I think I promised that the AL Central contender series was over, but it's worth wrapping up. In terms of talent, the Twins are a hitter or two better than either the Sox or the Tigers, but the Sox climb to even on the strength of their rotation and bullpen. And that's leaving health mostly aside.
Under normal circumstances, that would mean the Sox have the edge going into the season. But that runs counter to what I've seen elsewhere. Vegas, if my google skills are decent, seems to think we're in a dead heat with the Twins while the Tigers lag. Presumably the different lines will come together as we get closer to the season opener. For now, the guys who do it best think the White Sox O/U is in the 85 win range, with no real separation from the Twins.
I think I've painted a prettier picture than that, so I either need to start laying bets or finding holes in my theory. As mentioned, the biggest question mark is Jake Peavy. If he can't go and Chris Sale isn't an option, the candidates for replacement are pretty ugly. But the Twins counter with Morneau and Nathan, not to mention Mauer's knees. Meanwhile the Tigers are old and lack upside. So I don't think Vegas is saying the Sox are exposed to excessive health risk. But they may be saying the Herm Advantage is nullified by the Peavy Conundrum.
Beyond health and talent, there's luck. Or that which gets called luck, anyway. Last season, I wrote about the team's struggles with BABIP and came to the conclusion that Kenny had acquired hitters who just aren't that great in that department. The end result is that the team absolutely has to hit home runs to keep pace on offense. Otherwise, the theory goes, the gap in base hits will be too much to make back. That's certainly part of it, but the park itself is also the issue:
Whatever the weather conditions, the Sox play in a small ballpark. The less grass to defend, the lower the chance any ball will fall in for a hit. Combine that with early season cold and you can get a ballpark that doesn't give up HR or base hits. I think that more or less describes every April since 2007. At the same time, there's still evidence that Kenny has picked up some underwhelming BABIPers. For instance, if the Sox were average in this department, their BABIP would be one half the US Cellular rate and the other half the league average BABIP rate. This has not been the case:
The difference is especially stark since Kenny's been at the helm. It seems like he's been picking up hitters that trade in BABIP for home runs. If the difference is close to the long term average difference (.003), that's not such a big deal. But if it turns out these players really are BABIP challenged in the way the last few seasons suggest they might be, we could end up waiting for regression that never comes: