AL Central Depth: Advantage Royals


On Friday something I wrote went up at Fangraphs talking about the depth of American League teams.  The Royals rank pretty well from my methodology, though they are more middle of the pack by the way Jeff Sullivan did his quick look at the same topic.  If you are talking about the Royals having advantages over the rest of the central, defense and bullpen seem to be the obvious answers, but I think we need to add depth as another.

When I say depth the rest of the way I want to be clear, what I am saying is the second level not anything beyond that.  For the Royals this is a small group, but of fairly high quality relative to other back up players.  On the offensive side it mainly includes three players, Jarrod Dyson, Christian Colon, and Erik Kratz.  There are some others like Ryan Roberts or Cheslor Cuthbert that I think could make positive impacts, but those are much more speculative.

These three position players will get some significant playing time, though Ned is always determined to run Salvador Perez out daily which could effect Kratz’ number of plate appearances.  Steamer has them projected to combine for 2.3 fWAR in 2015, which is really conservative considering they combined for over 4 last season.

On the pitching side the depth is mostly coming from 6th starter Kris Medlen, whom I have already discussed, and bullpen arms Louis Coleman and Brandon Finnegan who they are projecting for nearly half a season of relief work.  I question whether Finnegan will be used that way, but it would make sense to see him in the bullpen late in the season again if there is another playoff chase going on.  Medlen offers the most in the way of WAR for the depth here because relievers that are only going to throw a couple dozen innings, though useful, are not accumulating a lot of stats.

Looking at this for the Royals made me a little more optimistic about the overall setup of the team going into 2015.  There is a legitimate big league player backing up nearly every position.  Is Colon ideal as a second shortstop, probably not, but to give Alcides Escobar some rest here and there he is a nice player.  Dyson of course is one of the best 4th outfielders around and will play a lot in late inning situations for defense.  Our 6th starter has posted a sub-two ERA over 138 innings in the big leagues before.  The rest of the AL Central cannot boast of their second tier in the same way.

Before I discuss the other teams I want to make one distinction.  The Twins and Indians have a typical looking set of back-ups, but the Tigers and White Sox could be sunk due to having no depth.  I’ll start with the Tigers because they will be the favorites for winning the central again for most pundits, but there are definite issues in Motown.  I will mostly be using BP Roster Resource for this, formerly MLB Depth Charts.

Detroit –

Starting players for Detroit are almost all of their strength, but even then they are probably going to be depending on some guys like Anthony Gose, Nick Castellanos, and Jose Iglesias.  Of course things also got worse with the surgery to Victor Martinez too.  Their projected bench includes Bryan Holaday, Hernan Perez, Andrew Romine, and Rajai Davis.  Steamer projects the four to combine for 1.2 fWAR, and I would forgive you for not knowing them all as Davis is easily the most recognizable.  That is not a terrible bench, but I doubt it leaves Dave Dombrowski feeling warm and fuzzy inside either.  The pitching on the other hand should downright terrify Detroit fans.

Detroit’s pitching staff is going to be predicated on David Price, Anibal Sanchez, and prayer from what I can tell.  Justin Verlander and Joe Nathan are shells of their former greatness and then you get into the unproven mass.  The bullpen does have Joakim Soria and Al Alburquerque so it is not devoid of talent.  The back end starters are Alfredo Simon and Shane Green, so the back up in this case is the 6th starter…maybe Buck Farmer?  Regardless who ends up being 6th it is pretty bleak as Steamer projects none of them for positive WAR and even Simon who is expected to be in the rotation at 0 WAR.  Bullpen backups are similar with names such as Ian Krohl, Alex Wilson, and Josh Zeid.

Cleveland –

Right now Cleveland would be my pick for other contender after Detroit and KC.  They do have some good depth, just not as good as the Royals.  Currently their bench projects as Roberto Perez, Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn, and David Murphy, so at least three of them have significant big league experience.  Their problem here is that Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn aren’t actually good anymore, so the whole lot is projected to only amass 0.7 fWAR, or worse than the Tigers bench.  Luckily for the Indians, their pitching depth is a lot better though.

All of their starters are either good enough for their spot or have upside.  Sixth as a starter is TJ House, who is projected or 0.6 WAR and behind him is Josh Tomlin, so they can at least stick a finger in any leaks in a hurry.  Their bullpen is not going to be dominant but there is some depth.  When they get into the back up territory there are still some guys like Nick Hagadone and CC Lee who are at least serviceable.

Chicago –

White Sox fans have to be heartened by the off-season as their starting lineup and rotation were improved with additions like Melky Cabrera and Jeff Samardzija, and it was even enough that if you squint a bit they seem like they could contend.  I personally think they are not there yet, but it is much better than last year.

The bench position players look to include Geovany Soto, Gordon Beckham, Emilio Bonifacio, and JB Shuck.  Minus Shuck that’s pretty solid at 1.7 WAR, but it would not be surprising to see the other three start significant amounts of the time if Tyler Flowers or Carlos Sanchez struggle.

This teams main strength is their first three starters.  Beyond those five pitchers it gets ugly quickly with Erik Johnson likely 6th and owner of a -0.7 WAR Steamer projection.  There is no one that can bail them out if they lose a front line starter or if Hector Noesi or John Danks, their 4 and 5, struggle.  Bullpen issues are similar with David Robertson and Zack Duke looking pretty good and then a lot of questions.  Overall the pitching depth might be worse than the Tigers and will likely be detrimental to their season.

Minnesota –

Finally, the Twins who are getting nearer to contention but aren’t likely there yet.  There are quite a few young bats that are interesting.  Right now the bench is projected as Josmil Pinto, Eduardo Escobar, Eduardo Nunez, and Jordan Schafer for a total of 1.7 WAR, but this could get upgraded if Miguel Sano moves quickly to the majors though that is a bit of long shot after not playing last year.  He is more likely showing up at the end of the season if at all.

Pitching depth is again a bit of an issue.  Alex Meyer is the only starter projected for a non-negative WAR outside of the top five starters and he has never thrown in the majors.  Other than him you are looking at guys like Mike Pelfry or Tim Stauffer (both projected for negative WAR), so if Pelfry could find his old mojo I guess they might have something, but it is not a great bunch.  The bullpen is thin after Glen Perkins so by the time you get past six you are looking at Ryan Pressley, Stephen Pryor, and Lester Oliveros two of whom have negative WAR projections.

Hopefully you can see why the Royals second wave made me a little more optimistic.  There are no deep black pits to stare into and really the same could be said of the starters too as they are all at least okay.  Depth could be one of the keys to the Royals getting their first division win since the AL Central was set up.