Thursday, March 24, 2011

2011 MLB Final Standings Predictions: AL WEST

Texas Rangers 89 - 73

Why is this team interesting?  The defending AL Champions come back this season with a much different team than went to the World Series last year.  Cliff Lee, Vladamir Guererro, Benji Molina and, possibly, closer Neftali Perez.   They've added some pieces.  Third baseman Adrian Beltre, 1B/C/DH Mike Napoli, and, possibly, SP Neftali Perez.

The biggest stories will be what happens with former shortstop turned former second baseman turned former third baseman turned DH/backup infielder Michael Young and if Feliz will be a starter or reliever.   Another interesting aspect to this team will be how a few of their players follow up outstanding 2010 performances.

Josh Hamilton burst upon the scene in 2007.  He was then traded from the Reds to the Rangers for Edinson Volquez.  His first year in Texas was outstanding.  He led the league in RBI and total bases.  After an injury plagued 2009 Hamilton destroyed opposing pitchers in 2010.  Hamilton had 331 total bases in 2008.  He complied those in 704 plate appearances while making 452 outs.  In 2010 Hamilton had 328 total bases but he complied those in only 571 plate appearances and 349 outs.
In chart form:
2008 704  331   452    .47    .73
2010 571  328   349    .57    .94
Hamilton isn't likely to be that good again in 2011 (he had a .390 BABIP in 2010) but he's definitely an MVP candidate again.

Starting pitchers Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson also turned in 2010s that were better than what most would have predicted.  Lewis was originally a Ranger and pitched 127 innings for them in 2003.  He went 10 - 9 but with a 7.30 ERA.  He struck out a little over 6 batters per 9 innings while walking almost 5.  A few years later he was pitching in Japan-where he thrived.  He struck out over a batter per inning while walking close to 1 a game while posting sub 3 ERA's in both 2008 and 2009.  When Lewis decided to return to the MLB to pitch, opinions were mixed.  Pitching is easier in Japan, the talent level is lower and the ball is smaller.   But Lewis continued his improvement.  He pitched over 200 innings in his return.  Striking out nearly a batter per inning and walking batters at a better than average rate.  CJ Wilson had spent the previous 4 years pitching out of the Rangers' pen.  The Rangers were desperate for starting pitchers and decided to try Wilson in the rotation.  He didn't disappoint.  He also pitched over 200 innings while getting a good amount of ground balls and keeping the ball in the yard.

How Wilson, Lewis and Hamilton back up their 2010's will go a long way to how the Rangers finish in 2011.  But, we aren't done with this team yet.

Continuing with the rotation.  Lewis and Wilson will head the rotation, but they will have help.  Tommy Hunter appears to have a rotation spot, though I think the Rangers have better options.  One of those options is Derek Holland.  Holland debuted in 2009 with mixed results.  After spending most of 2010 in the minors he finished up the season in the bigs.  He posted a K rate of nearly a batter per inning and a walk rate around the league average.

The 5th spot could be the most interesting of all.  Over the last 3 seasons Matt Harrison has spent significant time in the bigs.  He's pitched 225 innings with a 5.13 FIP and 4.71 ERA.  The poor FIP is mostly due to a low K rate of just 4.9 per 9 innings with an averagish walk rate.  He's a guy.  A potential 5th starter who is much more than a guy is Neftali Feliz.  Feliz was a top starting prospect before he joined the Rangers' pen in 2009.  He took over as closer in 2010 and had a great season.  The simple fact is that Feliz is more valuable as a starter than a reliever.  As a reliever he will pitch about 70 innings per season.  As a starter he'll pitch between 2 and 3 times as much.  His fastball is top notch and his curve is strong as well.  As a reliever he mostly relies on these two pitches.  His third pitch is a change up.  That pitch will need to improve if Feliz is to succeed in the rotation.

If Feliz joins the rotation (he has the potential to be a staff ace, something that Harrison and Hunter do not) the Rangers will need a new closer.  They have a deep and talented pen consisting of Alexi Ogando, Darren O'Day and Mark Lowe, any (or all) of whom could step in to the role.

On offense, Josh Hamilton gets the bulk of the love, but regard Nelson Cruz:
*Click to embiggen
Cruz has actually outhit Hamilton in 2 of the last three years, and wasn't THAT far off of the pace last season.  Ian Kinsler had a down year last year, but there is much reason to think that he will bounce back.  Adrian Beltre is one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball-Michael not.  The Ballpark in Arlington fits Beltre well (see Adrian's offense in Fenway last year vs his time in Seattle).  This was an excellent signing by the Rangers.  First baseman Mitch Moreland is an average player, but with Mike Napoli and Michael Young also seeing time at first the Rangers should get good production overall from the position.  Julio Borbon isn't much with the bat, but has a very good glove in CF.

Even if Hamilton, Lewis and Wilson struggle to repeat their outstanding 2010's, this is a very deep and talented team.  Clearly the best in the AL West.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 81 - 81
Why is this team interesting?  The Angels Angels of Anaheim; what a name.  Also they've gone from being the class of the division to quite mediocre pretty quickly.  Kendrys Morales (note the new old 's' at the end of his first name) broke out in 2008 then injured his foot in one of the most ridiculous ways imaginable.  If he can return to his 2008 levels, he'll be their best player.  After the Angels signed Torii Hunter to man CF.  Torii is a good player but the size of the contract has been widely criticized.  Hunter was moved off of CF last season to accommodate (his age and deceasing range) Peter Bourjous. Bourjous doesn't figure to hit a lot but should be a very good glove in CF.  The Angels then traded for Vernon Wells.  This move was blasted around the SABR-blogosphere.  Wells has been an ok player, but like Hunter he can no longer man CF and has an absurd contract.  That the Angles gave up useful and cheap players (Mike Napoli) to acquire him is ridiculous.  The Angels' outfield will be good, but very expensive.  CF Mike Trout is the number 1 prospect in the game and should get a call up at some point in the season.  Though he's a totally different kind of player, he should remind Angels fans of another fishy icon, Tim Salmon.

The trade of Napoli is even more ridiculous because it leaves Jeff Mathis as the everyday catcher.  Regard:
*Click to embiggen
The Angels' front office must have been napping during math (see what I did there: Napoli, Mathis; nap, math...anyway) because a .350 wOBA is good while a .250 wOBA is really bad.  While Mathis is a better defensive player there is basically no way that his defense can make up that gap.

The rest of the infield is pretty meh.  Second baseman Howie Kendrick, Third baseman Macier Izturis and SS Erik Aybar are average players with no real upside.

The rotation is strong.  Dan Haren and Jeff Weaver are dueling aces at the top.  Haren had a bad year ERAwise but his peripheral stats remained strong while Weaver kicked it up a notch in 2010, notably increasing his strikeouts by about 2 per 9.  Ervin Santana isn't the same pitcher following his 2009 elbow injury but he came back last year to post good numbers.  Joel Pineiro pitched will last year despite missing time with injury.  Scott Kazmir is a shell of his former self and might not make the rotation.

The bullpen is solid.  Fernando Rodney is overrated but Scott Downs and Kevin Jepsen are quality.

Oakland Athletics 80 - 82
Why is this team interesting?  Because you love infield defense.
1B: Daric Barton 14.2 UZR/150 in 2010: Rank = first
2B: Mark Ellis 12.7 UZR/150 in 2010: Rank=second
3B: Kevin Kouzmanoff 17.5 UZR/150 in 2010: Rank=third
SS: Cliff Pennington 8.8 UZR/150 in 2010: Rank=short 4th

You'd think with that infield the A's would stock up on ground ball pitchers.  And they do. Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson both got well over 50% ground balls last season while Gio Gonzales approached it.  Dallas "Mr Perfect"/"Stay off of my mound" Braden has been average in getting wormburners.  If Brandon McCarthy wins the 5th spot he is an extreme fly ball pitcher (career 36% GB)

None of those infielders does much with the bat, though Barton's skill set of drawing walks and not making outs is underrated.

The guys charged with driving in runs will be DH Hideki Matsui and LF Josh Willingham.  Matsui is a fine DH for the A's as his hitting has remained quite stable despite a decrease in his all around game.  Willingham has been an underrated hitter toiling for the Marlins and Nationals.  Both Coco Crisp and David DeJesus are quality defenders with underrated offensive games.

Kurt Suzuki is the catcher.  He's a guy.

If the A's fall out of contention 1B Chris Carter, OF Michael Taylor  and maybe even 2B Jemile Weeks could see some time.  Especially if Oakland moves Matsui, Willingham, DeJesus or Ellis to contenders.

As I mentioned the starting staff gets a lot of ground balls which is a good thing in general and specifically with that defense. Trevor Cahill looked outstanding last year with a 2.97 ERA, but he was definitely the beneficiary of his defense (which will continue) and luck (which may not).  Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez (get ready to go gaga for GG) are the 2 best starters.

The A's spent a lot of money on their bullpen this season but Andrew Bailey is still the best pitcher out there-unfortunately he's having some elbow problems this spring.  Brian Fuentes or Grant Balfour could step into the closer spot if necessary.   The A's still have Michael Wurtz, Brad Ziegler, Craig Breslow and even Rich Harden spitting sunflower seeds behind the OF wall.

Seattle Mariners 76 - 86
What is interesting about this team?  Felix Hernandez and Ichiro.  King Felix is probably the best pitcher in the American League and Ichiro looks for his 11th straight 200 hit season while playing outstanding RF defense and showing off his laser of a throwing arm.

We know about Ichiro.

We should know about King Felix.  He has the 2nd most innings pitched in baseball over the last 2 seasons: 488.1 (which is 1 less than Roy Halladay and 21 more than #3 CC Sabathia).  He also has the lowest ERA (2.38 certainly helped by his defense and home stadium) and most strikeouts (449).  He's just going to be 25 this season.  In comparison Hernandez has 24 career WAR going into his age 25 season.  Tim Lincecum had 2 WAR.

The drop off in talent after those 2 is significant.

CFer Franklin Guiterez is the M's next best player.  He's got a bit of power, a bit of speed, and a lot of defense.  OF/DH Milton Bradley has talent, but his...demeanor...limits his ability to stay on the field and be productive.  Jack Cust brings his walks, strikeouts and home runs north from Oakland.  Safeco doesn't play well at all to his left-handed power swing though.  But he has to hit better than the .194/.269/.340 line Mariner DH's 'produced' last year.  OF Michael Saunders struggled in a callup last season and will probably start the season in AAA.

In the infield, Chone Figgins moves back to 3B and hopes to bounce back after a miserable year with both the bat and the glove.  There's reason to think that he will.  He was a very good defensive third baseman in LA and has a good year/bad year thing going on with the bat.
*Click to embiggen
Justin Smoak came over in the Cliff Lee deal.  He struggled last year and isn't a good fit for Seattle's stadium (see Jack Cust) but he should be an upgrade over Casey Kotchman (.217/.280/.336) who played first last year.

Second base and shortstop will be manned by twin all-glove-no-bat players Jack Wilson and Brendan Ryan.   Whoever plays second will just be keeping the keystone warm for Dustin Ackley who could see some time this year.

The rotation will be rounded out by Doug Fister, Jason Vargas, the remnants of Eric Bedard and ... Fister is a young player who limits walks and gets some ground balls.  Not sure he'll ever be more than what he was last year.  Similarly Jason Vargas probably showed what he is last year-an averagish kind of pitcher.  Eric Bedard started off strong last season, but didn't make it past July.  He'll try again.  The Mariners would like prospect Michael Pineda to win the 5th starter job, but that's a question mark at this point.  He should see some time during the season though.  He should be good as well.  Soft-tosser Blake Beaven is also a possibility.

The bullpen is topped-off by David Aardsma-who's likely to be traded to a contender at the deadline.  He's not a star but he can help a team.  Brandon League's 60+% ground ball rate will play well with the M's infield.  Fire-baller Dan Cortes moves to the pen after having trouble as a minor league starter.

This team just isn't very good.  And the combination of being a poor hitting team in a run-suppressing stadium has to be hard for M's fans to watch on a day-to-day basis.

No comments:

Post a Comment