by Balk Eight, BaseballEvolution.com
August 24, 2012
After the Detroit Tigers paid a ludicrous amount of money for the services of
Prince Fielder, they were almost unanimously crowned as champions
of the AL Central Division even though they had yet to win a single game. As one
of the few dissenters, Keith picked the Cleveland Indians to take the division,
a prognostication that appeared less ridiculous at the All-Star break, when
Cleveland was four games over .500 and three games out of first place.
While his optimism surrounding Cleveland was ultimately misplaced, his
skepticism surrounding the Tigers was not.
The Chicago White Sox have been in sole possession of first place in the AL
Central since May 29th other than a five-game stretch in June (once
again...Cleveland). For two
full months now (June 24-August 24) they have reigned in first place
uninterrupted. Yet look into the world of
sports betting and more Tigers
bias can be found, with odds either even or slightly favoring Detroit.
The numbers simply do not back this stance up. Both teams are strutting
after three-game sweeps, but Chicago's was slightly more impressive, having come
against a team that had been tied for the best record in the AL going into their
series in the New York Yankees. Meanwhile, the Tigers swept a reeling Blue
Jays team that is now 12 games under .500 due in large part to unrelenting
injuries. While the Sox only stand 1.5 games ahead of the Tigers, they are
4.5 games ahead in Expected Standings based on their +72 run differential as
compared to Detroit's meager +28.
Baseball Prospectus' Playoff Odds Report
had the Sox win the Central more than twice as often than the Tigers in their simulations.
Coolstandings.com has the Sox
wining the division in two-thirds of their one million simulations of the
remainder of the season.
Both teams enjoy easy schedules the rest of the way, getting to beat up on
the three also-rans in the AL Central. The Sox only have 11 games left
against teams with winning records outside of their seven remaining games
against Detroit (four of which will be played at US Cellular Field). The
Tigers only have nine, six of which come against an Angels team that is
plummeting in the standings for reasons beyond my comprehension.
Going deeper, the Sox seem to have improved their team more over the course
of the season. Francisco Liriano and Jose Quintana replacing John Danks
and Phil Humber (each of whom had an ERA in the 5.70s) makes a night-and-day
difference in the team's starting rotation. The Tigers ostensibly made a
bigger splash in landing Anibal Sanchez, but he has struggled to adjust to the
junior circuit and the club didn't have as dead of weight as the Sox to replace
in their rotation to begin with. Offensively, Kevin Youkilis over the
Brent Morel/Orlando Hudson/Eduardo Escobar catastrophe they had going at the hot
corner is about as big of a midseason upgrade as you can get without
surrendering a top prospect. Detroit's additions of Omar Infante and Jeff
Baker somehow fail to generate the same enthusiasm, although Infante's glove
does help shore up the team's woeful defense.
I am by no means handing the division to the White Sox, just pointing out
that the perception of the Tigers having an edge is the opposite of reality.
Bear in mind, too, that the Tigers have four players in Fielder, Miguel Cabrera,
Austin Jackson, and Justin Verlander who carrying the ballclub. If any one
of them suffers an injury or even falls into a slump, it's all over for Detroit.
The White Sox have five players in their everyday lineup with an OPS+ of 120 or
above and three members of their starting rotation with an ERA+ of 140 or
higher. That's twice as much depth in terms of star power.
Perhaps that explains why all of these simulations have the Sox beating out
the Tigers twice as often as the reverse.
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