I wrote at the All-Star Break that the Detroit Tigers appear to be the best team in the division, but I'd be sure to check back into that opinion after the July 31 trade deadline passed. Well, it's passed. Detroit still has the best team in the division. All that's left is for the players and manager to get the most out of that talent in the remaining third of the season.
I've already detailed my feelings about the Tigers' trade in other places, having written about Doug Fister on Saturday and crediting an assist to David Tokarz on new reliever David Pauley. The nuts and bolts of it is this: Detroit helped its rotation and bullpen, two of the areas of concern for the team. The addition of Fister was especially meaningful when you consider just how bad the pitchers he will be replacing performed.
Phil Coke, Andy Oliver, Charlie Furbush, Duane Below and Jacob Turner combined for 21 starts. The team went 4-17 in those starts. In just five of them did the pitcher earn a quality start of three runs or less in six innings or more. That's less than 25%. Fister's quality start percentage is 57%. The group combined for 61 earned runs in 106 2/3 innings (ERA: 5.15). Fister's ERA is 3.33 and is projected by sabermetric stats to be no worse than 4 going forward. Finally, the fifth spot in the rotation is also where a lot of the middle relief problems came to fruition. By my quick addition at Baseball Reference, the Tigers are -48 in run differential when that group of pitchers started the game. So the addition of Fister and Pauley isn't just a nice addition, it's a huge addition.
Falling back on WAR for a thumbnail sketch, the fifth starters combined for 1.1 WAR. Fister had 3.0. Pauley's WAR was 0.5. Beyond the trio of Al Alburquerque, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde, the Tigers bullpen is almost entirely composed of pitchers with zero or negative WAR values.
Another key upgrade since the All-Star Break was the addition of Carlos Guillen at second base. So far, he has looked healthy. There's always a fear with Carlos, of course. You know he can't field any worse than Raburn at second. How about batting? Even with a slow start, Guillen has 55 points more of average, 30 more on-base percentage and 33 more slugging average.
Don't forget to add in the fact that Wilson Betemit is now the starting third baseman in place of Brandon Inge. Inge was -1 WAR. Betemit is at 0.4. Add it all up and you see about 4 WAR in difference for the first two-thirds of the season. It would be reasonable to estimate the Tigers improved by 2.5 WAR in the final third of the season if you believe Guillen will not stay a 0 WAR player for the final two months.
The Indians clearly made a bigger splash at the trade deadline, sending away many of their top prospects for the acquisition of Ubaldo Jimenez. They also brought in Kosuke Fukudome earlier in the week.
Jimenez is a very interesting one. I mean, basically we have no idea what he's going to do. It seems reasonable to expect he'll be a better pitcher at sea-level. How much? Well, who knows. We know he pitched better on the road (3.38 ERA) in 2011, which was to be expected. We also know his velocity is down by 2 miles per hour this year and his ERA is up. Still, SIERA and xFIP see a pitcher who should have around a 3.56 ERA the rest of the way.
Contrasting the upgrade versus the Tigers, we see that Jimenez has about the same starting point to improve upon. That is, the Indians had an 11-10 record when David Huff, Alex White, Zach McAlister,Mitch Talbot and Jeanmar Gomez started. They combined for seven quality starts (33%) and about a 5.15 ERA. On the whole, this one might be called a wash. Jimenez is expected to pitch better than Fister for the final two months, but Fister is upgrading what turned out to be a complete black hole in Detroit's rotation.
Fukudome is a poor fielding, average-hitting batter in the outfield. He is presumably a place holder until Shin Soo Choo or Grady Sizemore get healthy. In the meantime he takes the place of Travis Buck now and maybe Austin Kearns later.
Not a trade, but I'd be remiss if I didn't update the fact prospect Jason Kipnis was called up to play second base, and Orlando Cabrera is no longer an Indian. Kipnis, both a solid fielder and batter, has already helped his club in both categories.
Jimenez was worth about 2 WAR above what the Indians had. (Though only .8 more than a David Huff who started just three games, and whose place he is presumably taking.) For the final two months he might represent a 1 to 1.2 win improvement. Fukudome has been a 0 win player. Buck was a 0.1 win player. Kearns a -0.4. So essentially a wash. Cabrera was worth -0.6 wins. Kipnis might be worth 1.5 wins between now and the end of the year for a difference of about 2. Taken as a whole, Cleveland's moves so far have the potential to be a half win or so better than Detroit's. The deciding factor will be how Kipnis responds and how Jimenez pitches against a steady diet of AL teams, and of course, if the rest of the Indians can keep up at their paces.
Chicago made one real trade of interest, and two other moves worth pointing out. The trade was moving Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen for reliever Jason Frasor. The moves worth pointing out are that Teahen won't be stinking up the joint, and Alejandro de Aza was called up to fill Teahen's spot on the roster. Chicago had made claims that Alex Rios would play less, but it doesn't seem to have worked out that way as he has still taken most of the starts.
WAR has been our shorthand so far. For Chicago, that's a problem. Jackson was their best starter with 3.0 WAR. However, correcting for innings differential Jake Peavy may not be that far off. As for traditional numbers, Jackson strikes out more but had a slightly worse ERA. For predictive numbers, Jackson's FIP and xFIP are better than Peavy's. I cannot help but think this was a net negative for the team. Frasor's ERA has been 3.07, with an xFIP of 3.79 projected for the rest of the year.
De Aza is an interesting addition. (Not just because he immediately went to work in beating the Tigers after being called up.) All he needs to do is play center field at replacement level be an improvement over Rios, who has shown no signs of improvement.
Total it up: Rios is a -1.2 WAR player. De Aza would be worth at least 1 if played. So that's at least a half win for the rest of the year if Chicago would only follow through. He might see a bit more playing time, so let's call it 0.2. I'll throw in another 0.2 for the addition of Frasor. Teahen has been worth -0.5 WAR. Morel and Omar Vizquel total -0.2. So, well, not a lot of improvement to be honest. It's hard saying what difference the trade of Jackson will make. Somewhere between 0 and -0.4. Taken as a whole, Chicago's moves have made them no better and maybe a little bit worse for the rest of the year.
Did they do anything at all?
Where they stand right now
The Tigers have had the best offense of the teams in the division so far, and the return of Guillen and trade for Betemit made it better. Cleveland ranked second and will get better with Kipnis playing. Chicago ranked third and potentially will get a bit better if Adam Dunn ever wakes up. So I don't see a lot of change there.
The Tigers had the second best rotation in ERA (hard to believe, I know) behind the White Sox and safely ahead of the Indians. (Cleveland and Detroit were tied in xFIP however). Both Detroit and Cleveland closed the distance on the White Sox there. It's too early to say, but both teams may come close to matching the White Sox. Key there will be Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello pitching with consistency for Detroit, as well as the Indians not seeing dramatic backslides from their rotation which appears to be pitching over its head still.
Finally Chicago and Cleveland had better bullpens than the Tigers, but Detroit took measures to address that both by adding and subtracting players. (And possibly by needing to call on the mop-up bullpen less and rely on the late-innings lead bullpen more). By the way, if you wonder why I'm not talking about defense, I rolled into the rotation and bullpen. I don't think Detroit has moved up the rankings any, but at least it's not as big a gap.
Heading into the trade deadline, I ranked the teams' talent level as Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Minnesota. Today, I have to say I still rank it as Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and Minnesota. (I'm not the only one.) Cleveland and Chicago got a whole lot closer to each other, though.
The Central Division is Detroit's to win. Hope for health and maybe a bit of good luck and the Tigers should be able to hold on for their first title since 1987. Just don't expect it to be easy, because it wont' be.