FanIQ AL West Preview

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

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

Oakland AthleticsBlog Photo - FanIQ AL West Preview
Projected Lineup
CF Coco Crisp
3B Jed Lowrie
LF Yoenis Cespedes
1B Brandon Moss
RF Josh Reddick
DH Seth Smith
C John Jaso/Derek Norris
2B Scott Sizemore
SS Hiroyuki Nakajima
Projected Rotation
LHP Brett Anderson
RHP Jarrod Parker
LHP Tom Milone
RHP A.J. Griffin
RHP Daniel Straily
Closer: RHP Ryan Cook
Key Losses: SP Brandon McCarthy, 1B Chris Carter, SS Stephen Drew, OF Jonny Gomes, IF Brandon Inge, SP Dallas Braden, SS Cliff Pennington
Just when everyone had written off the Billy Beane Athletics, they went out and won the AL West and pushed Detroit to five games in the ALDS before getting Verlander’ed. Unlike the other surprise playoff team in Baltimore, Oakland’s run differential indicated a record right around their 94-68 actual record, so it wasn’t a fluke. Offensively, the lineup is led by Cespedes, who had a fantastic .292/.356/.505 rookie year and at 27 is right in his prime. The rest of the lineup's general approach is what you would expect from an Oakland team: low batting average, ability to take walks, and bats with some pop. Reddick is probably the epitome of that with his .242/.305/.463 and 32 homers last season. Moss was a revelation last year, but can’t hit lefties at all. Lowrie is an interesting pick-up if he could ever stay healthy, while Jaso was a shrewd pickup after posting a .394 OBP last year. He’ll share the job with Derek Norris, who still has a lot of potential.
The Coliseum’s extensive foul ground is a huge advantage for pitchers, and the home side’s staff is no exception. The top of the rotation though are not just home park creations. Anderson made just six starts last season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, but those six plus his ALDS start showed he’s ready to pick right where he left off on the path to stardom. Jarrod Parker also came back from Tommy John surgery with a season that showed why he was the prize prospect acquired for Trevor Cahill. After that it gets hazier. Milone is purely a creation of the home ballpark. His home ERA was 2.74 last year, his road ERA over 2 runs higher. Griffin doesn’t have a great fastball and gives up fly balls and thus needs the home park to keep the ball out of the stands. This is still a very young rotation that did a great job last year, and overall there’s a lot to like. For you fantasy players, Ryan Cook will start the year at closer while Grant Balfour rehabs from knee surgery.
Most of the A’s core is either in their prime or just getting there. Do not assume they will fade back to below .500. I have them third because young talent sometimes steps back before stepping forward, especially after last year’s huge improvement. However, I could very well be wrong. I have just three games separating first and third in this division, which is me telling you it could any of the three in any order.
Projected Record: 86-76
Down on the Farm: The A’s used a lot of rookies last year, and as such, the system is a bit thinner. Last year’s first round pick SS Addison Russell, however, looks like a future star already. Straight from high school, Russell raked his way to high-A ball before the year was out. He still has a way to go to the bigs, but the start couldn’t have gone better. Straily might be the best pitching prospect in the system after a great 2012 in which he led the minor leagues in strikeouts. The A’s are hoping he can improve on his cup of coffee in Oakland last year, where he gave out homers like candy.
Seattle MarinersBlog Photo - FanIQ AL West Preview
Projected 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
Projected Rotation
RHP Felix Hernandez
LHP Joe Saunders
RHP Hisashi Iwakuma
RHP Erasmo Ramirez
RHP Blake Beavan
Closer: RHP Tom Wilhelmsen
Key Losses: SP Jason Vargas, C John Jaso, SP Kevin Millwood, C Miguel Olivo, IF Chone Figgins
The Mariners can’t score runs. Safeco Field is part of this, and the team has moved the fences in a bit to help. However, it won’t matter if the team can’t get on base. Seattle was dead last in baseball in team OBP last year, the only team that couldn’t even get on base at a .300 clip. Worse, the young talent the M’s have tried to build in the lineup are the culprits. Dustin Ackley’s OBP last year? .294. Jesus Montero’s? .298. Justin Smoak’s? .290. These are supposed to be the guys that will make this offense viable in the future, and it hasn’t happened yet. This is a big year for all three of these guys, especially Smoak, who many in the industry are already writing off as a bust. Seattle brought in some reinforcements, but they are all of the 1B/LF/DH set, creating a logjam. The best of those brought in is Morales, who had a nice 2012 after a two year recovery from his broken ankle. Morse brings power and awesome at-bat music in the form of “Take on Me,” but has issues staying healthy and doesn’t bring a great OBP either. Seattle also signed Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay, which would be funny if it wasn’t sad. The other problem with this logjam is it forces Montero to catch for the time being, which is not something he’s particularly good at (Kelly Shoppach was brought in as a defensive caddy). Overall though, Morales and Morse will help, and Ackley and Montero should be better, which means the offense at least might get to mediocrity.
Felix Hernandez is awesome and has a new long-term deal with the Mariners. Remember that M’s fans, because the rest of the rotation for now leaves a lot to be desired. As an O’s fan, Joe Saunders holds a special memory in my heart due to how he pitched in the playoffs, but in the end he’s an aging crafty left hander mostly getting by on guile. Iwakuma and Ramirez both showed significant home-road splits last year, suggesting they need their home park to get by, while Beavan doesn’t strike out anybody and doesn’t induce groundballs, which is a recipe for disaster anywhere. In reality, all these guys after King Felix are stopgaps for what’s down on the farm, and given where the M’s are competitively, there’s nothing wrong with that.
The Mariners have one superstar, an up and coming generation that’s stalled out in the bigs, and another generation on the way that we’ll discuss below. If the current young guys can get out of neutral, then maybe you can see the next good Seattle team. Luckily they now have the King signed long-term, which will hopefully give them some time to build that next winner.
Projected Record: 74-88
Down on the Farm: C Mike Zunino was drafted in the first round last year, signed, and immediately started raking, finishing the year in AA. He could be in the majors as soon as this year, which will allow Montero to stop catching and move to first or DH. Three pitching prospects round out the most talked about members of the M’s farm system. Danny Hultzen was the 2nd pick of the 2011 draft, but his path to the bigs detoured when he started walking everyone in AAA. Tajuan Walker has passed Hultzen on the prospect lists after he held his own in AA at age 19, which makes him very tantalizing. The last of the three is James Paxton, who has a fine curveball but has trouble with issuing free passes.

The Astros join the division this year, much to the happiness of their new rivals. Turn the page to see why.
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3/26/13   |   ML31   |   3675 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.