Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sizing Up the AL West

Last week I analysed the AL Central, one of baseball's weakest divisions. This week I'm examining the American League West by looking at which teams have the most highly ranked players according to MLB.com.

We'll proceed alphabetically. The numbers after the players' names are their ranking among all American League players. If you don't see a number after a player's name, he isn't among the top at his position. (I consider the top 15 to be better than average at all positions except the outfield and starting pitcher, where I figure you're pretty good if you're in the top 30.)

The Astros have Jason Castro (15) catching, Jose Attuve (5) at first base, and Tyler Greene (12) at shortstop. Not very impressive, though Carlos Pena ranks third among DHs. Jose Veras ranks 19th as a reliever, but I have no idea why. He has been with six teams and, although he has finished several games, he he has just five saves in his career.

Houston's starters could be rated between mediocre and awful. Their ace, and I use the term very loosely, Lucas Harrell was 11, 3.76 in his first full year. It gets much worse from there on. The next three, in whatever order, are Phillip Humber, who had a 6.44 ERA with the White Sox last year, Bud Norris, who has a 4.42 career ERA, and Jordon Lyle, whose lifetime ERA is 5.20. 

Houston is moving to a somewhat stronger division, which could mean even more losses. Last year they won just 55 games. They achieved that lofty total due to finishing 29th in batting average, slugging average, and WHIP. Their ERA was 25th and they were dead last in runs scored.

One of their new acquisitions is a pitcher/center fielder. He hit .210, .239, and .228 the last three years so the fact that he pitched well in St. Louis (11-7, 3.50) is a good thing. Carlos Pena hit 46 home runs in 2007 and 39 in 2009. The last year he hit 19. At least Jose Altuve (.290 with 33 stolen bases) is a bright spot. But when he is one of your top hitters you know you are in trouble.
Jose Altuve after scoring one of Houston's rare runs.

Probable Opening Day Lineup
2B    Jose Altuve
1B    Brett Wallace
DH   Carlos Pena
LF    Chris Carter
 C    Jason Castro
CF   Justin Maxwell
RF   Fernando Martinez
3B   Matt Dominguez
SS   Tyler Greene

The Angels have Chris Iannetta (11) catching, Albert Pujols (1) at first base, Howie Kendrick (7) at second, Erik Aybar (6) at shortstop, Albert Callaspo (13) at third, and Mike Trout (1), Josh Hamilton (3) and Peter Bourjos (30) in the outfield. Mark Trumbo, the likely DH, is rated 18th among outfielders. So, their entire lineup ranks among the top players in the American League. As for their offense, the Angels had the best batting average in the Al last year and were fourth in runs scored. And that's without Mike Trout at the start of the year and Pujols hitting like my grandma in April and May. Add Josh Hamilton to the order and they should do more than okay, even if Trout suffers a bit of a sophomore jinx.

Jered Weaver (5) and C.J. Wilson (18) are two of the league's best starters and, though they lost Zack Greinke (6-2), they now have Tommy Hanson (13-10, 4.48 last year), whom they got from the Braves and Jason Vargas (29), who they got from the Mariners, and Jo Blanton (30), whom they got from the Dodgers. Ernesto Frierei (16) who came from San Diego, had 23 saves last year and Ryan Madson, who did not play last year, had 32 with the Phillies in 2011. So you can pretty much forget about how well the Angels staff did last year, apart from Weaver and Wilson it's a whole new group.

Josh Hamilton was no Angel in his younger days.
Probable Opening Day Lineup

LF   Mike Trout
SS   Erik Aybar
1B   Albert Pujols
RF   Josh Hamilton
DH   Mark Trumbo
2B   Howie Kendrick
3B   Albert Callaspo
 C    Chris Iannetta
CF   Peter Bourjos

The A's have John Jaso (10) catching, Hiroyuki Nakajima (15) at shortstop, Jed Lowrie at third, where he is not rated, though he is rate 11th among shortstops, and Yoenis Cespedes (6) and Josh Reddick (24) in the outfield.  Only Yoenis Cespedes ranks among the very best in the league. Brett Anderson (24), A.J. Griffith (26), Jarod Parker (27), and Tommy Lilone (28) are in their starting rotation. Grant Balfour (4) and Ryan Cook (23) are their stoppers. Not a lot of big names, but the staff, which had the sixth best ERA and WHIP in baseball last year, is very young and could do get even better in 2013. 

In 2011 Oakland traded away Gio Gonzales and Trevor Cahill. Last year they let Stephen Drew, Brandon Inge, Jonny Gomes, Brandon McCarthy, and Tyler Ross depart. Only Gomes (18, 47, .262) and McCarthy (7-6, 3.24) had much of a year in 2012. The others played rarely and poorly. Surprisingly the A's were 7th in home runs last year. Cespedes, Reddick, and Carter will have to have at least as much pop as they did in 2012 if the A's are to repeat last year's remarkable finish.

Yoenis Cespedes
Probable Opening Day Lineup
LF   Coco Crisp
3B   Jed Lowrie
LF   Yoenis Cespedes
1B   Brandon Moss
RF   Josh Reddick
DH   Seth Smith
 C    John Jaso
2B   Scott Sizemore
SS   Hiroyuki Nakajima

The Mariners have Jesus Montero (12) catching, Kyle Seager (6) at third, and Michael Morse (28) in the outfield. Not a lot of All-Star candidates there. Felix Hernandez (3) is their only top rated starter. Tom Wilhelmsen (6) is the Seattle closer.

If newly-acquired Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez can regain their 2009 form (when they each hit more than 30 home runs) and Michael "The Beast" Morse who came over from Washington can hit like 2011 (30, 75, 320) instead of 2012 (24, 565, .227), and Kendrys Morales, who was an Angel last year, can hit 34 homers like he did in 2010 the Mariners should have a lot more power than they did last year when they ranked 19th in home runs. A bright note is that their team batting average cannot rank lower than it did in 2012. They were dead last at .234.

Seattle sent Jason Vergas to the Angels for Kendrys Morales.
Probable Opening Day Lineup
RF   Michael Saunders
3B   Kyle Seager
DH   Kendrys Morales
LF    Michael Morse
1B   Justin Smoak
 C   Jesus Montero
2B   Dustin Ackley
CF   Franklin Gutierrez
SS   Brendan Ryan

The Rangers have A.J. Pierzynski (8) catching, Ian Kinsler (3) at first base, Elvis Andrus (4) at short, Adrian Beltre (2) at third, and Nelson Cruz (15) and Leonys Martin (29) in the outfield. Texas has three of the best position players in the AL in Kinsler, Andus, and Beltre. Yu Darvish (6), Matt Harrison (21), Alexi Ogando (22) and Derek Holland (23) are in the Rangers' starting rotation along with Colby Lewis, who is expected in the lineup by the All-Star Break. I can't see new additions Evan Meek or Joachim Soria contributing much but the Rangers have an excellent closer in Joe Nathan (2), who notched 37 saves last year.

The Rangers lost Josh Hamilton, traded away Michael Young, who played every infield position last year while his batting average plummeted from .338 to .277, and did not re-sign catcher/1st baseman/DH Mike Napoli, who sank from 30, 75, .320 to 24, 56, .227.

I suppose Texas is counting on A.J. Pierzynski, whom they acquired from the White Sox, to hit 27 home runs again this year. But he'd never hit more than 18 in his previous 14 years, and rarely had more than 13. 36-year old Lance "Fat Elvis" Berkman had only 97 at bats in his second year in St. Louis, but in 2011 he was 31, 94, .301, so he could help. If Nelson Cruz can stay healthy for a change (he topped 500 at bats for the first time in his career in 2012 and went 24, 90, .260) the batting order could be quite solid.

Fat Elvis Berkman may soon be Greybeard
Probable Opening Day Lineup
2B    Ian Kinsler
SS   Elvis Andrus
DH   Lance Berkman
3B   Adrian Beltre
RF   Nelson Cruz
LF   David Murphy
 C    A.J. Pierzynski
1B   Mitch Moreland
CF   Leonys Martin

Prediction:  Los Angeles    Oakland        Texas       Seattle        Houston

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