I have an unfinished post I started composing around the time Mr Dombrowski signed Victor Martinez, which was an analysis of the effects of the Anthony Gose deal (but not the Yoenis Cespedes one) on the Tigers' lineup. Since we are now getting projections from the likes of FanGraphs.com and Baseball Prospectus, I thought I would look at the lineups, rotations and bullpens of the AL Central contenders to see how they match up.
Those projections are not happy reading for fans of the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers have made a habit of making the pursuit of the division title a bit more exciting than their player talent is generally reckoned to allow. FanGraphs.com sees something of a dead heat between the Cleveland Indians and the Tigers, while the PECOTA projections at Baseball Prospectus give the Tigers a narrow advantage. We all know that projections are just projections, and how Lady Luck can break your heart.
I have used Steamer Projections, available at FanGraphs, to work out the projected wRC+ of the different AL lineups, reproduced in a PNG here:
The lineups are arranged by position, and based on projected PA also at FanGraphs.com I have made my own combined calculation where platoons or usage does not reflect about 500 PA per position. Being projections, one is more interested in assessing the approximate relative strength of the lineups, as opposed to achieving some kind of precision. As you can see, the Tigers still manage to have the strongest set of regulars, on paper. This is despite Miguel Cabrera's injury struggles last season, and the fact that realistically we have to expect J.D. Martinez to do it again. The strongest challenge should be mounted by the Indians. The White Sox look a bit disappointing to me, based on what I've been hearing about their off-season all off-season. The Twins are in the middle, and the Royals bring up the rear.
At this stage, the problem for Tigers' fans is that we as yet have no clear idea about how ready Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera will be for the start of the season. If they miss three or four weeks between them, that might be enough to close down a good portion of that twenty-run wRC+ advantage over the Indians. Having said that, I was impressed with what I had heard so far of Tyler Collins PAs this spring training. I'm a couple of games behind, though. He has been getting solid contact off front-line pitching, not just off the younger bullpen filler that tends to appear as end-of-game padding. Some good PAs as cover for one of Victor Martinez and Cabrera will go a long way towards keeping the Tigers' lineup strong.