smith -0.1 3.56 Kanekoa Texeira 0.3 4.75
Jensen Lewis 0.3 3.75 Greg Holland 0.1 4.14
Aaron Laffey 0.5 4.89 Robinson Tejeda 0.8 4.06
Vinnie Pestano 0.1 n/a Gil Meche -0.2 4.32
total 1.3 3.79 total 2.7 4.27

Wow, those KC projections for guys not named Soria are pretty rough; I doubt the bullpen ERAs will be quite that bad. Both teams have a solid option for closer, with Joakim Soria clearly being the standout between the two ’pens. Chris Perez emerged as the Indians closer last year and posted a 1.71 ERA (outdoing his 3.54 FIP by a seemingly unsustainable margin). I will not pretend to know anything about the rest of the arms in the Cleveland ‘pen; judging by numbers alone, they were mediocre to bad last year and may improve slightly in 2011. Overall, the Cleveland ‘pen may be deeper, but the Mexicutioner alone leads me to prefer KC’s relievers by a hair.

Advantage: Kansas City

Overall:

Both teams feature a lot of mediocre to marginal players with just a couple of proven stars trickled in. Neither club seems clearly superior when it comes to position players. I have to think the Indians will be the superior team overall thanks to there being more talent present in their starting rotation. The cross-your-fingers and pray for rain rotation in KC might make it tough for the Royals to stay under 100 losses this year. The Indians probably won’t be great either, but they look like a better bet than KC.

Advantage: Cleveland

Author: Aaron Stilley

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