FanGraphs released their first iteration of projected standings for 2016 and it includes some good news for the Cleveland Indians. As it stands now, the Indians are projected to win the American League Central with an 85-77 record and a +33 run differential.
The Indians just barely squeak out the division win over a much-improved Chicago White Sox team that finishes 81-81. Depending on how sick you are of seeing happy Kansas City Royals fans, the better news may be that the defending World Series champions are only projected to win 79 games next season and finish fourth in the division.
Steamer is the projection system that FanGraphs uses in these standings, which they then plug into a statistic called BaseRuns (BsR) to convert each player’s projected 2016 production into runs. Steamer itself does not see much from the Tribe offense, but it loves the Indians pitching depth, so it is not too shocking to see the Indians top the AL Central.
The Indians have the lowest projected runs allowed per game (4.06) of any American League team, but they are sixth overall behind five other National League teams. The next closest AL team is the Tampa Bay Rays, who FanGraphs ranks ninth overall at 4.08 runs allowed per game.
However, as you may expect, the Indians offense is ranked in the lower half of runs scored per game at 4.26. The additions of Rajai Davis, Mike Napoli and a slew of potential outfielders are helping them score a mere .10 more runs per game than last season, according to these context-neutral projections.
If we assume these FanGraphs projections are flawless (which we shouldn’t, but that is not about to stop me), the Indians would finish as the number three seed in the AL and they would face the Houston Astros in the divisional round of the playoffs. Three teams finish more with than 80 wins in the AL East, but the Boston Red Sox win it (and the AL's No. 1 seed) with a 92-70 record.
It is worth noting that these are the very first projected standings of the season. January may seem like a dead month for baseball acquisitions, but there are still quite a few free agents that could sign somewhere and trades are always a possibility. Not to mention the fact that these are just projections, not foolproof predictions. But as it is now: Hypothetical AL Central champs, baby!