2012 American League Central Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Cleveland Indians 91 71
2. Detroit Tigers* 88 74 3
3. Kansas City Royals 81 81 10
4. Chicago White Sox 72 90 19
5. Minnesota Twins 70 92 21

* Denotes predicted Wild Card winner

Cleveland Indians

The Indians have all the components to take the next step from their near .500 season in 2011.

There are positives amid the negatives of the old warhorses’ injuries and contract statuses. Grady Sizemore keeps getting hurt, but the Indians couldn’t have expected him to return to form nor expected him to stay healthy. His injury and absence will give them the chance to see what Ezequiel Carrera can do. Travis Hafner is in the final guaranteed year of his contract and some players manage to stay healthy when there’s a large amount of money on the line.

Carlos Santana is a mid-lineup run producer; they have a highly underrated 1-2 starting pitching punch with Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez; and their bullpen is deep.

Detroit Tigers

The entire season will come down to how obstinate Jim Leyland is about the decision to move Miguel Cabrera to third base.

I was about to say “experiment”, but is it really an experiment if we know what’s going to happen?

He can’t play third; the Tigers have pitchers—Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and even Justin Verlander—who need their defense to succeed; and Leyland is adamant in saying that not only is Cabrera going to play third but that he won’t be removed for defense in the late innings in favor of the superior gloves of Don Kelly and Brandon Inge.

Eventually Leyland will probably bow to reality and Cabrera and Prince Fielder will share first base and DH.

I say probably because it depends on whether Leyland is going to be the old-school baseball guy who’ll see weakness in admitting he’s wrong or the one who admits the team’s playoff spot in jeopardy and bows to reality.

The extra Wild Card will save the Tigers.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals are loaded up with young players and have to give them the chance to sink or swim on their own without looking at them for a month and sending them down.

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will be in the lineup every day for the Royals for the next decade, but the other youngsters Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, John Giavotella and Danny Duffy have to be given the legitimate chance to play without wondering if they’re going to be sent down immediately if they slump.

The starting pitching is young and improving; the bullpen has been bolstered and is diverse.

Chicago White Sox

Is this a rebuild or not?

Are they going to continue listening to offers for the likes of Gavin Floyd or will they hold their fire?

The decision to hire Robin Ventura as manager was a “he’ll grow with us” maneuver, but the foundation of the team is still in place.

It’s not a rebuild or a stay the course blueprint. They’re just doing things.

When serious structural alterations needed to be made, just doing things translates into 90 losses.

Minnesota Twins

Much was made of Terry Ryan’s return to the GM seat.

But so what?

They made something of a lateral move in letting Michael Cuddyer leave and replacing him with Josh Willingham; they got a solid defender and good on-base bat with Jamey Carroll; and they did the “Twins thing” in signing cheap veterans who can contribute with Jason Marquis and Ryan Doumit.

Their bullpen is loaded with a bunch of bodies and has already lost Joel Zumaya.

Much depends on the health of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and even if both stay on the field, there are still too many holes offensively, defensively and—most importantly—in the rotation and bullpen to ask how much they can be expected to improve from losing nearly 100 games in 2011.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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The Tigers Go Big Ticket; the Indians Go Smart

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The Tigers spent $214 million to create a mess with their manager insisting he’s going to harm their defense in the face of reality and, by extension, harm their pitching staff by shifting Miguel Cabrera to third base to accommodate Prince Fielder.

This was in response to the season-ending knee injury to DH Victor Martinez.

Logic would dictate that the best course of action would be to have Fielder and Cabrera share first base and DH duties and to play the defensively minded Brandon Inge and Don Kelly at third base.

But logic has little to do with a stubborn, old-school baseball guy like manager Jim Leyland whose hardline statement that Cabrera is going to play third base appears, for now, as if it’s going to result in Cabrera actually playing third base.

To compound matters, Leyland has also said he’s not going to pull Cabrera for defense late in games.

Whether or not it’s bluster on the part of the manager to get his star player’s ego in check and wait until spring training to talk him and Fielder into sharing DH duties is the question. Will the sight of balls bouncing through the infield at a ridiculous rate and the pitchers’ collective anger trump Leyland’s, Cabrera’s and Fielder’s individual desires and self-interests?

In the normal world, the answer would be yes.

But this isn’t the normal world. It’s baseball.

The Tigers’ biggest rivals in the AL Central, the Indians, made a smart signing for $211 million less than what the Tigers guaranteed for Fielder when they signed veteran Casey Kotchman to a 1-year, $3 million contract.

No one is going to compare Kotchman to Fielder offensively, but defensively, he’s far superior to the immobile Fielder/Cabrera and, if last season is any indication, he’s no longer a liability at the plate as he was in the two seasons prior to 2011.

Because Kotchman fits into the Indians lineup and they’re not creating a redundancy by putting any player out of position to stuff him in, it’s a more reasonable signing than the Tigers’ decision to buy a Lamborghini (Fielder) to replace their damaged Porsche (Martinez) with the lack of space in the garage to make it sensible.

The Indians had been facing the prospect of playing the disappointing Matt LaPorta at first base with catcher Carlos Santana also seeing time at the position. Now they can play Kotchman relatively regularly.

As long as the Tigers don’t move forward with the charade of playing Cabrera at third base, then the Fielder signing is going to help them a great deal; but if they insist on implementing such a defensive catastrophe and do so because of Leyland’s obstinate nature, then it’s a disaster waiting to happen no matter how many homers and massive OPS numbers Fielder and Cabrera combine to provide.

The Tigers are going to disrupt their contact-based pitching staff by hardheadedly concerning themselves more with Cabrera’s and Fielder’s happiness and Leyland’s contrarian nature. The Indians are adhering to their needs by signing a player who slides neatly into their on-field and financial structure.

It can be argued that the Indians made a better overall signing with Kotchman.

Believe it or not.

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Miguel Cabrera is Not Going to Play Third Base

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Here’s Jim Leyland’s quote when the Tigers signed Victor Martinez:

“He’s going to catch and not be a total DH. And he can play first base to give Miguel (Cabrera) a night off to DH. And this guy is one of the more professional hitters in baseball.”

Here’s what Dave Dombrowski suggested when they signed Martinez:

Dombrowski envisioned Martinez catching “two or three days a week” with Avila being the No. 1 catcher, but allowed that “circumstances will dictate” that arrangement.

Martinez caught a total of 26 games in 2011.

The above quotes were culled from this piece on MLive.com. (It took me awhile to find it.)

Now the Tigers are saying that Miguel Cabrera is going to play third base to accommodate the signing of Prince Fielder.

They’re insisting that both will be playing the field semi-regularly.

It’s offensive (defensive?) that the Tigers are consciously putting up the pretense of Cabrera moving to third base in favor of Fielder.

Do the Tigers have a born-in DH apart from Cabrera and Fielder to make it so ironclad that both players have to play defense?

Martinez is out for the season. If he manages to come back before 2013, it’ll be very late in the 2012 season, so why come up with this silly and hardheaded nonsense from manager Jim Leyland that they’re not only going to play Cabrera at third, but won’t remove him for defense late in games?

Why?

What are they trying to prove?

Is it such a big problem if Brandon Inge, Don Kelly and “Whoever with a Glove” play third and Fielder and Cabrera alternate as the DH?

If they had Martinez playing in 2012, I’d see this as being at least viable that they’re going to try to play Cabrera at third and see if they can get away with it, but they don’t. In fact, it was the injury to Martinez that spurred the signing of Fielder.

What’s the point other than to be contrary and not step on Cabrera’s toes by making it appear as if he’s being usurped from his position for another player?

I can guarantee you this: if Cabrera shows up as heavy as he was last season and Leyland sees that Cabrera is a statue, he’s not going to play him at third.

He’s probably not going to play him at third anyway.

Here’s what’s going to happen: Cabrera will play a few games at third base, but they’ll be around the same number of games that the “catcher” they acquired before 2011—Martinez—played behind the plate. That number, again, was 26. Other than that, he and Fielder will DH.

Then, after the season, they’ll look to trade Martinez.

Miguel Cabrera is not going to be the Tigers everyday third baseman.

I just can’t decide what’s dumber: believing it or saying it to begin with.

It’s probably a tie.

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Keys To Tigers-Yankees, Game 5

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Pitching.

Ivan Nova and Doug Fister are essentially the same guy.

Neither strikes out a lot of hitters; neither allows many homers; they rely on a pitch-to-contact strategy and need their defense.

In tonight’s game, both will have to keep the ball away from the batters and coax them to try and pull pitches they should be taking to the opposite field; and they need to keep the ball down.

Nova has shown a fearlessness of intense situations and actually appears to relish it—something the Yankees discounted in assessing him. I’d prefer to have someone with average-to-above average stuff and an attitude than brilliant stuff and reluctance to pitch in a do-or-die game.

Fister’s numbers are consistent vs righties and lefties—link.

The pitcher who makes the mistake up in the strike zone to the wrong hitter is the one who’s going to fall.

Controlling the hitters.

Everyone’s going to be concerned about one specific hitter in the Yankees or Tigers lineup.

For the Yankees, it’s going to be Robinson Cano;  Cano hammers pitchers like Fister because he likes the ball down; the one bat I’d be concerned with more than Cano is Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod was just missing pitches that were in his wheelhouse in game 4 and the Tigers have made the decision to not only challenge him, but to prefer pitching to him rather than the alternatives.

Miguel Cabrera is the hitter the Yankees were expected to have to stop.

Miguel Cabrera is the hitter the Yankees do have to stop.

The Tigers want to get Cabrera up to the plate with runners on base and he lives for games like this. If he’s overanxious and tries to do too much, he’s going to either strike out or hit into a double play; if not, he’s got the capability to wreck the game early.

The defense.

Don Kelly is playing third base instead of Brandon Inge and Wilson Betemit because Kelly’s been hitting. Inge is a good defensive third baseman and Kelly is average. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta has limited range; if Fister is successful in keeping the ball away from Cano and mitigating his power, the left side of the infield has to catch it when it’s hit.

Curtis Granderson saved A.J. Burnett in the midst of his transformation from “we don’t know which A.J.” into “bad, chase him out of town A.J” with that over the shoulder catch of Kelly’s rocket with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the first inning of game 4. Yankee Stadium is an easier venue in which to hit a home run than Comerica Park, leaving less room to make these game/season-saving catches.

Defensively, Cabrera has a tendency to fall asleep while playing first base and do something airheaded.

Managers.

Who’s going to be the first reliever into the game if either gets into trouble?

There’s no messing around here and if Phil Hughes or Brad Penny are needed in the second inning, things could go downhill fast; if either starter gets off to a poor start, the next reliever’s main job is to stabilize the game and keep it from getting out of hand. I don’t trust either Hughes or Penny to do that.

Of the two managers, the one more likely to do something stupid and panicky is Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Tigers manager Jim Leyland trusts his players—to his detriment at times—and plays hunches, but his mistakes aren’t due to a freakout.

The looming hero.

Justin Verlander threw 120 pitches 3 days ago, but could he come in and provide a few innings if needed? If he shunned throwing on the side after his start, it’s possible that he saved his bullets in case he’s needed tonight.

Would Tigers manager Leyland do that? Would he risk Verlander to use him in relief?

Pedro Martinez left game 1 of the 1999 ALDS against the Indians after 4 innings with back problems; he was questionable for the rest of the series. In game 5, with the score 8-8 after 3 innings, Martinez told manager Jimy Williams he’d go for as long as he could when he ambled in from the bullpen.

He went as long as he could alright…by pitching 6 no-hit innings with 8 strikeouts to lead the Red Sox to the ALCS.

Verlander will be willing.

He’ll be able.

But will he be allowed?

And would it be the difference between winning and losing?

It might.

Leyland, in general, tells his players to take a hike when he’s made a decision; but occasionally as he did in the 1997 NLCS with Kevin Brown, he will listen when they stand in front of him and demand to be left in the game.

Verlander’s that type of competitor.

Would Leyland listen if Verlander told him he was ready to pitch in relief?

The initial response would be no, but…it’s game 5; this is Verlander’s year similar to that of Orel Hershiser in 1988.

What better way to prove it than to emerge from the bullpen and save the whole team?

It’s unlikely, but possible.

Because it’s game 5.

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Viewer Mail 7.1.2011

Draft, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Logan Morrison, Jack McKeon, the Twitter, Jim Leyland and Don Kelly:

The feeling I get is that baseball folks still want to keep the behind-the-scenes stuff very secret. From Trader Jack’s viewpoint, it makes sense… I wouldn’t like it if people were doing things I didn’t understand too.

***

I tuned in right as Kelly was warming up and I thought, “gee, maybe I’ve had one too many beers tonight cuz that looks like Don Kelly on the mound.”

Turns out Leyland probably had me by a beer or three.

R.A. Dickey expresses himself about team issues in an eloquent and non-team-threatening way and no one has a problem with it, but he’s a veteran leader in the clubhouse. Morrison is forgetting that he’s still essentially a rookie. They’re telling him to shut up, so….shut….up!!!!

Leyland was probably craving a cigarette. That’s the only thing I can think of.

Jason C at 98 on the Black writes RE the Dodgers and Dan Evans:

I was always surprised Dan Evans never got a shot to be a GM again. The fatal flaw of his Dodger teams was that the lineup was AWFUL. In the middle of the steroid era he failed to build even an average Major League offense.

He did get calls for interviews after he left the Dodgers and Mariners, but he’d moved onto the agent side of things. He sounded interested in another GM job at first, but his new calling appears to be making him happy. I can’t fault him for staying with a less-stressful, more secure and enjoyable vocation.

The Dodgers offense in 2002 was middle of the pack—7th in runs scored; in 2003, they were functioning with Alex Cora and Cesar Izturis in the everyday lineup which is never a boon to scoring runs. The biggest culprit to the decline was Shawn Green. Green hit 42 homers in 2002 and dropped to 19 in 2003; his power dive was….*suspicious*.

We’d have to check and see what was available between 2001 and 2003 before coming to a final conclusion on Evans’s handling of the offense.

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Precision Strikes 6.30.2011

Games, Management, Media, Players

Yankees reacquire Sergio Mitre setting off a storm of hilarity.

Because Sergio Mitre is seen as manager Joe Girardi‘s pet, there’s a neverending wellspring of jokes at the righty’s expense.

But as far as middle-relievers who can pitch multiple innings, spot start and pitch in a blowout, is it that funny? No. Mitre’s not that bad.

Yes he gives up homers and when he gets hit, he gets hit hard; but he was pretty good for the Yankees in 2010; and he’s pitched well enough for the Brewers this season functioning with a horrible defense behind him. That won’t be a problem with the Yankees.

He is what he is and what that is isn’t worthy of the ridicule heaped upon him for being Sergio Mitre.

Managerials.

The Mets-Tigers game from last night will be shown in managerial courses everywhere.

No such thing as “managerial courses” you say? Maybe I’ll start one.

It’ll be shown for glaring examples of what not to do.

The two most bizarre/egregious gaffes came when Mets manager Terry Collins called for lefty reliever Tim Byrdak to pitch to Tigers pinch hitter Andy Dirks.

Sound strategy except for the fact that Byrdak wasn’t aware he was supposed to be warming up. He’d warmed up the prior inning and wasn’t ready.

It looked like a Benny Hill skit as Byrdak grabbed his glove and came running out of the bullpen. Dirks hit a floating curveball—that I think I could’ve hit—out of the park; a livid Byrdak slammed the resin bag onto the mound and was yanked right after that bit of satire.

As far as the blame game for that goes, hey, these things happen. Managers and coaches are human beings and human beings make mistakes. The Mets won. No harm, no foul. Don’t let it happen again.

On the other side, Tigers manager Jim Leyland brought utilityman Don Kelly in to record the final out of the Mets half of the 9th inning.

Why?

I dunno.

Maybe he wanted to loosen up his tight and struggling club; maybe he was telling his relievers they were so terrible that he was bringing in a position player to pitch.

I didn’t understand it even though Kelly retired Scott Hairston on a fly out.

If the Tigers win today maybe Leyland will be credited for being the grizzled, veteran manager who had his fingers on the pulse of his team and sensed they needed a laugh; in reality, if the Tigers win today, it’ll be because Justin Verlander is pitching.

But whatever works!

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