FanIQ AL West Preview

Three Teams Battle for AL West Supremacy [FanIQ AL West Preview]

3/26/13 in MLB   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

Blog Photo - FanIQ AL West PreviewWho had the Oakland Athletics as the 2012 AL West champions? Oakland rode pitching and defense to a surprise title, overtaking the Rangers the last day of the season. The Angels spent a lot in the winter but still ended up third. This season, it will likely be another three time battle for the division. The Angels once again spent big, poaching Texas’s biggest name. The Rangers, however, are more than just Josh Hamilton, and the A’s are a year wiser and should still be a factor. There’s even good news for the Mariners. With the bottoming-out Astros joining the division this year, the M’s should get out of last. As for who will win the division? All I’ll say for now is that this was the hardest division for me to pick a winner. Read on for our full preview of the AL West.
 
Once again note that teams are listed in predicted order of finish, and that all projected Opening Day lineups are from MLBDepthCharts.com. Bold indicates new acquisition. Italics indicate rookie.
 
Los Angeles Angels
 
Projected Lineup
 
LF Mike Trout
SS Erick Aybar
1B Albert Pujols
RF Josh Hamilton
DH Mark Trumbo
2B Howie Kendrick
3B Alberto Callaspo
C Chris Iannetta
CF Peter Bourjos
 
Projected Rotation
 
RHP Jered Weaver
LHP C.J. Wilson
RHP Joe Blanton
LHP Jason Vargas
RHP Tommy Hanson
 
Closer: RHP Ernesto Frieri
 
Key Losses: SP Zach Greinke, SP Dan Haren, OF Torii Hunter, DH/1B Kendrys Morales, RP Jordan Walden, SP Ervin Santana, IF Maicer Izturis
 
What do you do when you already have the greatest player of the most recent generation and the man who could become the greatest player of the next generation? If you’re the Angels, you sign what may be the most talented hitter of the current generation. Josh Hamilton switched AL West addresses this winter thanks to a 5 year, $133 million deal. When he’s on, Hamilton crushes the ball, particularly out of the yard. When he’s off though, as he was most of the second half and as the season wound down, it can get ugly. The other risks are also well known. He’s struggled with injuries in his career, and that plus his personal issues could make him an old 32. The Angels are betting that those will be long term concerns at worst and not an issue in 2013.
 
Add Hamilton to that lineup, and well, it could be fireworks. Mike Trout’s awesomeness is known throughout the land now, and he while his 2012 level is too much to ask, he'll be up among the best in baseball again. Albert Pujols’s contract is still a long-term issue, but for now he can still hit 30 homers and OPS .900. Mark Trumbo is yet another 30 homer guy who should benefit from a full year at his natural position. The rest of the lineup is full of average to above average guys who get on base at a good clip. The exception is Bourjos, but he provides plenty of value as arguably the best defensive center field in the game (good enough to move Trout to left), so anything he adds with the bat is only a plus. The whole team defends excellently, leading the league in defensive efficiency in 2012, and moving Trumbo to DH full-time can only help.
 
Unfortunately, the rotation has some question marks, quite a few of them actually. Jered Weaver is not one of them though. Weaver had another excellent season and picked up Cy Young votes for the third straight year. Somehow he’s still underrated, maybe because he’s not a traditional power pitcher. He keeps getting it done though. CJ Wilson’s first year in LA ended up a disappointment. His ERA went up by almost a full run, and given Angel  Stadium’s pitching bias, was actually a below average year (3.83 ERA, 98 ERA+). His homer rate ticked up, his walk rate went up, and his strike out went down. Not a good combination. The Angels have to have Wilson rebound. The rest of the rotation was completely overhauled due to the departures of Greinke, Haren, and Santana. In their places are well, guys. When healthy, Blanton eats innings. Vargas was good in Seattle, but his career ERA is over 1.5 higher outside of Safeco. Hanson had star potential in Atlanta, but hurt his shoulder and hasn’t been the same since. All three will benefit from Angels Stadium being a pitchers park as well, and a fantastic defense behind them. Can that combination get it done for the Angels?
 
This team is going to score some runs. The question is can they prevent enough of them. Their defensive prowess will help, but at some point another starter will have to emerge after Weaver. Still, having your biggest rivals’ best player sure goes a long way. I have them winning the exact same number of games as the year before. This year, it’ll be enough.
 
Projected Record: 89-73
 
Down on the Farm: With Mike Trout owning the big leagues and not much else behind him, the Angels’ system ranks near the bottom of the league. 3B Kaleb Cowart is the one prize left. His calling card for now is defense, but his bat keeps improving, and this year should be his biggest test yet as he hits AA. SP Nick Maronde is the team’s top pitching prospect, and he did have a nice September cameo in the bigs last year as a lefty reliever.
 
Texas RangersBlog Photo - FanIQ AL West Preview
 
Projected 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
 
Projected Rotation
 
LHP Matt Harrison
RHP Yu Darvish
LHP Derek Holland
RHP Alexi Ogando
RHP Nicholas Tepesch
 
Closer: RHP Joe Nathan
 
Key Losses: OF Josh Hamilton, C/1B Mike Napoli, SP Ryan Dempster, SP Scott Feldman, SP Roy Oswalt, RP Koji Uehara, IF Michael Young
 
Going into September, the Rangers looked like they were in position to go for their third straight AL pennant. From there it all fell apart, as the Rangers lost the division to Oakland on the last day of the season, then lost to the Orioles in the wild card game to see their season end. Then in the offseason, Texas lost Josh Hamilton to the rival Angels, and saw every other major free agent sign elsewhere. As such, there isn’t as much talk about the Rangers going into this season.
 
On offense, it stands to reason they won’t lead the league in scoring again, given the two big losses of Hamilton and Napoli. To replace them, the Rangers took a gamble that Lance Berkman can be healthy again after just 32 games played in 2012, and added A.J. Pierzynski, who will be fine as long as they don’t expect him to be as good as last year. Regardless of those two though, the two that will be counted out to carry the lineup power-wise are Beltre and Cruz. Beltre has been gangbusters since joining the Rangers and should be up to the task. Cruz had a down year last year, and now in his 30s, it’s at the point where it’s a concern. The top of the lineup remains very good though with Kinsler and Andrus getting on base at good clips, presuming Kinsler rebounds from a down year of his own. The lineup isn’t slam dunk awesome, at least for now as they wait for a certain super prospect, but there’s no need to claim the sky is falling.
 
Like the Angels, the Achilles of the Rangers is the rotation, and again, there is one exception- in this case Yu Darvish. Darvish made adjustments as his first year in the States went on, and by the end of the season was at his best, making him prime for another step forward. Harrison’s ERA was a sparkling 3.29 last year, but he doesn’t miss enough bats to make that sustainable. He can still slot in as the #2 behind Darvish and be very good. Holland is young enough to improve, which he needs to in terms of his home run rate. The back of the rotation is where it really gets screwy though. Ogando moves back to the rotation after being in the bullpen in 2012, which is after he was in the rotation in 2011. Nicholas Tepesch has apparently earned the fifth starter job, and I’ll be frank, I have no idea who this guy is. If you’re wondering about Neftali Feliz, he’s still recovering from mid season Tommy John surgery.
 
The Rangers aren’t done yet, but they do have holes and losses, and they weren’t particularly patched up. They could still win the division, but they could also finish third.
 
Projected Record: 87-75
 
Down on the Farm: SS Jurickson Profar is considered by many to be the top prospect in all of baseball. He had a fantastic year at the plate in AA at 19. Profar is the whole package of hitting, plate discipline, potential 20 homer power, and a great arm and range for both middle infield positions. The main issue for now is that he’s blocked by Andrus and Kinsler, but make no mistake, Profar is likely to end up a superstar. Also blocked for now is 3B Mike Olt, a nice power bat with 30 homer potential, but currently blocked by Adrian Beltre and with a bat that doesn’t quite play at first, blocked he remains. SP Martin Perez is their most ready pitching prospect, but is out 2 months with a ulna fracture, which could keep him from significant big league work in 2013.

What about those surprise champs in Oakland? Turn to the next page to find out.
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3/26/13   |   ML31   |   3621 respect

Wards_Page wrote:
Very comprehensive. I don't see the Mariners winning one game fewer than they did last year though. In fact, I think (I mean I hope) they improve based on the Astros and my belief that the Rangers won't be near as good as they have been.

I would think that the the returning 4 AL West teams will all be better based solely on the presence of the Astros in the division.  Unless the Astros suddenly surprise everyone.  By that reckoning I'd guess the M's get at least 8 more wins this year than last.

3/26/13   |   Wards_Page   |   248 respect

Very comprehensive. I don't see the Mariners winning one game fewer than they did last year though. In fact, I think (I mean I hope) they improve based on the Astros and my belief that the Rangers won't be near as good as they have been.