After a couple of weeks of single-minded projectile focus on the White Sox, it seems reasonable enough to cast a wider net and figure out how this club stacks up against the intra-division competition. As such, no attention at all will be paid to the Royals or Indians. It's not impossible for either team to compete or even win the division, but the root cause would be a massive luck injection.
As usual, I can turn to a couple projection systems for guidance. Both ZiPS and Marcel have projections out that I've used in the past. There are a few differences between the systems worth mentioning. For one, ZiPS is proprietary, so we don't know exactly what goes in it. The Saber Library has a nice short rundown of what we do know:
[ZiPS] uses weighted averages of four years of data (three if a player is very old or very young), regresses pitchers based on DIPS theory and BABIP rates, and adjusts for aging by looking at similar players and their aging trends.
So it uses past performance to predict future performance, it regresses to the mean and has an age adjustment. Just like Marcel so far. Primarily, they differ in how much they know. Marcel is built to be the bare bones of acceptability. So it knows nothing about a players past performance outside of the major leagues and uses the same aging curve for everyone. ZiPS uses minor league numbers and translates them to approximately what major league performance level that has meant in the past. As SL mentioned, it also generates a series of comparable players to assist in projecting performance decline as the projectee ages. For example, ZiPS has Juan Pierre's career top 3 comparables as Jason Tyner, Tony Womack and Kerry Robinson. Career combined HR: 40 in 7461 plate appearances. So that checks out.
Which is nice, but Marcel isn't really going to have trouble making projections just because it can't pick out various incarnations of the Demongrinder Nick Punto.** Rather, it struggles with players it knows nothing about. In the Marcel system, players with no big league experience are projected for a league average 200 PA. So give ZiPS more consideration the less experienced the player(s) projected is(are).
Anyway, I took both of those systems' projected batting lines for starters, added some defensive projections that I in no way influenced other than giving Nishioka an average rating at second base and came up with WAR projections as if all starters played 150 games. So there's no health component, it's just talent measured against talent:
Both ZiPS and Marcel prefer the Twins' talent to the Sox and Tigers, which both see as about equal. The gap comes to about 2-3 wins, which puts the Twins at an advantage so long as they can keep Mauer and Morneau healthy:
Playing time is in at bats because ZiPS only comes in ABs, but they still tell the story. They've got solid hitters, but both Marcel and ZiPS think that only certain of their best hitters will get a full-season's work. That'll be decided by in part by Ron Gardenhire and part by who's healthy. The big question is Morneau, discussed earlier by U-G, and how well he'll recover from head injuries. If he's healthy, Gardy's left choosing between Jason Kubel and Jim Thome at DH. As is true and ever was, the more Thome, the better for his team. His team...the Twins. Curse as you see fit.
If the worst happens and Morneau misses the year, they've got Kubel and Thome to replace all but 2 wins or so, which brings them about even with the rest of the competition. Though again, that's worst case. It's reasonable to project at least 300 PA for Morneau according to Marcel and ZiPS. Reading the papers lends the opposite feeling as checking the ever-bold fangraphs fans. If the fans prove right with their Morneauptimism, cue the DH logjam and more than enough protection in case a non-Morneau/Mauer starter goes down.
The Tigers are similarly top heavy. Without Miguel Cabrera, Detroit is a team of average-ish players. The only real upside on the team is between Victor Martinez playing acceptably behind the plate as much as possible, Austin Jackson and the aforementioned Cabrera. They've got some young players and a solid collection of talent overall, but most possess a mundane ceiling. If some prove injury prone, they'll just throw a different pretty decent guy out there. Jhonny Peralta goes down, in goes Ramon Santiago. Not much lost. Incidentally, the other thing about the depth the Tigers have is it gives them more chances to catch someone breaking out. It's pretty unlikely, but they're giving themselves a chance there.
Also note that Marcel likes both Avila and Jackson despite their relative lack of experience. Marcel regresses heavily to the league average in such cases. Systems like ZiPS tend to make prospects prove they can do it before grading out that high.
Reminder of the community projection, playing time adjusted for. The Sox have basically compressed the talent of the Tigers into fewer players. Yeah, they've got a few potential backup 1 win types like everyone else, but they lose the most going to their bench. Teahen, Omar, Viciedo, Milledge, and De Aza all have their uses, but there are few situations where the Sox are sitting Santiago to play Peralta. Pierre can sit whenever even though he won't. Morel can be demoted and Vizquel/Teahen/Viciedo inserted. If Quentin can't find it, the move from Q to a Teahen/Milledge platoon could be made.** Beyond that, the Sox need everyone to pull their weight.
Alternatively, the gap between the starters and the bench could be seen as the Sox cashing in on Herm Schneider. Kenny figures there's no point to pay for guys who need to be good enough to start when you can bet on your decided schematic advantage. Which is that the White Sox have reliably kept their guys healthier than anyone in the league for a long time. Just how literally are we supposed to take Jerry Reinsdorf's big All In? I wonder if that wasn't the buzzword of the brain trust the whole winter. From Rick Hahn's mouth to Brooks Boyer's ears.
*Since Bud Selig took over, every time an MLBer slides head first into 1B a new Punto is forged from the hellmouth occupying Ron Gardenhire's backyard.
**In thoughts I don't let myself think while binging on "So Complicated" by Avril Lavigne, Jordan Danks comes out of nowhere to replace a slumping Q and in so doing fulfills the dynastic imperative of the Chicago Dankses. Or so the story is told in windworn West Texas saloons.