AL Central Big 3: The pitching

Leading man: The White Sox will need Giolito to be on his A-game, while also needing improvements from its young nucleus of starters, in order to contend for this year’s division title. (@LGio27) 

It’s been quite the interesting offseason in the AL Central.

The White Sox have added a number of solid veterans to its young core, while also granting extensions for veteran slugger José Abreu and phenom outfielder Luis Robert. The Twins added Josh Donaldson to its already potent offense while adding rotation depth in the forms of Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. Cleveland, in the meantime, has basically maintained their status quo with the exception of trading pricey hurler Corey Kluber for reliever Emmanuel Clase and Delino DeShields Jr. as they hope to maintain their success by simply staying healthy.

Of course, based on last season, there’s quite a bit of separation among the three teams: The Twins are coming off a 101-61 season, Cleveland a 93-69 record, and the White Sox a 72-89 mark. But as there should unquestionably be some better bunching at the top this season (PECOTA projects 93, 86 and 82 wins, respectively), we’re ramping up to the start of Cactus League play with three looks at the Big 3 ball clubs, on offense, pitching and intangibles. 

Projected 2020 stats are per Steamer, and players’ ages listed in parentheses are as of Opening Day.

Minnesota Twins

Starting Rotation
José Berrios (R) 4.48 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 198 IP, 2.71 BB/9, 8.63 K/9, 3.0 fWAR
Jake Odorizzi (R) 4.59 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 172 IP, 3.19 BB/9, 9.36 K/9, 2.3 fWAR
Kenta Maeda (R) 4.66 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 154 IP, 3.23 BB/9, 9.09 K/9, 1.9 fWAR

Homer Bailey (R) 5.02 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 153 IP, 2.92 BB/9, 7.21 K/9, 1.4 fWAR
Randy Dobnak (R) 5.03 ERA, 1.43 WHIP,   90 IP, 2.72 BB/9, 5.50 K/9, 0.7 fWAR

Injured or Suspended Starters
Michael Piñeda (R) 4.63 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 129 IP, 2.22 BB/9, 8.22 K/9, 1.7 fWAR
Rich Hill (L) 4.42 ERA, 1.29 WHIP,   88 IP, 3.25 BB/9, 9.41 K/9, 1.2 fWAR

Aggregate Rotation Numbers: 4.60 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 2.77 BB/9, 7.95 K/9, 12.2 fWAR

Taylor Rogers (L) 3.44 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 65 IP, 2.64 BB/9, 10.65 K/9, 0.9 fWAR
Sergio Romo (R) 4.94 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 67 IP, 3.00 BB/9,   8.35 K/9, 0.1 fWAR
Trevor May (R) 4.13 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 60 IP, 3.65 BB/9, 10.65 K/9, 0.5 fWAR
Tyler Duffey (R) 3.81 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 65 IP, 2.63 BB/9, 10.09 K/9, 0.8 fWAR
Tyler Clippard (R) 4.99 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 55 IP, 3.35 BB/9,   9.13 K/9, 0.0 fWAR
Zack Littell (R) 4.37 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 45 IP, 3.22 BB/9,   8.79 K/9,  0.3 fWAR
Cody Stashak (R) 4.68 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 40 IP, 2.53 BB/9,   8.82 K/9,  0.1 fWAR
Matt Wisler (R) 4.63 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 20 IP, 2.40 BB/9,   8.34 K/9,  0.1 fWAR

Aggregate Relief Numbers: 4.30 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 3.06 BB/9, 9.50 K/9, 2.8 fWAR

Total Twins Pitching: 4.51 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 2.86 BB/9, 8.43 K /9, 15.0 fWAR   

Certainly, some regression was expected for the Twins on the offensive side, but Steamer is anticipating regression for many Twins pitchers as well — especially in regards to top starters Berrios and Odorizzi. Regression is also expected for new acquisition Maeda, who is leaving the friendly pitching confines of Dodger Stadium. Piñeda won’t return from his league-mandated suspension until mid-May, while Hill won’t return from his offseason surgery until sometime around the All-Star break. In the meantime, a three-way battle will exist for the final spot between Dobnak, Devin Smeltzer and Lewis Thorpe. While the Twins bullpen doesn’t feature many big names, it does a competent job by posting impressive strikeout totals and keeping walks down. Aside from their closer, the Twins have no southpaws in the bullpen unless they decide to move Smeltzer there at some point. All Minnesota’s pitching has to do is keep the team in the game, as its offense should be exciting enough (even with the expected regression) to score five runs per game.     


Starting Rotation
Shane Bieber (R) 3.66 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 198 IP, 1.80 BB/9, 9.74 K/9, 4.6 fWAR
Carlos Carrasco (R) 3.80 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 173 IP, 2.19 BB/9,  9.86 K/9, 3.5 fWAR
Aaron Civale (R) 4.81 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 148 IP, 2.31 BB/9, 7.06 K/9, 1.4 fWAR
Zach Plesac (R) 5.07 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 119 IP, 2.91 BB/9, 7.37 K/9, 0.7 fWAR
Logan Allen (L) 4.90 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 101 IP, 3.82 BB/9, 7.80 K/9, 0.5 fWAR

Injured Starters
Mike Clevinger (R) 3.65 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 197 IP, 3.05 BB/9, 10.87 K/9, 3.6 fWAR 

Aggregate Rotation Numbers: 4.18 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 2.58 BB/9, 9.07 K/9, 14.3 fWAR  

Brad Hand (L) 3.68 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 65 IP, 3.23 BB/9, 11.10 K/9, 0.7 fWAR
Nick Wittgren (R) 4.49 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 65 IP, 3.03 BB/9,  8.66 K/9, 0.1 fWAR

Emmanuel Clase (R) 3.78 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 55 IP, 3.39 BB/9,  9.57 K/9, 0.5 fWAR
Oliver Perez (L) 4.06 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 68 IP, 3.14 BB/9,  9.73 K/9, 0.3 fWAR 
Adam Cimber (R) 4.54 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 60 IP, 2.90 BB/9,  6.67 K/9, 0.0 fWAR
Hunter Wood (R) 4.44 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 35 IP, 3.11 BB/9,  8.93 K/9, 0.1 fWAR
James Karinchak (R) 3.58 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 40 IP, 4.79 BB/9, 12.60 K/9, 0.4 fWAR
Adam Plutko (R) 5.20 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 48 IP, 2.37 BB/9,   7.71 K/9, -0.1 fWAR

Aggregate Relief Numbers: 4.18 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 3.20 BB/9, 9.33 K/9, 2.0 fWAR

Total Cleveland Pitching: 4.18 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 2.80 BB/9, 9.15 K/9, 16.4 fWAR

The top three in Cleveland’s rotation (including Clevinger) is among the best trio of starters in the league, while the bullpen features four guys who strike out more than a man per inning. For obvious reasons, losing Clevinger for any significant period of time will hurt the Indians in the divisional chase; it’s not expected that he’d miss more than three or four weeks to begin the season. In the meantime, the fourth and fifth spots are potentially vulnerable due to limited experience in the majors. If one of Civale or Plesac should struggle, don’t be too surprised to see Plutko inserted into the rotation while James Hoyt gets promoted from Triple-A to fill his spot. Cleveland also has several minor leaguers (including Triston McKenzie) who can help the team if needed, and they have the best rotational depth in the division overall.

Chicago White Sox

Starting Rotation
Lucas Giolito (R) 4.26 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 191 IP, 3.44 BB/9, 10.31 K/9, 3.2 fWAR
Dallas Keuchel (L) 4.38 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 197 IP, 3.00 BB/9,   6.85 K/9, 2.4 fWAR
Reynaldo López (R) 4.96 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 159 IP, 3.18 BB/9,   8.27 K/9, 1.5 fWAR
Dylan Cease (R) 4.52 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 108 IP, 4.17 BB/9,   9.54 K/9, 1.4 fWAR
Gio González (L) 4.89 ERA, 1.47 WHIP,  133 IP, 3.81 BB/9,  7.72 K/9, 1.1 fWAR

Injured Starters
Michael Kopech (R) 4.78 ERA, 1.39 WHIP,   91 IP, 4.29 BB/9, 10.25 K/9, 0.9 fWAR
Carlos Rodón (L) 4.73 ERA, 1.38 WHIP,  37 IP, 3.66 BB/9,   8.65 K/9,  0.4 fWAR

Aggregate Rotation Numbers: 4.59 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 3.53 BB/9, 8.68 K/9, 10.9 fWAR  

Alex Colomé (R) 4.33 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 63 IP, 3.23 BB/9,   9.08 K/9, 0.3 fWAR
Aaron Bummer (L) 3.74 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 65 IP, 3.72 BB/9,   9.33 K/9, 0.7 fWAR
Steve Cishek (R) 4.71 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 65 IP, 3.77 BB/9,    8.63 K/9,  0.0 fWAR
Evan Marshall (R) 4.43 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 60 IP. 3.60 BB/9,   8.18 K/9, 0.2 fWAR
Kelvin Herrera (R) 4.51 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 50 IP, 3.04 BB/9,   8.97 K/9, 0.3 fWAR
Jace Fry (L) 3.86 ERA, 1,38 WHIP, 67 IP, 4.71 BB/9, 10.47 K/9, 0.4 fWAR
Jimmy Cordero (R) 4.40 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 35 IP, 4.36 BB/9,   8.56 K/9, 0.1 fWAR
Carson Fulmer (R) 5.08 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 25 IP, 4.89 BB/9,   9.24 K/9, -0.1 fWAR

Aggregate Relief Numbers: 4.31 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 3.81 BB/9, 9.10 K/9, 1.9 fWAR

Total White Sox Numbers: 4.50 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 3.62 BB/9, 8.81 K/9, 12.8 fWAR

It certainly doesn’t appear that Steamer did the White Sox pitchers many favors with its projections. One can see that Cease and López are expected to gain some improvement in the rotation, but the rest of the rotation is projected to struggle. To be fair, Giolito’s projections are at least closer to his 2019 numbers than to his disastrous 2018. Also, it is incredibly difficult to project rotational pieces who have shown little consistency from year to year. Keuchel and González, unsurprisingly, are expected to decline as they’re both into their 30s. There’s also a chance that Kopech begins the year in the rotation, with González perhaps to be the designated long man after each of his starts. As for the bullpen, the only pitchers expected for improvement (albeit moderate) are Herrera, Fry and Fulmer. It’s interesting to see their projections for Cishek fall to such a degree, but that’s why they play the game. If everyone reaches the ceiling, the White Sox could easily pass the Indians in fWAR by year’s end; however, the likelihood that all cylinders run with perfect profusion, especially for such a young staff, is quite minimal indeed. Fulmer’s listed as the last guy in the pen, if for no other reason that he has no options left; there likely will be heavy competition for this final spot from among Ian Hamilton, José Ruiz, Jacob Lindgren and many others.

When looking at the rotation stats, Cleveland has a clear advantage thanks to its big three of Clevinger, Bieber and Carrasco. The White Sox and Twins rotations are actually quite even, as both teams have solid top-twos but question marks afterward. There’s not much separation among these three teams in the bullpen, but Cleveland appears to have a slight edge on both the White Sox and Twins. If the White Sox staff can avoid free passes, which Steamer doesn’t think it can, the White Sox should definitely beat their overall projections.   

These aggregate fWAR totals for each team are only based upon each team’s projected Opening Day rosters (plus contributions of those either on the injured or suspended lists), so they don’t include contributions from those expected to begin the season in the minors. Combined with the offensive fWAR numbers published yesterday, the Twins have the best preseason projections among its 26-man roster (44.3 fWAR); Cleveland falls second at 38.7, while the Sox are a close third at 36.9.

This doesn’t man the White Sox should simply give up the season; it just means expectations should be tempered just a bit. It truly appears that the White Sox offense should be just fine; however, the team will only go so far as its pitching this year. A lot may also depend upon the health of these three teams as to who’ll go the furthest. While each will be hoping and anticipating great starts, it’s perhaps most imperative for the Tribe because  a rocky beginning to 2020 could impel the team to rebuild instead of contend. Fortunately for everyone, games aren’t played on paper and/or projections, but are played on the diamond. It should be an exciting an and compelling 2020 campaign!