Thursday, November 17, 2016

Season 36 AL North Preview

Chicago White Sox
Season 35:  106-56, won Division, lost to Minnesota in 2nd Round
GM: pfontaine

Outlook:  6 straight 100-win seasons and a World do they do it?

Always in the top 3 in scoring, mostly by getting on base (league-leading .344 clip last year), but they were also 3rd in Slugging % and steals.  3-time MVP Magglio Rodriguez and CF Elvis Snow pace the on-basers (111 and 76 walks, respectively).  6 hitters routinely top 20 HR's (Shawn Quinn tops with 31)...Snow actually led the team with 116 RBI.

Rather than a dominant ace and a clear #2, the rotation features 5 pretty interchangeable starters (although each can have outstanding seasons, as CY's for Johnson and Ayala demonstrate).  They spread the saves around, although middle relievers Esmil Gonzalez and Kevin Chong get the bulk of them (and the bulk of the innings).

The defense is solid (.985 fielding %, 65/35 on good/bad plays), although considering the quality of the lineup it's outstanding.  Snow, 3B Jake Nelson and 1B Stan Duran annually post double-digit + plays.

Detroit Tigers
Season 35:  95-67, Wild Card, lost to Tampa Bay in Round 1

Outlook:  New owner jsturgis sparked a 15-win improvement and a playoff berth in his first season.

How's the encore looking?

Well, it's a challenging start with Manuel Cano's 100-day elbow.  Pedro Nunez steps into the #1 slot...he certainly brought it last year with a 19-9, 2.55 ERA in 247 innings.  The rest of the staff (with the exceptions of relievers Park and Palmeiro) doesn't look particularly impressive, but it delivers - they tied the Twins' staff for top AL ERA last year (3.45).

You'd expect scoring runs to be tough in Comerica...703 is actually a pretty impressive total.  It's a contact-oriented (.266 BA - 4th) station-to-station attack (14th in both HR's and SB's).  Multi-position guy Sid Swann (.301/14/56) is probably their best all-round hitter, with LF Philip Schultz the top HR threat with 24.

I don't know how many wins their defense gets them, but it's a positive number.  .987 fielding % and an impressive 98/7 +/- split...SS Al Vincente had 19 good plays versus no bad plays.

Minnesota Twins
Season 103-59: Wild Card, advanced to ALCS and lost to Boston
GM:  zbrent716

Outlook:  The Twins play incredible D (World-leading +111 (122/11) on good/bad plays last year), and steal bases at double the rate of their nearest competitor (366, although that's down from their 400+ of the previous 4 seasons), although they seemed to get a little more conventional with their pitching last year by going with a 4-man rotation (and they tied for the league ERA lead with 3.45).

Looks like they've gone back to their Petit/Williams 2-man rotation and 6 innings of matchups with their tough relievers.  

As good as their defense is, it's pretty amazing they get as much production as they do (821 runs - 4th). They mostly do it by getting on base frequently (.334 OBP - 4th), and of course, stealing.  But slugging % is right at the league average - KEY TO THE SEASON:  1B Michael Aoki has OPS'd .900+ the last 2 seasons, and they really need him to come through again.

About that ridiculous +/- split:  22 different players posted good plays for the Twins!

Toronto Blue Jays
Season 35:  76-86
GM:  coltonrocks


Outlook:  Lost in the 3-playoff team performance of the AL North last year was the 21-win improvement of the Jays.  

Repeating that may be tough, as it's virtually an entirely new lineup this season.  Gone are longtime faces of the franchise Jimmie Castillo, Joe Hughes, Bruce Smith.  

Indication of a rebuild (not a bad idea when your 3 division mates could all win 90+ again):  they wisely filled in with older, low-budget free agents like Rodney Simmons ($2.3MM) and Yuuta Abe ($3.5MM) and kept the total payroll under $60MM.

Their best prospects (Richie Clifton, Earl Cook, Matty Spillbourghs, Brett Milton, Perry Sutton) are all in the low minors, so we may see a couple of seasons of this.  Let's hope their pitching staff can repeat their 5th-ranked 4.05 ERA of last year.

Division Outlook

Not sure the Tigers can hang with Cano out for so long.  Logic says the conventionally-dominant White Sox win again, but I'm picking the crazy base-stealing, relief-pitching, defense-playing Twins in an upset.

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