Cleveland Indians: AL Central Favorites

On Tuesday, Dan Szymborski utilized his ZIPS projection system and the standings as of Monday night to re-cast the projected standings for the end of the season in a piece for ESPN Insider. In those standings, the Detroit Tigers were still listed as the projected winners of the AL Central, nudging out the Indians by a two game margin with their projected final total of 87 wins.

Since that article was posted, the Indians completed a three game sweep of the Tigers, even beating Detroit with Justin Verlander on the mound this afternoon. The sweep widened the Indians lead to six games (with 118 to go), and made the Indians the new favorites to end the year as the division winners.

The Tigers are still likely a slightly better team than the Indians, as their 20-24 record is due in part to under-performances from Miguel Cabrera (130 wRC+ after a 177 last year) and Prince Fielder (119 wRC+, 162 last year) on offense and poor results from Max Scherzer (5.73 ERA, 3.32 xFIP) that almost certainly won’t continue at this pace. Just getting better performances from those three will solve some of the Tigers problems, and should allow them to make up some ground over the remainder of the season.

If they need motivation, the Tigers can point to this time a year ago, when they were in almost exactly the same situation. After 44 games, they stood 22-22 and trailed the Indians by six games – they went 73-45 the rest of the year and ran away with the AL Central title. Certainly, this sweep didn’t end the race or put any nails into the Tigers coffin.

However, they are climbing now an uphill battle, and one that won’t be easy to win. If the Indians just play .500 ball the rest of the way, they’ll finish with an 85-77 record. To win the division by just a single game, the Tigers would have to finish 66-52, a .559 pace over the rest of the season. Can they do it? Sure – most people thought the Tigers were a 90+ win team headed into the season, so it’s not an unreasonable projection. But it’s also quite possible that the Indians play better than .500 ball over the rest of the schedule, forcing the Tigers to need to play .575+ baseball in order to close the gap before the end of September.

Even if we didn’t adjust our expectations for this Tigers team down at all due to their slow start, asking them to play at a 93 win pace is no small task, and realistically, some of the struggles the team has had reveal flaws that suggest that Detroit isn’t as good as they were thought to be before the season began. Without Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta hitting at All-Star levels, this offense just isn’t the juggernaut that it was expected to be, and the pitching is getting betrayed by lousy defensive support.

The Tigers can still win the AL Central, but the early advantage that the Indians have built suggests that they should no longer be expected to come out on top. Cleveland is now the team to beat in that division.

Print This Post

Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

54 Responses to “Cleveland Indians: AL Central Favorites”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. AJ says:

    “most people thought the Indians were a 90+ win team headed into the season, so it’s not an unreasonable projection”

    I think most people thought the Tigers were a 90+ win team.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Slartibartfast says:

    Indians were a 90+ win team headed into the season, so it’s not an unreasonable projection.

    I think you meant 80

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Bart says:

    Remember that time Dave claimed someone proofread these articles. I think FG accounts for 95% of the typos I see on from major internet publications on a daily basis.

    Good article though. Enjoyed it.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. “their 20-24 record is due in part to under-performances from Miguel Cabrera … Prince Fielder … Max Scherzer” … and Delmon, Raburn, Peralta, Avila, Boesch, Ramon Santiago…

    Once these guys return to anywhere near what should be expected from them, the Tigers are WAY more than a “slightly better team than the Indians.”

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mario Mendoza of commenters says:

      Well, those other 6 kinda ARE giving you what should be expected from them.

      In 2011, they gave you MORE than should be expected of them.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Lonnie Chisenhall says:

    When can I help

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Soxy says:

    The two things that made them a 90 win team last year. They played in the AL Central and their closer did not blow one save.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Drew Fairservice says:

      They still play in the AL Central

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Radivel says:

        But now, so do the Indians.

        In seriousness, anyone who didn’t expect the Tigers to suffer for the exact reasons they’re currently suffering is pretty silly. Certainly the team has a lot of talent, but if two guys struggle, that’s it? If everyone doesn’t overperform, they’re done? They’re mostly having the problems that they should be having, so please don’t be surprised that they’re having them. Not you personally, Drew, but everyone.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • vivaelpujols says:

        This is the same thing with any fucking team. A 90 win projection includes variance on both sides.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • ThePartyBird says:

      They had a better record vs the AL East last year than the Yankees (and keep in mind that the Tigers actually had to play against the strongest member of that division, unlike the Yankees) and even if Valverde blew 5 saves (and the Tigers wound up losing all of them, which isn’t a given), they would have still been a 90 win team.

      They might have been the best team in a very bad division, but they were so above and beyond the rest of the Central that they would have held their own in any division.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. West says:

    I see the walk rates of Jimenez and Masterson and I see a .500 team. If someone besides Adam Dunn or Paul Konerko can get on base everyonce and a while, I can see the White Sox taking the division.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Otter says:

      If the White Sox find a replacement level third baseman they might win the division.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Cory says:

      Agreed, the Indians rotation, and bullpen for that matter, are among the worst I’ve seen in awhile. Not a single one of their SP is even league average. Blows my mind how bad their staff is.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. MightySlacker says:

    Hmmm, I guess I’ll just leave this here

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • steve-o says:

      FG isn’t about being right, it’s about metrics.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • chuckb says:

      wow! You managed to find a 13 month old article where Dave made an incorrect prediction. Great find! I guess this means he’s always wrong! Thanks for helping.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Let's Be Realistic says:

    “Detroit isn’t as good as they were thought to be before the season began.”

    While this is a bit true, Detroit is also nowhere near as bad as they’ve been.

    And I would second the notion of taking the White Sox over the Indians if Detroit somehow fails to get it together.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • jirish says:

      Me too. The White Sox have been off the radar, not expected to do much, and while no one is looking have been putting up decent season. I don’t see why that can’t continue.

      If Cleveland’s bullpen stubs a toe, it’s all over for them.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. MRR007 says:

    Everyone seems quick to jump to the fact the Tigers have some underperforming players and that they’ll naturally get it together and start dominating. While this may in fact happen, there are some red flags.

    1. Prince Fielder’s walk rate is about 5% lower than his previous 3 year average. Small sample size or an actual issue? For those that believe in BABIP luck, he’s actually slightly over his career BABIP right now.

    2. Same case can be made for Miggy as his current 7.7% walk rate is 8% lower than last year. Miggy is a much better pure hitter than Prince, so I wouldn’t be worried about him.

    Almost every other player on their team last year played over their heads and it would be reasonable to expect regression from Avila, Peralta (we’ve seen good years followed up by really bad years before), Young (he is bad) and Boesch. We’ve also seen multiple months where Austin Jackson has had a 30%+ K rate.

    On the flip side, this Indians team, while note great, feels a lot more “legit” than last year. They are all healthy (if Sizemore provides anything this year it would be gravy for them) and their 1-5 of Choo, Kipnis, Asdrubal, Hafner and Santana is very solid. No one is playing over their head right now (Hannahan was before his injury) and it could be argued that the best is yet to come from all of these guys. If they can acquire a legit power hitting first baseman (Youklis?) this team lineup will not be fun to face.

    The starting rotation is the real concern. After finally tightening his command last year, Masterson is walking what would be a career worst 4.9 batters per 9 innings. Ubaldo has always been inconsitent, but his career K/9 and BB/9 are a passable 8 and 4 respectively. This year it’s a revolting 5.2 and 6.6. Lowe is throwing 90% sinkers right now and one would think its only a matter of time before he starts getting smacked around. McAllister and Gomez have been solid, but how long until teams adjust?

    I think the key to this division will be a combination of can the Tribe’s rotation continue to provide quality innings vs. can the Tigers role players sustain their 2011 performance. The winner of that debate will likely win the division.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Colin says:

      Well your logic is faulty in that you assume that players who had “career years” last season were somehow now expected to perform under their career numbers? That doesn’t make sense. They regress to true talent level not below it.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Buck says:

    For a minute there I thought this was 2011 and the Rockies were the NL West division champions already.

    My mistake

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Catholiclutheran says:

    Chicago or Detroit will win the division. We’ve seen this Cleveland act before.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Eric Cioe says:

    Two-fifths of CLE’s rotation are walking more than they’re striking out. And another fifth of it is walking over 4/9. Their team is more balanced than the Tigers, sure, but that pitching is going to fall the fuck apart really soon.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. FreeJohnJaso (with purchase of catcher of equal or lesser value) says:

    This exact same point could have been made without the projection system nonsense at the beginning of it. Take out the first paragraph and everything else holds up. Specifically, start the article from “The Indians completed a three game sweep of the Tigers”, and from there it’s perfectly fine.

    There’s no reason to throw ZIPS voodoo silliness into it at all.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Mike Green says:

    The Indians’ pitching seems to be performing at unsustainable levels, with the ERA beating FIP and xFIP despite a below average defence. I don’t know quite how they are doing it. Derek Lowe would be the poster boy for that.

    More importantly, they have beaten Pythagoras by 4 games so far. Going forward, they look like a .500 team which Pythagoras suggests they are. I put their over/under at 85 wins and make the Tigers still a favourite to win the division. I thought at the beginning of the season that the Indians might make it a competitive race and I now think that it is likely that they will be playing meaningful games in mid-September.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Zach says:

      Below average defense? Casey Kotchman, Jack Hannahan (when he comes back) are two of the best defensive players at their positions, and then you have Asdrubal Cabrera who’s a defensive highlight waiting to happen, and a solid second baseman in Jason Kipnis. This infield is great for the Indians ground ball heavy rotation.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. matt says:

    “I think labeling Cleveland as a 80 win team was pretty favorable. I think despite their hot start, it still is. I could see them hitting 80 again but realistically they are no better than last year.”

    Really Collin? is this your first time watching baseball or do you just not know anything about the Indians? their not any better than last year? ok lets see about that…. how about derek lowe is 6-1 with a 2.15 ERA he wasnt on the team last year. a full season out of Jimenez. Kipnis who leads the team in HR and RBI wasnt there for most of last season. Starting pitcher Jeanmar Gomez has an ERA under 3 wasnt there at all last season. and let me help some tigers fans/ casual baseball fans out with this freebee…. j peralta may have had a good year last year but overall he sucks on both sides of the ball…. ive watched him for years in cleveland he cant field his position and he finds a way to ground into DP at the most inopportune times. The Indians will take the central and if masterson and Jimenez can get back to form were gonna make a run deep into the playoffs that will shock the baseball world. TRIBE2012

    -5 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • chuckb says:

      Please don’t deride other readers here as being “casual baseball fans” when you’re throwing out ERA and pitcher wins to help bolster your argument. Same goes for RBI. Oh, and by the way, the fact that “you’ve watched Peralta for many years” doesn’t really convince me that he sucks either and it likely won’t convince many others here.

      +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • 2ndHalfAdjustments says:

      And your grammar mistakes hurt my soul.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. Rick says:

    We can obviously count on several Tigers players to improve as the season moves forward, but the same could also be said for a few key Indians. Regression for Lowe can be counted on, but Jimenez and Masterson aren’t exactly 5.76 and 4.48 xFIP pitchers, respectively. Ubaldo has obviously looked atrocious, it makes me sick, but his xFIP has been remarkably consistent for the past three seasons (3.59, 3.60, 3.71) and Masterson has steadily improved in BB/9, FIP, and xFIP over the past four years. If one of them can improve to the point of making up for Lowe’s regression, Tomlin returns from the DL, and Gomez continues being effective, this staff could certainly play .500 ball the rest of the way.

    That draws on history more than current results, but if the heart of reasoning for Detroit’s inevitable surge comes from past-year performances, the Indians should receive some of the same reasoning – at least for Masterson and Jimenez, who are by all counts underperforming.

    This Cleveland pitching staff has been historically difficult to project. Last season, Josh Tomlin began the year with 9 consecutive quality starts while Carlos Carrasco and the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona were erratic and below average. And neither of those guys are still around, so the 2011 drop-off to 2012 drop-off comparisons may not hold as much water as we’d like to think.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. Cory says:

    Did someone above seriously call Asdrubal Cabrera a good defender? LOL.

    The Indians have one of the worst pitching staffs I’ve seen in quite some time. Maybe it’ll rebound a little, maybe it won’t, but as of now Ubaldo and Masterson both don’t belong in the majors, and Lowe has also walked more than he struck out with a K/9 of like 2. Gomez and McAllister are also terrible AAA guys. Tomlin is the only decent arm they have and he’s just a 4/5.

    Their bullpen is also a joke aside from Pestano. If this team somehow manages to make the playoffs I’m going to gouge my eyes out as Texas wins in three games by a thirty run margin.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. Phil says:

    Look, I’m not ready to proclaim anything for the Tribe, but how can you say that their pitching is awful? Mediocre, overperforming, maybe I could see that, but there are plenty of legitimately horrific pitching staffs over the last couple of years that far outstrip the 2012 Indians for ineptitude.

    I will not defend Jimenez. You need to keep a bottle of Tums nearby every time he takes the mound. Even when guys aren’t scoring, there’s runners in scoring position almost every inning, and the outs he gets are usually loud, a guy going deep into the count and then hitting one to the warning track. I lamented the trade of White & Pomeranz when it happened, and nothing has happened to disavow me of that position.

    My concern is their pythag. They aren’t playing as well as their record suggests, and that almost always comes back to bite you in the end without making some changes. I like that they seem to be trying to establish an identity; a team that gets a lot of OBP, a pitching staff that gets groundball outs, it seems to be working for now, but they have to figure out a way to cash in those base-runners. Maybe Choo batting leadoff will pay dividends. Maybe these rumors about Youkilis coming to CLE are true, and he puts up some numbers. Maybe Sizemore will actually contribute for a few weeks before slipping a disc in his back. Maybe Asdrubal will trade in a few of his highlight-reel plays for a little more consistency at SS. I don’t know. I do know that the Indians have been in this position before. Their fans are just not going to unclench until September comes along and the Indians are still playing meaningful games. They probably won’t really unclench until the last game of the regular season is over and the Indians somehow clinch. Anybody who blames them for that is not in touch with reality.

    I agree with the people here who say the White Sox are sleepers, and frankly I can’t believe nobody else seems to be able to see that; Dunn’s 2011 season certainly appears to be a freakish aberration, and I’ll take Jake Peavy in my rotation any day of the week.

    And as far as the Tigers are concerned, it’s absurd to say that they’re done, or even necessarily in trouble. I was skeptical of the Fielder signing, still am, but in the short-term he’s not a liability, except insofar as you lose some run differential from forcing Cabrera over to third. Three or four years from now, they’ll be regretting it, but it’ll probably be easier to swallow if there’s a WS banner hanging in their stadium, Barring some sort of unforeseen explosion from CLE or CWS (or an equally unforeseen collapse on their part), the Tigers basically have to go on one decent hot streak and everybody’s going to be right back on the bandwagon.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. Jason H says:

    These articles are so silly. Detroit is five games back with 118 to play. Cleveland has a negative run differential. If Cleveland can play five games better than Detroit in 40 games despite surrendering more runs than they’ve scored, is it so unlikely that Detroit can play 5 games better over 118? ….its like you’ve never watched baseball before.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. Adam Dunn's Bat Speed says:

    The White Sox have pulled with 1.5 games of the Tribe, and they have the best run differential in the division by a substantial margin. Should they be considered the favorites at this point?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Whoops says:

      Three games after this article was published, Chicago now only stands a .5 game back of Cleveland and Detroit is back to where it started before the Cleveland series at 3.5 games back.

      This is why you don’t jump the gun about proclaiming favorites in May, Dave.

      Regardless if you need an article for this website by the deadline date or not.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. 2ndHalfAdjustments says:

    Hey, Dave, a question! Should the White Sox still trade John Danks for Jose Lopez?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>