Read a real interesting piece the other day by my favorite regularly published baseball writer, talking about Championship Caliber Guys, meaning, the kind of players you have to have in order to win a championship. Posnanski divides all player-seasons into four categories:
- Immortal seasons - 40+ win shares
- MVP seasons - 30-40 win shares
- All-Star seasons - 20-30 win shares
- Good seasons - 12-20 win shares
- You don't need an Immortal to win.
- You don't absolutely need a legit MVP candidate to win ... but it helps.
- You really want at least four All-Star players.
- You could really use 10 or 11 Championship Caliber Guys.
So I thought, why not try to figure out how that's going to play out in the AL Central? So I'm just going to go roster-by-roster, see how this way of looking at things played out last season and try to make some reasonable guesses about how it'll play out this season. A few relievers hit the CCG level in 2007, but no one reliever can be considered likely to reach it in 2008. In general, to keep things simple, I'll try to count up the probable CCG's on each team by counting the "locks" as 1.0 and the "maybes" as 0.5. I won't bother to predict MVP-caliber seasons, but I will take a stab at All-Stars.
CHICAGO :: Last season: 1 All-Star, 9 CCGs
Thome (24), Vazquez, Konerko, Buerhle, Jenks, Garland, Uribe, Dye, Fields
Thome is likely to repeat and Konerko to return to All-Star level -- and they add Swisher, who's probably 50-50. Those three are locks to be CCGs, and Vazquez, Buerhle and O-Cab are likely to be as well. After those six, though, it's hard to see how many more they're likely to have. Maybe Jenks again -- it's tough for any reliever -- and maybe Contreras, but neither is a lock.
2008 prediction: 2 All-Star caliber seasons, 7 total CCG's.
CLEVELAND :: Last season: 2 MVP, 3 All-Star, 9 CCGs
Sizemore (31), Martinez (31), Sabathia (24), Carmona (22), Peralta (22), Hafner, Betancourt, Garko, Blake
The Indians had more MVP and All-Star seasons than a team needs but could have used one or two more CCGs -- they had the same number as the White Sox, who were kind of terrible. The untold story here is the "CCG partial seasons" the Indians got that other teams didn't, strong performances from players who were only around for six to 15 weeks, like Perez, AstroCab, Laffey and Westbrook.
For 2008, we're likely to see another four players reach the MVP or All-Star level -- Carmona and/or Peralta might be out, but Hafner probably will be back in. After those six, the CCG field is dicier. Garko is a solid pick, but Betancourt isn't (score 1 out of 2). Blake played in 156 games last season, mostly at third base, but still only got to the minimum 12. That makes Blake a poor bet in 2008, but on the other hand, Westbrook probably makes it, and AstroCab has a great shot, having racked up 7 win shares in only six weeks (score 2 out of 3). Dark horse candidates would include a full season of Gutierrez, a healthy Dellucci, and our fourth and fifth starters (score 1 out of 5).
2008 prediction: 4 All-Star caliber seasons, 10 total CCGs.
DETROIT :: Last season: 1 MVP, 2 All-Star, 8 CCGs
Ordonez (36), Granderson (26), Polanco (23), Guillen, Sheffield, Verlander, Inge, Pudge
Ordonez and newcomer Cabrera are locks in the All-Star group, and Granderson and Polanco are about 50-50. I don't see Guillen, Renteria, Sheffield or Verlander making it to that level in 2008 -- Guillen will lose positional value going to 1B -- but a total of four out of these eight seems like a conservative guess. Beyond those eight, though, the pickings are slim for CCGs. Inge won't be in the running unless one of the others are injured, and Pudge and Bonderman can't be counted on for more than 1 total. Willis started 35 games in the NL last season and still only managed 7 win shares, so he can't be considered a good bet for 12 in the AL.
2008 prediction: 4 All-Star caliber seasons, 9 total CCGs.
KANSAS CITY :: Last season: 6 CCGs
DeJesus, Teahen, Meche, Gordon, Bannister, Grudzialanek
Obviously short on standouts, the good news for the Royals is that at all six of their CCGs are likely to sustain that level, and others may well join in. Between those six, Greinke back in the rotation, Pena, Butler, and Gathright, you've got to pencil the Royals in for at least 8. The bad news is that even picking them for one All-Star caliber season seems optimistic, as none of these guys has ever gotten to 20 win shares.
2008 prediction: 0 All-Star caliber seasons, 8 total CCGs.
MINNESOTA :: Last season: 2 All-Star, 8 CCGs
Hunter (24), Mauer (22), Morneau, Santana, Cuddyer, Bartlett, Nathan, Kubel
Say, did you know that while some folks are thinking of the Twins as an intriguing kinda-sorta dark-maybe-horse team, PECOTA thinks they're the second-worst team in the league? It's true!
Obviously, this one is painful (for Twins fans) and difficult (for me). Three of their six are gone, and it's not clear they'll be replaced. Pencil in another All-Star season for Mauer. Morneau soberly isn't better than 50-50 for that level, but new guy Delmon Young also has a decent shot. Those three plus Cuddyer and Kubel are all likely CCGs this season, and after four straight CCG seasons, Nathan is one of the few relievers worth betting on in this category. We'll also pencil in one guy out of their absurdly young rotation. It's not terrible, and there's upside, but on balance, they don't look any better than the Royals through this prism.
2008 prediction: 2 All-Star caliber seasons, 7 total CCGs.