With the month of April at an end, I thought it would be a good time to look at the best and worst players in the American League Central so far this season. To be clear, this is only an evaluation of how each player in the division has performed so far. There is no extra credit for what happened in the past, and there is no accounting for how I expect each player to perform going forward. These rankings are for April 2012 alone.
Bottom 3 A.L. Central Players of the Month:
3. Casey Kotchman, Indians (1B) – .149/.240/.254, 2 HR, 2B, 8 Runs, 4 RBI, .236 wOBA
Kotchman was brought in because Matt LaPorta, the centerpiece of Cleveland’s 2008 CC Sabathia trade, has not lived up to expectations. He has been a strong defensive 1B over his career, a talent seen as important for the Indians’ groundball heavy pitching staff. He also has a strong 2011 at the plate. So far though, Kotchman has been a poor addition.
2. Brent Morel, White Sox (3B) – .178/.221/.205, 0 HR, 2 SB, 11 Runs, 3 RBI, .195 wOBA
Morel finished 2011 on an absolute tear. Some looked at that, squinted a bit, and saw the close of Jose Bautista’s 2009 season, then made the leap that Morel would have a huge breakout season. Instead, he has been arguably the worst hitter in baseball so far this season. He’s already been moved down in the lineup, where might he be moved to next?
1. Gordon Beckham, White Sox (2B) – .153/.231/.203, 0 HR, 0 SB, 5 Runs, 2 RBI, .197 wOBA
If Morel hasn’t been the worst offensive player in baseball, Beckham has. Gordon was so good in 2009, and the sky seemed the limit for him. He has failed to make adjustments though, and each year his game has fallen further off. He is still young, and might turn it around, but he’s not getting it done right now, in any facet of the game.
Top 10 A.L. Central Players of the Month:
10. Billy Butler, Royals (DH) – .329/.367/.576, 5 HR, 0 SB, 10 Runs, 16 RBI, .401 wOBA
At 27, Butler is practically the elder statesman of the Kansas City clubhouse. He’s been a very solid player the last few years, but in some ways has been a disappointment. So far this season, he’s putting up the kind of numbers Royals fans have been looking for since about 2009.
9. Carlos Santana, Indians (C/1B) -.262/.417/.446, 3 HR, 0 SB, 10 Runs, 10 RBI, .376 wOBA
Santana signed an extension in April that puts him under contract in Cleveland through 2016 (or 2017, on a team option), which should cover the prime years of his career. It’s unclear if he’ll stick at catcher long term or not, but so far it’s fair to say he’s at least fought the position to a draw. Santana has a great eye, evidenced by his walk rate, which is the highest in the American League so far.
8. Travis Hafner, Indians (DH) – .295/.450/.459, 2 HR, 0 SB, 7 Runs, 10 RBI, .396 wOBA
Hafner was an offensive force from 2004-2006, but that’s light-years in the past, in baseball terms. It isn’t so much that he’s become a weak hitter since then, it’s that he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. April was one of the best stretches he’s had in years (he leads the division in OPB), but the big question is whether he can stay in the field or not.
7. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (3B) – .298/.368/.571, 7 HR, 0 SB, 15 Runs, 20 RBI, .393 wOBA
Probably the biggest story in the A.L. Central during the offseason was the Tigers’ signing of Prince Fielder, and the decision to then move Cabrera across the diamond to 3B. Many have expected the switch to end in disaster. In time, it might, but so far it’s worked out fairly well (aside from the nasty shot Cabrera took to the face in March). He’s leading the division in home runs, not surprisingly.
6. Mike Moustakas, Royals (3B) – .315/.375/.534, 3 HR, 1 SB, 10 Runs, 12 RBI, .397 wOBA
Moustakas is one of Kansas City’s many talented youngsters. He isn’t seen as having the same offensive ceiling as some of the other top prospects around the league, but he’s been hitting damn well so far, and playing a solid 3B too. 2012 is already looking like another lost season for the Royals, so seeing guys like Moustakas continue to develop should be the main hope for fans this year.
5. Justin Verlander, Tigers (SP) – 37.1 IP, 2.41 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 8.44 K/9, 1.93 BB/9
The reigning American League MVP has been pitching pretty much as well as he did last season. He only has two wins to show for it, through five starts, putting him on pace for ~12, half of what he got in 2011. I can’t stress enough (and I’m surely not the first person you’ve heard it from) that pitching wins are almost entirely ridiculous.
4. Austin Jackson, Tigers (CF) – .284/.376/.494, 3 HR, 3 SB, 16 Runs, 7 RBI, .387 wOBA
Jackson has boosted his walk rate and the percentage of line drives he’s hitting. Either of those could be a SSS (small sample size) mirage, or the start of a trend that brings Jackson into the top tier of players in baseball. Both should be monitored as the season continues. He’s putting up strong offensive numbers, running the bases well, and playing a better and better centerfield.
3. Josh Willingham, Twins (LF) – .347/.447/.681, 5 HR, 1 SB, 13 Runs, 15 RBI, .481 wOBA
There’s a very good case to be made that Willingham was the best hitter in the division during April, as he led the way in SLG, OPS, and wOBA (something of a catch all offensive statistic, which you can read more about here. League average is roughly .325, anything over .400 is fantastic). His signing has worked out better than anyone could have guessed so far.
2. Paul Konerko, White Sox (1B) – .383/.444/.679, 5 HR, 0 SB, 13 Runs, 15 RBI, .472 wOBA
Konerko is the other candidate for the best A.L. Central hitter of April, having led the divsion in AVG, hits, extra-base hits, and total bases. Paulie continues to defy father time, and in an offense that has had a lot of dead weight so far (see the above worst players list), his contributions have been vital to keeping the team afloat.
1. Jake Peavy, White Sox (SP) – 37.2 IP, 1.67 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, 7.88 K/9, 1.19 BB/9
Peavy has been the best pitcher in all of baseball so far in 2012. He has made five strong starts so far, and ended the month with back to back complete games, the first time in his fine career he’s accomplished that feat. If he can stay healthy and keep it up (well, not “keep it up,” that would be Bob Gibsonian… let’s say, if he can “keep pitching well”) it will be a huge boost to the White Sox’ chances.