What’s Already Happened in the AL Central

Hello! The baseball season just started. We’ve gone from one Sunday to a second Sunday, and we still aren’t allowed to do anything with statistics because nobody cares about them yet. While, in theory, spring training is supposed to get everyone ready for the year, the beginning feels like an extended spring training, a transition period following a transition period, and at this point the standings mean nothing. If you were to ask a player today about the wins and the losses, you’d get laughed out of the clubhouse. It doesn’t just feel like there’s a long way to go — it feels like there’s the whole way to go. Also, the Indians and White Sox are four games back of the Tigers and Royals.

It happened fast. It happened before anyone cared, but the White Sox have been swept by the Royals, and the Indians have been swept by the Tigers. Series conclude every few days, and standings change literally every day, but this is notable because the AL Central has four teams who’ve been thinking about the playoffs. The same four teams are still thinking about the playoffs, but as much as you want to say nothing matters yet, everything matters. This is my most- and least-favorite post to write every season.

The standings, if I need to explain them: the Tigers and Royals are both 6-0. The Indians and White Sox are both 2-4. The latter teams have each won a series, but they’ve also each been swept, as noted. Looking at the standings a year ago at this point, we didn’t see the same early spread. The best team in the American League was 2.5 games ahead of the worst. The best team in the National League was 2.5 games ahead of the second-worst, with the Diamondbacks having gotten off to a special lousy start in Australia. The Tigers and Royals have sprinted out; the White Sox and Indians have tripped over their laces.

Nothing that’s happened should change your actual expectations for the teams going forward. Whatever you thought the teams would be for 162 games, you should still think they’ll be for the remaining 156 games. You understand the principles here: it’s way too early for anything to significantly change your mind. But, we’ve observed a two-team head start. We’re 1/27th of the way through the regular season, which means we can round and say we’re a mile through a marathon. If you’re racing against somebody, and you start at the same position, and a mile later you’re ahead of the other guy’s position, you’ve improved your chances, assuming you haven’t, say, wasted your energy going as fast as you can. Baseball and running are not alike.

Let’s make this simple and visual. FanGraphs tracks playoff odds. They’re based on simulations, based on team projections and depth charts. Nothing is perfect but because the method is consistent, we can compare current odds against recent odds. Following: AL Central playoff odds, now and from just before the season. This shows you just what has been accomplished through the season’s first week.

al-central-playoff-odds

In light green, you’ve got the preseason odds. In darker green, the current odds, as of Monday morning. You observe some real shifts. For our purposes, we can ignore the Twins. For your purposes, you can probably also ignore the Twins. The Tigers and Royals, of course, have gained; the Indians and White Sox, of course, have not. Quickly, team by team:

TIGERS

  • It’s not just that Detroit’s playoff odds are up 13 percentage points. Their division odds are up 11 percentage points, so their odds of seeing a playoff series are up 12 percentage points. Our numbers made it look like Detroit’s fiercest competition would be Cleveland, so it helps an awful lot to gain an almost immediate four-game advantage.

ROYALS

  • Our numbers haven’t loved the Royals, and they still don’t. They also don’t hate them, though, and now the Royals are projected to end the season with three more wins than they were a week ago. So the playoff odds are up 11 percentage points, with the ALDS odds up eight. The Royals have gained meaningful separation from the White Sox.

INDIANS

  • When we started, we had the Indians as slight division favorites. They were projected to go 86-76, with the Tigers at 85-77. But now they’re projected to win two fewer games than Detroit, so while Cleveland’s playoff odds are down almost seven percentage points, their division odds are down 11. In other words, a wild-card game appears more likely, and an automatic trip to the ALDS appears less likely.

WHITE SOX

  • The White Sox have been somewhat controversial, in that the projections never liked them much despite all the roster turnover. And certainly nothing that’s happened yet confirms anything, but low odds have become even lower. Chicago’s playoff odds are barely half what they were. Their ALDS odds are barely half what they were. If you think the White Sox are a lot better than their projections, you can bump all the numbers up, but there’s nothing you can do to make a four-game deficit anything less than that. There’s no better time to lose four games of ground. There’s no good time to lose four games of ground.

Here’s the way I usually prefer to think of this. Anthony Gose, from Saturday:

That’s a home run, on Corey Kluber’s second pitch. As Gose swung the bat, the Detroit broadcast was still announcing the official game-time temperature. Games are supposed to have some kind of grace period, where nothing happens until everyone’s ready and settled in. There isn’t supposed to be a score for at least, I don’t know, 10 – 15 minutes. Anything that happens too soon feels vaguely unreal, and a home run that fast feels particularly significant to neither side. It doesn’t feel like a real event, but Gose improved the Tigers’ win expectancy from 50% to 61%. Immediately, the Tigers became fairly heavy favorites, even if it didn’t feel like the game had really started. And, ultimately, the Tigers won.

On the other hand, Kole Calhoun the same day hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first. He significantly improved the Angels’ chances of beating the Royals. They didn’t. The Royals came back with five runs in the fourth. In the fifth, the Angels turned 6-1 into 6-4. Then the score held. Usually, things don’t play out to their averages. The Indians and White Sox are both one streak away, and a season inevitably includes several streaks.

So no matter what the standings now, no one’s going to feel too different. There is so much baseball. So, so very much baseball. It’s practically eternal baseball, and compared to eternity, it’s hard to care about six games. Hell, right now, as I write this, the Tigers are losing. Look how quickly things change! But a season of 162 games is a season of 162 individual blocks, or 27 sequences of six blocks. If enough of those sequences go happily or sadly, a season’s outcome will be determined. One sequence is in the books. The AL Central might already be sorting itself out.

And also, the Yan Gomes injury? The Indians might warrant a post of their own. They’ve lost four games of ground to two direct competitors, and they’re going to be without an excellent catcher for about two months with a knee problem. The injury isn’t yet factored into the odds, but that’s another real blow. The Indians look like a strong team, and a team capable of making a deep run into October, but while the first week wasn’t a total disaster, it was mostly unpleasant. They’ve got a lot of time to get themselves out of this hole, but if they had their druthers, they wouldn’t have gotten into this hole in the first place. All that is is extra work.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

47 Comments
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the new
9 years ago

Twins fan here. We have feelings you know.

Joe Butler
9 years ago
Reply to  the new

‘please’

mtsw
9 years ago
Reply to  the new

Remember the hate, so that one day, when the Twins start winning again, you can pop into every comment thread and talk shit about Fangraphs like the Orioles fans do now.

B N
9 years ago
Reply to  mtsw

Unfortunately, most Minnesotans are just too nice and classy to do so. We’ll need to wait until the Phillies start overperforming compared to their projections…

Nickname Damur
9 years ago
Reply to  the new

Might want to turn those feelings off for a couple of years. I’m a Mariner fan and, believe me, anomie or apathy are far better than wretchedness and despair.

On a personal note, yes, the Mariners are better now, but I’m still crawling out from under that rock and blinking uncomfortably in the sunlight.

DogBone
9 years ago
Reply to  Nickname Damur

Pittsburgh fan here.
I feel your pain. I really do.
And yes, short term low expectations help a lot

Will Graham
9 years ago
Reply to  Nickname Damur

For you Mariner fans…

We have 6th rated organization. We always have 6th.

joser
9 years ago
Reply to  Nickname Damur

One Mariner fan to another: you might not want to break out sunglasses just yet. I’m completely unpersuaded by this team; baseball being baseball and — especially — the Mariners being the Mariners, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they finish 2015 two games out of the Wild Card.

B N
9 years ago
Reply to  Nickname Damur

Life-long Red Sox fan here. I recommend the opposite of everyone, and recommend always entertaining solid hopes for the season, no matter how unrealistic they may be. If you do this for 80+ years, eventually your faith will be rewarded and you will win a bunch of championships. Or die. That happened too. But that beats being the one who gave up on the team RIGHT before they finally won something. Don’t time the market, just stay the course.

Cubs know this script. They are probably due at least 4 by now. Any day now…

Dr. Obvious
9 years ago
Reply to  the new

I feel bad for you Twins fans but

Jack Morris was on my team the last time we were in the playoffs

Marty
9 years ago
Reply to  Dr. Obvious

Didn’t know Jack Morris was still pitching in 2010.

B N
9 years ago
Reply to  Marty

It’s just a move to extend his Hall of Fame eligibility.

LHPSU
9 years ago
Reply to  the new

Would you rather have a reminder that your team is currently 1-5?

Matthew
9 years ago
Reply to  the new

I highly recommend you subscribe to MiLB.TV and just watch the Chatanooga Lookouts instead.

Eephus
9 years ago
Reply to  the new

Yes, of ineptitude.

A Phillies fan
9 years ago
Reply to  the new

Yeah, good luck with that around here.

Slugerrr
9 years ago
Reply to  the new

As a Royals fan, I have ZERO sympathy for your team or any team for that matter.