Tuesday, May 2, 2017

AL Central Marked By Mediocrity

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel, USA Today Sports
April has come and gone. With the calendar flipping to May, there have been plenty of story-lines to follow across the baseball world. Bryce Harper seems to have found his swing again. Aaron Judge is making himself known as a Bronx Bomber. Even Eric Thames is having a resurgence in Milwaukee.

Teams in the AL Central have been making headlines of their own. All four of the top teams are separated by a total of two games. Meanwhile, the Royals are the lone team with an under .500 record.

What's been going well for each AL Central squad? What needs to improve in the coming months? Let's dive in.

Cleveland Indians (April Record 14-10)
What's Gone Right
Following their World Series run, the Indians might have come out of the gate a little slower than they would like. Francisco Lindor is continuing his strong performance from last year's postseason. He leads all shortstops in home runs, slugging percentage, and WAR. Jose Ramirez is also proving he can hold his own. Through April, he hitting .330/.388/.593 with six home runs, the second highest total on the team.

Cleveland's pitching staff continues to be one of it's strengths. Indians pitchers have compiled the highest WAR total in all of baseball. Both their starters and relievers rank in the top six in WAR. Their 9.97 K/9 ranks as the best in baseball while their 2.79 BB/9 is the second lowest mark. Cleveland's strong pitching helped the club to sweep three game series from the Twins and Rangers during the season's first month.

Room For Improvement
Edwin Encarnacion was the team's big free agent acquisition and he has't exactly got off to a hot start. Through April's action, he was hitting .200/343/.353 with one home run. Those averages are all below his career production. Jason Kipnis has been limited to nine games and his production has suffered when he's been on the field.

Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer have both struggled at the back of the Indians rotation. Tomlin has posted an 8.87 ERA, the club's worst mark, while averaging less than five innings per start. Bauer's ERA is slightly better at 6.26 and he's been close to six innings per appearance. Cleveland was only swept by one team in April, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and both Tomlin and Bauer made starts in that series.

Chicago White Sox (April Record 13-10)
What's Gone Right
The White Sox were supposed to be in the midst of a rebuild but they find themselves a half game out of first place after the season's first month. Avisail Garcia is batting .368/.409/.621 and he leads the team with 10 extra-base hits. Matt Davidson joins Garcia in the .600 slugging percentage club and he's also been getting on base over 33% of the time.

Miguel Gonzalez and Derek Holland have been quiet surprises in the White Sox rotation. Gonzalez leads the team with three wins and he's posted a 3.27 ERA with 21 strikeouts. Holland's ERA is even better at 2.17 and he's second on the team in strikeouts. Even former Twins Anthony Swarzak has been good out of the bullpen as he has yet to allow a run in over 12 innings.

Improvement Areas
Veterans on the team like Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera haven't started strong. Frazier is hitting under .185 while getting on base less than 29% of the time. Cabrera's .260 average is 25 points lower than his career mark. His .668 SLG would also be his lowest total since the 2014 campaign.

Jose Quintana, the team's best starter from a year ago, struggled out of the gate. His ERA is north of 5.00 for April and his WHIP is over 1.46. James Shields was brought in as a veteran starter and he has been limited to three starts while currently being on the 10-day DL. Former Twin Mike Pelfrey has made a pair of starts so you know you're in desperation mode when you turn to Big Pelf.

Detroit Tigers (April Record 12-12)
What's Gone Right
The Tigers took advantage of six games with the Twins as a fourth of their victories have come against Minnesota. Justin Upton has provided the most value to the Tigers as he has gotten on base over 40% of the time while compiling a .968 OPS. Both of those totals would be career best marks. Ian Kinsler and Alex Avial have also had good starts to the year.

Detroit's pitching has been a mixture of good and bad. Michael Fulmer has put together the most consistent starts as he has a staff leading 3.19 ERA with 26 strikeouts over 31 innings. Justin Wilson and Shane Green have also limited damage out of the bullpen.

Improvement Areas
Former Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera has been limited to five extra-base hits and a .268 average. He currently is on the 10-day DL. Veteran slugger Victor Martinez has been limited in his time at DH. He has combined to hit .218/.281/.276 with only three extra-base hits in over 96 plate appearances.

Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann are supposed to be the anchors of this starting staff. Verlander, the 2016 runner-up for Cy Young, has a 4.60 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. Zimmermann has a 1.62 WHIP and and ERA of over 6.00. Francisco Rodriguez has also struggled as the closer as he has allowed 14 hits (3 home runs) and six earned runs in less than 10 innings.

Kansas City Royals (7-16)
What's Gone Right
Not much has gone right for the 2016 World Series Champions. Lorenzo Cain leads the team in WAR and over half of his value comes on the defensive side of the ball. Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas have combined for 13 home runs while OPS totals over .835. Other than that, there hasn't been much to write home about.

The Royals top three starters (Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, and Jason Vargas)  all have ERA totals under 3.00. Kennedy and Vargas have a WHIP under 1.00. Because of the strong start by the Royals starters, the club ranks in the AL for WAR from their starting staff. Kansas City's lone sweep in the first month came in a three-game homestand versus the Angels.

Improvement Areas
Positive signs on the offensive side of the ball have been few and far between. The Royals rank at the bottom of the AL in many offensive categories. Their .210 batting average is 10 points lower than any team in the league. Slugging percentage doesn't rank them any better as they are in last by 14 points.

While the front end of the rotation has been strong, the bullpen has been a weakness for Kansas City. The team's relief core has the third worst ERA in the AL while posting a negative WAR total. Relief pitchers Matt Strahm and Travis Wood both have ERA marks north of 11.50. Nate Karns and Jason Hammel have also struggled in the back-end of the rotation. A lot of pitching help will be needed to turn things around in KC.

What will May entail for the AL Central? Will anyone be able to separate themselves from the pack? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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