Here come the Chicago White Sox. 

After their rebuilding plan came together perhaps a year early in 2020, all eyes are on the South Siders’ seemingly impending battle with the two-time defending AL Central champion Minnesota Twins for division supremacy.

Minnesota, which became known as the “Bomba Squad” after breaking a single-season record with 307 home runs in 2019, took 13 of the 19 meetings with the White Sox last season to win the division by a single game over Chicago and Cleveland. 

Now the White Sox appear ready to push past the Twins after hiring Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa and adding Lance Lynn, Liam Hendriks and Adam Eaton, though their hopes suffered a huge blow this spring. Young slugger Eloy Jimenez, who led the team in both raw value+ and BIP+, went down for at least five months with a torn pectoral tendon. 

While the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals aren’t likely to pressure the leaders, don’t sleep on Cleveland. The club has found a way to extend its run of winning seasons to eight despite losing several key players in recent years (the latest being Francisco Lindor).  

Let’s take a closer look at how the AL Central shapes up and reveal who the favorites are in 2021 according to our adjusted team rankings. Adjusted team rankings (ATR) aren’t projections, but rather a single ranking system calculated using a model that combines each player’s 2020 raw value data and adjusted for 2021 rosters. 

Raw value+ (RV+) examines how a hitter performs throughout each pitch of an at-bat rather than just the end result, while raw value- (RV-) does the same from a pitcher’s perspective. Team leaders in RV+, RV-, BIP+ and command+ are from the 2020 season among qualified players.

1. Chicago White Sox (35-25)

2020 MLB ATR2021 MLB ATRRaw Value+BIP+Raw Value-Command+
[no-pill]15th[no-pill]4thEloy Jimenez (160)Eloy Jimenez (211)Lucas Giolito (67)Dallas Keuchel (108)

This White Sox team is going to be so fun, and it would be exponentially more fun if it was paired with a manager that matched their style of baseball. Tony La Russa undoubtedly has the experience to guide Chicago to postseason glory after it lost to the Oakland A’s in the wild-card round in 2020, but is the cultural fit there? It’s also impossible to ignore how baseball has evolved in the decade since La Russa last managed, so it’ll be interesting to see whether he’s evolved with it. Luckily, winning solves everything, and the South Siders are filled to the brim with talent and positioned to do just that. Eloy Jimenez won’t be back until late in the season (if at all) after increasing his RV+ from 126 in 2019 to 160 last year and BIP+ from 158 to 211. Still, 2020 AL MVP Jose Abreu (154 RV+), Tim Anderson (123 RV+), Luis Robert (93 RV+) and Yoan Moncada (92) headline a daunting lineup, and Lucas Giolito, Dallas Keuchel and Lance Lynn (75 RV-) should take care of business in the rotation. Liam Hendriks is a huge addition for a talented bullpen that ranked 11th in the majors with an RV- of 91 last season. For all their excitement last year, the White Sox still haven’t won the AL Central since 2008. That drought could very well end in 2021.

2. Minnesota Twins (36-24)

2020 MLB ATR2021 MLB ATRRaw Value+ BIP+Raw Value-Command+
[no-pill]8th[no-pill]13thNelson Cruz (143)Miguel Sano (253)Kenta Maeda (49)Jose Berrios (109)

One of these days, the Twins are going to finally break through, right? The core of this perennial playoff team that lost to the Houston Astros in the wild-card round remains intact, with Nelson Cruz re-signing and every other major component of the lineup and rotation under contract. Josh Donaldson (130 RV+), Miguel Sano (120 RV+), Max Kepler (108 RV+) and Byron Buxton (118 RV+) all return to lead the beloved “Bomba Squad.” They’ll welcome top prospect Alex Kirilloff into the fold, who debuted in the postseason last year. But Minnesota will, as always, ride or die with its rotation, as Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios need to form the type of one-two punch that takes teams from good to great. Maeda was nothing short of excellent in 2020, finishing fifth in RV- and 11th in strike+. The AL Central is getting younger and more talented. If the Twins don’t strike while the iron is still hot, the division could pass them by – again.

3. Cleveland Indians (35-25)

2020 MLB ATR2021 MLB ATRRaw Value+ BIP+Raw Value-Command+
[no-pill]6th[no-pill]17thJose Ramirez (142)Franmil Reyes (141)Shane Bieber (53)Aaron Civale (106)

Cleveland finally did the inevitable this offseason. With the trade of start shortstop Francisco Lindor to the New York Mets, Cleveland embarked on a new era of cutting costs and accumulating prospects in the hopes of competing with a small budget in the near future. It’s a staple of Major League Baseball these days, but a frustrating one at that for fans. Jose Ramírez and Shane Bieber remain as the franchise cornerstones and are under team control through 2023 and 2024, respectively. Bieber was truly dominant in 2020, finishing in the top six in RV-, strike+ and whiff+. And while Cleveland’s rotation should stay as one of baseball’s best, its offense could pale in comparison. With a normal postseason in place and a tough division, Cleveland could be on the outside looking in.

4. Kansas City Royals (26-34)

2020 MLB ATR2021 MLB ATRRaw Value+ BIP+Raw Value-Command+
[no-pill]22nd[no-pill]21stJorge Soler (138)Jorge Soler (212)Brady Singer (89)Brady Singer (99)

With all of the good teams in the AL Central in recent years, only the 2015 Royals hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy. And after the subsequent teardown and rebuild, Kansas City is just beginning to show early promise. Jorge Soler has become one of baseball’s most powerful hitters since joining the Royals in 2017, clubbing 48 home runs in 2019 to lead the AL in baseball’s last full season. Andrew Benintendi, Adalberto Mondesi (62 RV+), Hunter Dozier (108 RV+) and Brady Singer look like pieces GM Dayton Moore can build around. Whit Merrifield (117 RV+), who’s 32, has three affordable years of team control and can play all over the field, seems like a prime trade candidate, whether it’s this year or next. 

5. Detroit Tigers (23-35)

2020 MLB ATR2021 MLB ATRRaw Value+ BIP+Raw Value-Command+
[no-pill]29th[no-pill]30thMiguel Cabrera (143)Miguel Cabrera (154)Tarik Skubal (99)Tyler Alexander (110)

Poor Tigers fans. Their team went all-in during the early 2010s and came up empty. Now, they’ve experienced five losing seasons in six years. In the short-term, things still look bleak. But the future? Blinding. Detroit has five prospects in MLB Pipeline’s Top 25, with Tarik Skubal, Casey Mize (142 RV-) and Matt Manning likely to find their places within the Tigers’ rotation in 2021. 2020 first overall pick Spencer Torkelson and 2019 first-round pick Riley Greene are not far behind. 2021 could be another long year, but the sun will rise again in Detroit. And when it does, watch out.

Taylor Bechtold contributed. Data modeling by Lucas Haupt. Depth chart animations by Paul Connors.