2023 American League Central Betting Guide
Going into the 2023 MLB season, the AL Central is broken into two betting tiers: the contenders and the pretenders. The top of the class is the defending AL Central champions in the Cleveland Guardians, followed by the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins. At the bottom of the division are the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals.
Each team took positive steps forward this offseason. Whether becoming more potent as a contender or progressing through a rebuild, the AL Central has taken positive steps forward. Despite being further behind the contenders, the Tigers and Royals are much closer to the rest of the division than Vegas thinks.
Many questions need to be answered to decide the fate of this division. Are the Guardians officially World Series contenders, or was 2022 a fluke? Are the Twins better suited with a stronger pitching rotation, despite losing some of their bats? Can the White Sox stay healthy for a full season, and wash away the stink left by Tony La Russa? Lastly, where are the Tigers and Royals in their rebuilds, and can they play spoiler this season?
Cleveland Guardians (92-70) record last season
Win Total: 87.5
AL Central Odds: +135
To Make the Playoffs: Yes (-173), No (+135)
World Series Odds: +3000
The Guardians didn’t do a ton this offseason, but the moves they made were valuable. Josh Bell has a career .810 OPS, and inserting him into the middle of the Guardians lineup will add much need protection for Jose Ramirez. His high contact, switching hitting bat will fit in perfectly in Cleveland, even if it’s just for this season.
Besides Bell, the Guardians made a splash on catcher Mike Zunino. He’s not a superstar, more of a stop-gap for Bo Naylor, but it feels like a perfect signing. He’s well-experienced and has an above-average glove, something vital for Cleveland’s pitching staff. Recently, injuries have hampered his ability to stay on the field, but he’s a guy with 20 home run potential. At the very worst he should be better offensively than Austin Hedges’ anemic bat.
The biggest question marks remaining for the Guards are youth and pitching. Cleveland fans should remember Tyler Naquin and his remarkable rookie season. Unfortunately for him, the rest of the MLB realized he couldn’t touch a high fastball and he’s bounced around the league since.
Will Oscar Gonzalez be able to take the next leap and become an everyday corner outfield guy? I think he can because his batted-ball statistics are elite. If he chases fewer pitches, he could become very elite this season.
Steven Kwan and Andres Gimenez are gold glovers, but will their success at the plate carry into this season? I’m fairly confident about Kwan, but Gimenez slowed his production down the stretch against lefties. This could open up potential ABs for former top prospects Gabriel Arias and Tyler Freeman.
Finally, excluding injuries, Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie, and Cal Quantril will be mainstays in the rotation this year; however, who will close out the back end of the rotation? Injuries hampered Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac, but they weren’t great even when they were healthy. I think some batch of Logan Allen, Peyton Battlefield, Xzavion Curry, or even Joey Cantillo will get a shot in the big leagues this year. I’m just unsure how productive they will end up being.
It’s the Guardians' division to lose, and I think they’ll be far improved from last season. Hammer the over on their team total wins, and for them to win the AL Central. Just remember, the AL Central runs through Cleveland.
Chicago White Sox (81-81) record last season
Win Total: 83.5
AL Central Odds: +140
To Make the Playoffs: Yes (+105), No (-134)
World Series Odds: +3500
The best thing Chicago did this offseason was send Tony La Russa down the Chicago River hiring a younger, yet experienced bench coach in Pedro Grifol. La Russa had no feel for a young and vibrant White Sox group, and it really felt like the game had left him behind.
Chicago was oddly quiet during the offseason, only signing Andrew Benintendi and Mike Clevinger. Those signings would be great if they didn’t let Jose Abreu walk on such a small deal. With the amount of money spent over the last few seasons, it was shocking to see Abreu leave on a deal worth only $19 million per year.
Benintendi is a much-needed left-handed bat, but even his addition doesn’t fix the injury concerns that riddle the entirety of their lineup. Eloy Jimenez was the only player on the White Sox to garner an OPS+ greater than 110 besides the aforementioned Jose Abreu. The biggest question for the White Sox offense is the ability of the grouping of Tim Anderson, Yasmani Grandal, Yoan Moncada, and Luis Roberts to rebound off of a bad 2021 season.
To make up for the loss of Abreu, Chicago’s starting rotation will need to be better than last season. Dylan Cease was a Cy Young caliber starter, but who else can they trust in their rotation? Lance Lynn struggled in the first half of the season after returning from injury, but he ended up closing out the year strong boasting a 2.43 ERA after August.
Lucas Giolito struggled throughout all of 2022, holding a nearly 5.00 ERA over the course of the season. The White Sox will need a return to All-Star status for Giolitio if they want to keep up with the Guardians. He held a 3.47 ERA between 2019-2021, and he will need to be right around that if the White Sox want to make the post season.
Maybe the biggest question marks for the South Side’s pitching is the availability of Mike Clevinger and Liam Hendriks. Clevinger is a pretty bad guy, who hopefully doesn’t get to pitch this upcoming season, and Hendriks is a pretty awesome human who hopefully beats his cancer diagnosis. Two completely different reasons for availability questions, but still huge questions for the White Sox.
It might be a tough season in the Windy City (for both Chicago teams). The White Sox don’t have any reinforcements coming up from AAA, and ownership didn’t fix many holes this offseason, mostly adding question marks to a team already filled with question marks. I think a lot of this roster will have bounce-back years, but it won’t be enough to make up for the losses of Abreu and Hendriks. I’d bet on them to miss the playoffs while going under their win total of 83.5.
Minnesota Twins (78-84) record last season
Win Total: 83.5
AL Central Odds: +285
To Make the Playoffs: Yes (+130), No (-167)
World Series Odds: +5000
The Twins have underperformed the past two seasons. Whether from injuries, a lackluster bullpen, or players floundering, Minnesota has been a bit of a disappointment. This season, a lot of new faces will emerge for the Twin Cities.
Despite making a bunch of moves this offseason, I’m not really sure the Twins are that much better from last season. AL batting champion Luis Arreaz was shipped down to Miami for Pablo Lopez. The Twins now have one of the most complete starting rotations in all of baseball, yet they still find themselves searching for someone to take over as their ace.
Joe Ryan and Sonny Gray were very solid last year, but are susceptible to blow-up starts at any point. Closing out the rotation of Tyler Mahle and the return of veteran Kenta Maeda. If they can put together ERAs in the low 4s or high 3s it should keep a very good Twins offense in most games.
Speaking of the Twins' offense, their biggest move this offseason was their pure burglary of Carlos Correa from New York and San Francisco. Slotting him next to a healthy Byron Buxton makes these Twins deadly… but can Buxton stay healthy? He hasn’t played over 92 games since 2017, but when he’s been healthy he’s been a superstar. Is this the year where he’s able to take the next step and become a top 20 player in the league? At this point, it’s hard to think he will have the durability to accomplish it.
For the Twins bullpen, they have Great Value Emmanuel Clase Jhoan Duran. In all seriousness, Duran is a freak. Unfortunately for him, he’s maybe the only bright spot in a bad Minnesota bullpen. Their deceptive 3.83 bullpen ERA doesn’t tell the story, the Twins consistently blew late-inning leads and were in the top 10 in baseball for blown saves. The biggest issue? Minnesota didn’t really improve their bullpen. If they find themselves competing into July, it’s not impossible to find reinforcements, but I have a feeling they’ll be too far out of contention to go swing for a key contributor with their below-average farm system.
I don’t hate the Twins this year, but I’d probably take their under in total wins this year. I’d potentially bet on them to make the playoffs because I like their odds at +130, but even then I don’t really see them making the postseason.
Detroit Tigers (66-96) record last season
Win Total: 70.5
AL Central Odds: +3500
To Make the Playoffs: Yes (+1500), No (-5000)
World Series Odds: +20000
Unlike most of the country, I believe the Tigers will be significantly better than last season. Many people saw them as surprise contenders in 2022, but injuries to most of their starting rotation, and big signings failing to live up to their hype doomed their season very early on.
Down the stretch, Detroit did play a lot better. They went 13-13 in September, and some of their younger hitters started to show signs of life. Riley Greene looks like a superstar in the making, but the Tigers will need their former top prospect Spencer Torkelson to become at least league average at first base, as his first trip through the majors was rough.
Speaking of rough, Javy Baez’s first year in the Motor City was brutal. Baez had nearly career lows in home runs and OPS+ this past season while only playing average defense. He has to be better. The Tigers dropped $140 million on Baez, and it could be a long six seasons if he doesn’t figure things out.
The Tigers starting rotation won't be healthy at the start of the season, but by year's end, could be one of the better rotations in the AL Central. When healthy Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize have shown flashes of being quality starters to even near aces of an organization. Unfortunately, a rotation led by Eduardo Rodriguez is far less intimidating.
I’m pretty high on Matt Manning as he was one of the few bright spots for the Tigers in the latter half of their season. If the grouping of Spencer Turnbull, Matthew Boyd, and Michael Lorenzen can keep this team afloat until reinforcements arrive, this season might not be all that painful for Detroit.
Lastly, after trading Joe Jiminez and Gregory Soto this offseason, the bullpen is pretty depleted. Jose Cisnero showed some borderline elite stuff last season, with fastball spin and velocity rating in the “elite” category on baseball savant. Alex Lange and Jason Foley are above league average, but they’re not guys you trust to close out a big game late. I wouldn’t be surprised if most if not all of these guys were traded by the deadline this year.
I think the Tigers will be a better baseball team in 2022, but the record probably won’t show it. Look at 2024 being a breakout year for Detroit. For now, I’d lightly lean towards the under in wins for the Tigers, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see this team win at least 75 games.
Kansas City Royals (65-97) record last season
Win Total: 69.5
AL Central Odds: +4000
To Make the Playoffs: Yes (+1600), No (-10000)
World Series Odds: +25000
The Royals are the trendy breakout pick in 2023, and it honestly makes a lot of sense why. The media is in love with 2019 first-round pick Bobby Witt Jr. He’s got a solid glove at shortstop and was really coming into his own at the plate by the end of 2022. But I have some concerns about him.
He’s a freak athlete and when he’s on the base path, he’s a huge havoc maker, which will be great with the new rules benefiting base stealers; however, I’m not sold on his bat at all. His average exit velocity, hard hit percentage, and barrel rates are all around league average. Witt might have some natural raw power, but he hardly ever walks, leading to him having a quite low .313 xwOBA. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t live up to lofty expectations this year.
On the other hand, I’m enamored by the less talked about Vinnie Pasquantino. He had an 85% contact rate, a swinging strike rate of 6.6%, an average exit velocity of 91.2 mph, and an 8.8 barrel percentage. These underlying numbers are similar to Freddie Freeman who was a near MVP last season. Pasquantino had an insane 135 OPS+ in his short 72-game stint in 2022. He’s the true potential breakout star for the Royals.
Salvador Perez will continue to be the heart of the Royals this season, but the rest of the lineup is a huge question mark. The young MJ Melendez had an up-and-down rookie season, but his underlying offensive stats show he might progress beyond just a league-average hitter. Someone else in this lineup will need to progress to protect a top 3 that’s actually pretty darn good.
The starting rotation will be led by Zack Greinke, but will father time finally catch up to him? His 3.68 ERA was solid, but he struggled to get deep into games, only averaging 5.2 innings per start, and totaling 137 innings on the year. Brady Singer came on really strong down the stretch in 2022, and might just end up as the true ace of the Kansas City rotation by the end of the year.
After those two, the rest of the rotation is bad… really bad. The rest of the rotation would not make most teams in the MLB, and will severely hold this team back from competing this year.
Scott Barlow and Dylan Coleman culminate one of the more underrated bullpen duos in baseball. They should continue to be great this year, but relying on meaningful innings out of Alroidis Chapman and Amir Garrett is concerning at best. Similarly to the Tigers, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of this bullpen dealt before the trade deadline.
I think this team still manages to shock some people this year, and I have them over in their win total this season. I think the bats can crush, and hopefully, the starters do enough to keep the train on the tracks. I like the Royals heading into 2023.
It’s truly the Guardians division to lose this year, and the White Sox would need some major improvements to otherwise change that. I think the bottom of the division will be much improved compared to last season and might steal a few more games in the division this year.
I guess I’m just not sold on the Twins this year. A team that doesn’t excel at anything, or fails at anything doesn’t excite me. They’ve underperformed recently, and I think this will be Rocco Baldelli’s final year coaching in the Twin Cities.
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