The week of May 10th through the 16th that featured an early showdown in Detroit between the Tigers and the Cleveland Indians was actually sort of a mundane week in the AL Central. Yes, the Tribe won a road series from the Tigers when Jose Valverde walked Michael Bourn and then allowed the only hit he has surrendered so far this year to blow a save. The Tribe would take the game on a two-out hit from Mark Reynolds an inning later. Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox were the AL Central teams to post a winning record on the week, both 4-3. Otherwise the division as a whole was treading water with the Royals going 2-4 for the worst showing on the week.
This week we are closing in on the one-quarter mark of the season. Just shy of 25 percent of the way let's take a look at a key off-season acquisition for each club and see how these new faces are faring around the Central. Will some of these early performances change substantially as the season goes along? Sure. We know all know that. But winning games in April counts the same in the standings, so let's see how these players have helped so far.
Detroit Tigers: 22-17 Overall, 3-4 on the week
Next UP: 3@Texas, 2@Cleveland, 1 home w/Minnesota
The New Face: Matt Tuiasosopo, OF/1B
Torii Hunter was the big name brought to Detroit in the off-season but we covered him earlier this week at length. Anibal Sanchez counts as a free agent acquisition technically but he ended the year in Detroit last year. So let's take a look at a guy the vast majority of Tigers fans had never heard of when pitchers and catchers reported back in February.
Matt Tuiasosopo was looking for a gig. The New York Mets no longer employed him once last season ended in Triple-A Buffalo. He was emailing executives and hoping to hook on somewhere. Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski gave him a lifeline and, remarkably, it's a story that is still writing itself. Tuiasosopo took advantage of an extra-long spring training due to the World Baseball Classic and rode a late-camp hot streak of eye-popping power to a rather surprising Opening Day roster berth.
It's a small sample of 46 plate appearances so far, but we're discussing a bench guy. You're going to get small samples. What you hope for is a guy who can do something within those small samples. Tuiasosopo is doing something. He's posting a line of .375/.457/.575 and squaring up a few balls when given a chance. Is he long term solution? Probably not. But that doesn't matter. He's been a short term boost and he's the kind of under-the-radar move that good MLB front offices come up with to provide depth at the bottom of the roster.
Cleveland Indians: 22-17 Overall, 4-3 on the week
Next UP: 4 home w/Seattle, 2 home w/Detroit, 1@Boston
The New Face: Mark Reynolds, DH/1B/3B
It was a busy off-season in Cleveland. The Tribe hired a new skipper in Terry Francona and several players to bolster their roster. Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Brett Myers, Mike Aviles, Brett Myers, and a slugger fresh from Baltimore, Mark Reynolds were all brought aboard as the Hot Stove was left on "high" in the offices at Progressive Field.
Reynolds has been the story to this point. He has smacked 11 homers and seen his batting average rise by 50 points from his last two seasons spent in Baltimore. Reynolds' hot start seems pretty simple. He is striking out just a bit less than normal and hitting few more fly balls than last season. When he puts the ball in the air there is a good chance something positive may occur. Right now 24.4% of the time his fly balls are turning into home run trots. This is only a few points above his career number of 20.8%. Nothing he can't sustain for a while. His production isn't even a BABIP-fueled red flag. BABIP sits at a really bland .289, "nothing to see here, move along" in terms of expecting a massive regression. Don't get me wrong...do I believe Reynolds is a ".271/.362/.581" hitter for the season? No. But nothing that is going on screams he is about to go off a cliff either. His history tells us to expect the batting average to swoon a bit from this level...but the power will likely play most of the year.
The scary part in Cleveland is his defense. It's about to become an issue. He is playing more third-base now that Lonnie Chisenhall has been sent out to AAA. Reynolds is one of the worst defenders in baseball. A Cleveland pitching staff that needs all the defensive help it can get is going to find out really fast what pitchers in Baltimore and Arizona have experienced over the years. Reynolds is a DH who wears a glove. Still, it's been a solid acquisition for the Tribe here at the quarter-pole.
Kansas City Royals: 20-17 Overall, 2-4 on the week
Next UP: 3@Oakland, 3@Houston, 1 home w/L.A. Angels
The New Face: James Shields, Starting Pitcher
Shields was the focal point from the KC perspective of a huge off-season trade between the Royals and the Tampa Bay Rays. Shields (and pitcher Wade Davis) cost a pretty penny. A prospect package including Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi was sent to Tampa. Myers in particular is one of, if not "the", best power hitting prospects in the game. The Royals didn't wade into the pool of building a contender with this deal. They jumped in cannon-ball style to make a splash to immediately bolster their recently pathetic rotations.
The "bet" the Royals were making was that they could contend in the two years remaining of control over Shields before he can walk via free agency. (not to mention the 5-years of control over Davis) Meanwhile a close eye will be kept on Myers and Odorizzi in Tampa to see what kind of players they turn into. There is a line of thought that the Royals may well have been better off to keep Myers and give him Jeff Francoeur's at-bats and sign a free agent pitcher who would have taken Shields' starts. The net effect may have been the same on this year's club without sacrificing the value the prospects may yield in time.
But what's done is done. Shields is in KC. He has taken the ball 8 times thus far this season and...he has pitched well. Probably every bit as well as the Royals could have hoped for to this point. Shields currently sports a 2.48 ERA with peripherals to match. But here's the rub...the Royals are only 3-5 in his starts. A great pitcher still needs an offense to score some runs. In those 5 losses the Royals have scored a total of 8 runs.
The jury has already returned a verdict on James Shields. He's great. The jury is still deliberating on the deal to acquire him though...and will be for a while.
Minnesota Twins: 18-19 Overall, 3-4 on the week
Next UP: 3 home w/Boston, 3@Atlanta, 1@Detroit
The New Face: Vance Worley, Starting Pitcher
To put a nice spin on this portion of today's look at a Twins acquisition, let's recommend to Twins fans to become believers in xFIP. If Worley is a Saber-centric type like his teammate Glen Perkins evidently is, then Worley can take solace that xFIP tells us he is pitching more like a guy with a 4.53 ERA. That would be okay.
Unfortunately for the Twins his real ERA stands at a rather unsightly 7.15 as Worley's transition to the American League has not gone well. Worley's HR/FB has risen to nearly 13%, a 50% rise from last season in Philadelphia. His K-rate has also fallen off a cliff to a very non-threatening 4.85 K's per nine innings. Worley has two quality starts in eight trips to the hill. Worley could also cling to his BABIP sitting at an extremely high .405 and pray for some better luck along that front too.
The interesting note that strikes me is that while the Royals have received great pitching from Shields, as we just noted they are 3-5 in his starts. Worley has stunk for the most part. Care to guess the Twins' record in Worley's eight starts? Yep. 3-5.
The Twins gave up Ben Revere to get Worley plus live arm prospect Trevor May. Revere is a fun little ballplayer but he's nowhere near as valuable as what the Royals gave up to get Shields. Certainly if both keep pitching the way they have so far the records won't stay the same much longer. We aren't comparing Shields and Worley on ability or long term value here. However through a quarter of the season and 8 starts for each pitcher the Royals have only gotten more rest for their bullpen since Shields pitches longer than Worley. This has value. This theoretically may have added a "win" for the Royals so far by having a rested bullpen in subsequent games. But they haven't gotten more real "W's" you can put your hands on in the standings in this comparison. (yet) However it's also safe to say the Twins haven't received the shot in the arm for their low-octane rotation from Worley's presence to this point.
Chicago White Sox: 18-21 Overall, 4-3 on the week
Next UP: 3@Los Angeles Angels, 3 home w/Boston
The New Face: Jeff Keppinger, 3B/SS/2B
If it wasn't for Keppinger the subject of this section would be the new ushers in section 118 at US Cellular Field. It was a quiet off-season on the South Side unless you want to talk about Rick Hahn assuming the GM duties while Kenny Williams moved upstairs. (maybe we'll cover that in due course)
Meanwhile...KEPPINGER HAS WALKED!! Hot off the presses late in the evening on Thursday in the top of the 8th inning Keppinger drew a walk with the bases loaded in Anaheim to push across what would be the winning run for the Pale Hose. What makes this interesting? It was merely his first walk on the season. 140-plate appearances and Keppinger picked a good time to work a pass. He entered Thursday's game with the always amusing OBP lower than batting average in his slash-line of .185/.182/.207.
Keppinger is a solid utility guy. That's his track record. He can play several spots and he has usually hit a little to make himself useful. His slow start is probably not a crisis and odds are he perks up a bit from this point. But with Gordon Beckham once again not assuming the role the Sox envisioned when they drafted him as a first rounder a few years ago, Keppinger is being stretched out into something of a full-time role. This isn't ideal obviously and only exacerbates the problems on offense that have plagued the White Sox anemic attack to this point in the season.