Tuesday, March 26, 2013

AL West Preview

1st Place--Los Angeles Angels
2012 Record: 89-73
2012 Pythagorean: 88-74
2013 Projected: 92-70
After starting last year 7-15 with Mike Trout toiling in the minors and Albert Pujols mired in the worst slump of his career, the Halos dug themselves out of an early hole and produced the best record in baseball from that point forward. Though their wretched April cost them a playoff berth in 2012, the Angels are poised to make the postseason after inking Josh Hamilton--the most coveted position player on the free agent market--to a five-year, $125 million deal. Though the former MVP is on the wrong side of 30 and will likely regress and/or get hurt following a career year in 2012, he'll provide a heavy dose of lefthanded power LA so desperately craves. That said, don't be surprised if Hamilton goes bust and Torii Hunter, now with the Tigers, produces more value in 2013. Mike Scoscia will have the pleasure of filling out a lineup card that features baseball's best all-around player (Trout), baseball's most exciting player (Hamilton) and one of the best hitters of all-time in Pujols. Trout figures to slide a bit following his historic season, but at least his talent won't be wasted in the minor leagues. Pujols shrugged off a slow start to bat .312/.374/.589 from May 15th onward, proving talk about his decline to be premature. Expect similar numbers in year two of his gargantuan contract. Slugger Mark Trumbo has been a mess since the end of July, but I think he reverts to his mashing ways in his age-27 season. I could also see Peter Bourjos breaking out. Jered Weaver, the only American League pitcher to finish in the top five of the Cy Young voting in each of the past three years, is a bona fide ace even though his strikeout rate has plunged from 9.3 K/9 in 2010 to 6.8 K/9 last year. C.J Wilson will improve upon his first season with the Angels when he takes advantage of the run support boost and friendly home ballpark. Jason Vargas and Tommy Hanson are intriguing additions to the starting rotation, though I'm guessing most Angels fans would rather have seen their team keep Dan Haren and Zack Greinke. However, I don't think they'll miss Ervin Santana and Vernon Wells too much. The bullpen should get a nice boost from Ryan Madson, but it remains to be seen how effective he'll be after sitting out all of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery. Given how much worse the Rangers got over the winter, the AL West is theirs for the taking.

2nd Place--Texas Rangers
2012 Record: 93-69
2012 Pythagorean: 91-71
2013 Projected: 88-74
As if blowing their division lead on the regular season’s final day wasn’t miserable enough, the Texas Rangers followed up their late-season collapse with a lean winter. They waved goodbye when sluggers Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli signed with new teams. They parted ways with veteran leader and fan favorite Michael Young. They winced when Nelson Cruz‘s name surfaced in the latest PED scandal. They whiffed on Justin Upton. Talk about a rough offseason. Faced with limited options and suddenly short on offense, the Rangers turned to Lance Berkman out of desperation. Five years ago that would have been a great get for them, but Big Puma is 37 and doesn't appear to have much left in the tank after needing four separate DL stints last year. He's just one of many Rangers at risk for disappointing seasons. Texas paced the American League in runs and hits last year, and while their lineup is still formidable there's no way that happens again this year. Adrian Beltre is their best hitter, and he'll be 34 two weeks from now. Ian Kinsler is on the wrong side of 30, too, and second basemen age horribly. Cruz will turn 33 and his best days are probably behind him. At 36, A.J. Pierzynski can't possibly repeat his career year and will probably wear down over the course of a long Texas summer. The offense will probably be fine, but there's a lot of downside risk here and not much upside. Yu Darvish made adjustments toward the end of last year and is going to have a big sophomore season (like Daisuke Matsuzaka did). He needs to cut down on his walks, but could win 20 games and the Cy Young award even though the Ballpark in Arlington will likely suppress his numbers. He anchors a strong rotation that also features Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, and Alexi Ogando. Joe Nathan proved he's still an elite closer in his Texas debut last year, making the All-Star team and saving 37 games. Joakim Soria, a former All-Star closer with the Kansas City Royals, will set him up. The Rangers certainly have enough talent to win 90+ games again and challenge the top spot in the division, but I see them taking a small step back in 2013.

3rd Place--Oakland A's
2012 Record: 94-68
2012 Pythagorean: 92-70
2013 Projected: 83-79
I still can't believe these guys won the AL West last year, especially since they ended May seven games below .500. Maybe that's why I can't shake the feeling that they just got red-hot for four months and will probably fall back to earth in 2013 (not quite like the Orioles, but similar). The A's are woefully short on offense without Chris Carter, Stephen Drew, and Jonny Gomes, though the middle of the order has some potential. Yoenis Cespedes is a Vladimir Guerrero-type who can hit the ball out of a canyon and is an MVP-candidate-in-the-making, but I'm not totally sold on Josh Reddick as an All-Star caliber player just yet. Chris Young brings a nice power/speed combo, but it's worth noting that he's a .224/.311/.409 hitter away from Chase Field. Jemile Weeks is almost guaranteed to bounce back from a miserable year in which his BABiP cratered at .256. The bottom half of their lineup is a disaster, so runs will be in short supply. That means Oakland will have to rely on its elite pitching staff, which ranked second in ERA last year. With Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin, and Dan Straily all poised to build off successful 2012s, the young rotation is brimming with upside. Brandon McCarthy will be missed, but Oakland is hoping Brett Anderson can finally stay healthy after averaging just 13 starts per year over the past three. He's demonstrated the ability to pitch like an ace, so a full season from him would go a long way towards boosting his team's playoff chances (but I wouldn't count on it). The bullpen looks stellar on paper, and the defense is solid, too. The A's could be a great team again if the starting pitching improves and Cespedes makes the leap to superstardom, but I see them settling into the 80-85 win range and missing the postseason.

4th Place--Seattle Mariners
2012 Record: 75-87
2012 Pythagorean: 77-85
2013 Projected: 73-89
The Mariners have lacked adequate firepower for quite some time now--you'd have to go back to the end of the Bush administration to find the last time Seattle didn't finish last among AL teams in runs scored. That's going to change this year after taking on veteran hitters Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez, and Jason Bay. Ibanez and Bay are bench players at this stage in their careers, but Morales and Morse add much-needed pop to the middle of the order. As the cornerstone of Seattle's lineup, Jesus Montero must (and will) improve upon his disappointing 2012 (.685 OPS, -0.2 bWAR). He's just 23 and still has room to grow, as do Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak. Moving in Safeco's fences will help these young hitters, but not enough to make much of a difference. The Mariners have one of the best pitchers around in Felix Hernandez, but he seems to be at risk for a down year after receiving a mammoth contract extension and throwing more innings than any other hurler since 2009. Seattle's rotation is a mess with him and would be downright unwatchable without him. M's are stocked with young pitching talent that could arrive in the Show later this year, but by the time they're ready to contribute it will too late to improve Seattle's non-existent playoff chances. They're still rebuilding and at least another year or two away from making a serious run at one of the wild card spots.

5th Place--Houston Astros
2012 Record: 55-107
2012 Pythagorean: 59-103
2013 Record: 58-104
Welcome to the American League, boys. It's going to eat you alive.


  1. you talk about losing michael young like it's a bad thing, listing it between hamilton/napoli and upton/cruz

  2. While it's true that Young was totally ineffective last year, he still had value in the clubhouse as a team leader and calming veteran presence. He also provided versatility with his ability to play multiple positions. His days as an everyday player could be behind him, but he's still a useful piece as a utility guy you can plug in at any infield position except catcher.