Giant, Color Coded, American League West Preview
Well, here we are. The offseason is winding down, Spring Training is upon us, and the majority of baseball teams are set and ready to roll. Back in October, it was really anyone’s guess how this division was going to end up looking – I for one certainly didn’t expect to be looking at four realistic contenders here in February, but now that appears to be the case. With very few moves left to be made, it’s now time to take a detailed look at how the AL West has formed.
All WAR projections are a mix of CHONE and my best educated guesses, and all UZR projections are based on both career numbers and BTB’s 2010 UZR projections. Shall we?
|Position||Player||Projected WAR||Projected UZR|
|1B||Kendry Morales||2.7||0 < X < 5|
|2B||Howie Kendrick||2.5||0 < X < 5|
|3B||Maicer Izturis||2.5||0 < X < 5|
|SS||Erick Aybar||2.5||3 < X < 8|
|LF||Juan Rivera||2.5||2 < X < 7|
|CF||Torii Hunter||3.0||-5 < X < 0|
|RF||Bobby Abreu||2.0||-13 < X < -8|
Total: 40 (85)
Lost: John Lackey, Darren Oliver
Acquired: Joel Pineiro, Fernando Rodney
In an attempt to fill the void left by losing both their best starter and their best reliever in one offseason, the Angels decided to sign Joel Pineiro and give Fernando Rodney a 2 year/$11M contract. Huh. To be fair, only one of those deals was awful – with Pineiro, they’re probably going to get a league average starter at a reasonable price, and you can’t really take issue with that. The big key for him is going to be whether or not he can keep up his ridiculous groundball rates, and that’s certainly going to be a challenge. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect him to completely fall off a cliff, but another 4+ WAR season isn’t likely either.
Rodney, on the other hand, just isn’t very good. He posted a 4.56 FIP with the Tigers in 2009, and that was with both a low BABIP and a high strand rate. He’s never been worth more than 0.7 wins in a season, and he’s likely to end up at somewhere around 0.5 in 2010 – I guess half a win is worth $5.5 million to Tony Reagins.
Their rotation as a whole shouldn’t end up looking much different than it did in 2009. The biggest differences will be that they’re getting a full year of Kazmir, and they’ve basically replaced Lackey with Pineiro – which is probably good for about a 1 win drop off. Joe Saunders is still bad, Jered Weaver is still pretty good, and Santana is a giant question mark. He was great in 2008, and terrible in 2009, which has been attributed by many to a noticeable drop in fastball velocity. However, he did battle some injuries last year, so if he’s able to stay healthy, he might be good again – who knows?
The other big question mark in their rotation is clearly Scott Kazmir. On the surface, it looks like he really turned things around after getting traded to the Angels – but I’m not so sure that’s really the case. While his luck wasn’t real good in Tampa Bay, it was absolutely fantastic in LA. In his 36 innings there (tiny, tiny sample size), he stranded runners at a rate 82.5%, posted a HR/FB of 1.7%, and ran a BABIP of .261. Let’s wait awhile before we decide that he’s good again.
The Angels bullpen as a whole is kind of hit and miss. They have Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger, who were both surprisingly good last year, posting respective tRA’s of 3.06 and 3.84. Scot Shields dealt with the first below average season of his career in 2009, but that was over 17 innings. He’s still only 34, so I don’t expect him to enter full on decline mode quite yet. As for Brian Fuentes, he’s quite a curious case. His numbers were flat out awesome in 2008, but he somehow managed to post a 4.5% HR/FB….at Coors Field. When you accept that a number like that just isn’t sustainable, it makes the significant drop-off in 2009 much less surprising. I’d say his 2009 WAR mark of 0.4 is a lot closer to reality than the 2.4 he put up in 2008.
Lost: Chone Figgins, Vladimir Guerrero
Acquired: Hideki Matsui
The Angels had the third best offense in baseball by wOBA last year, and they’re probably going to pretty good in 2010 too. Matsui should be a slight improvement over the mind-blowing 0.8 WAR Vladdy posted during that sad, sad display he calls a 2009 season – provided they don’t decide to stick him in the outfield. The third base situation, however, is going to be a very different story. Chone Figgins was worth over 6 wins for the Angels last year, and while it’s extremely unlikely that he would have repeated that number for them in 2010, it’s still the production that they got to reap the benefits of in 2009. So, while the 1.5-3 wins that the team gets out of third base this year is in reality only a couple less than what they would have gotten from Figgins, it’s still a 3-4 win drop from what they got last season.
The rest of their lineup hasn’t changed all that much though, so a lot of that 2009 production is still going to be there. One guy due for a significant drop-off, though, is Kendry Morales. It’s pretty easy to see that he was extremely lucky in 2009 – his BABIP was .335, and his HR/FB was over 18%. Neither of those numbers are sustainable, and that 4.2 WAR he posted in 2009 isn’t going to be repeated. As a whole, though, the Angels are going to continue to hit really well, and that’s going to continue to be their strength.
Another fairly large part of the Angels run in 2009 was their defense. They had fielded roughly average defensive teams in 2007 and 2008, but they were able to make the jump from average to good in 2009, posting a team UZR of 13.3. I don’t expect them to repeat that in 2010, for a few reasons. One of the biggest ones is Juan Rivera – he somehow was able to go from slightly above average defensive left fielder throughout his career, to excellent defensive left fielder in 2009, sporting a 12.7 UZR. While I don’t doubt that he’s solid out there, it’d be unrealistic to expect him to repeat that number – something around +5 seems about right.
Bobby Abreu should continue to be absolutely awful defensively, while Torii Hunter has slipped from “good” to “below-average” over the last few seasons, and their infield as a whole is decent. Bottom line; I hope they enjoyed their year of above average defense, because they’re probably going to slip back to average in 2010.
And that rounds out the 2010 Angels. By my projections they’re roughly an 85 win team, but they’re the Angels, so who the hell knows?
|Position||Player||Projected WAR||Projected UZR|
|1B||Daric Barton||1.5||0 < X < 5|
|2B||Mark Ellis||2.0||5 < X < 10|
|3B||Kevin Kouzmanoff||2.5||0 < X < 5|
|SS||Cliff Pennington||1.0||-5 < X < 0|
|LF||Gabe Gross||1.5||0 < X < 5|
|CF||Rajai Davis||2.0||2 < X < 7|
|RF||Ryan Sweeney||2.5||7 < X < 12|
Total: 36.3 (81.3)
Lost: Dana Eveland, Santiago Casilla
Acquired: Ben Sheets
The A’s have a young, talented pitching staff, which is capped off by one of the better young pitchers in the league, in Brett Anderson. They added Ben Sheets to the fold this offseason, in one of my personal favorite moves of the last few months. Before that signing, they were probably something like a 78 win team, which just wasn’t going to cut it in this division. However, with a high-risk, high-reward move like the Sheets signing, they’ve put themselves back in position to have a chance at contention. On the other hand, they did dish out $10 million, so if Sheets gets hurt or doesn’t perform, it’s going to be looked at by most people as a big mistake. I’d be shocked if he returned to 2008 form, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him pitch fairly well over a decent amount of innings and boost this team by 2 or 3 wins.
Justin Duchscherer was a 3-win pitcher in 2008, but he was really, really lucky. He ran an astonishingly low .240 BABIP, while posting a 6.9% HR/FB, and while the Coliseum is pitcher-friendly, his career average is still 8.5%. He missed the entire 2009 season due to shoulder and back injuries, so health, much like it is with Sheets, is going to be a big factor for him. If he avoids injuries, he’s still capable of being a 2-2.5 WAR pitcher, even without the ridiculous luck.
Aside from Sheets and the Duke, the rest of their rotation isn’t too shabby either. Brett Anderson, as I mentioned before, is really good, and really young. Dallas Braden is solid as well, though not quite as good or as young as Anderson – he’s also due for a bit of HR/FB regression. Rounding out the rotation is Trevor Cahill, and he’s the only real weak link. He was downright bad in 2009, posting 5.33 FIP and a K/9 rate of only 4.53. However, he may not be quite as awful as those numbers may lead you to believe, as 13.2% HR/FB rate he ran is quite high considering the ballpark he was pitching at.
Now, on to perhaps the A’s biggest strength; their bullpen. They had 4 relievers in 2009 worth 1.5+ wins, and three who ran tRA’s under 2.30. Their closer, Andrew Bailey, was excellent, running a K/9 near 10 and posting a WAR of 2.4. He also won the Rookie of the Year award – not that that matters. I could go over why each of their relievers is good, but that’s unnecessary, so I’ll just suffice to say this: Brad Ziegler is good, Mike Wuertz is really good, Joey Devine is good, and Craig Breslow is mediocre. As a whole, they have easily the best bullpen in the division.
Lost: Matt Holliday (mid-season), Jason Giambi (mid-season), Nomar Garciaparra
Acquired: Kevin Kouzmanoff, Coco Crisp, Gabe Gross
The A’s weren’t very good offensively in 2009, and that was with half a season of Matt Holliday. They have done what they could to make improvements, though. Last year, the A’s got some of the worst production out of third base in baseball – both offensively and defensively. So, they went out and grabbed Kevin Kouzmanoff, a good defensive third baseman who was worth 2.7 wins in 2009.
As a whole, though, their lineup still isn’t real impressive. Kurt Suzuki is turning into one of the better young catchers in the game, and Ryan Sweeney is pretty awesome, but other than that it’s pretty much just a collection of below league average, 1-2 win players – which is good enough to get by when you have solid pitching, but, ya know, below average. Barton and Pennington are both young and talented, but neither of them are likely to be big contributors in 2010. Pennington specifically still has a ways to go – his wOBA of .332 last year wasn’t too bad, but that .342 BABIP just isn’t sustainable.
Mark Ellis will likely continue to be a below average offensive player, who gets most of his value from solid defense at second base. Signing Gabe Gross was a nice, under the radar move for the A’s this offseason, as he’s a a very cheap 1-2 win outfielder who plays excellent defense. However, he certainly won’t be a big impact type player. They also decided to bring back Jack Cust, who even though completely useless in the outfield, is still an above average hitter who can give you plenty of long balls, along with plenty of strikeouts and walks. He should continue to be a serviceable DH for them.
The A’s were roughly average defensively last year, but I think they’ll be a little bit better than that in 2010. Their only below average defender is Cliff Pennington, and he’s still no worse than a -5 defensive shortstop. Mark Ellis is really good out at second base, and their entire outfield is well above average, capped off by Ryan Sweeney, who should be something like a +10 right fielder. This team as a whole is very similar to the Mariners; built around pitching and defense, with hardly any emphasis on offense. Of course, the A’s have better pitching and the Mariners have much better defense, but the layout is similar. Put it all together and you’ve got something like an 81 win team – potential contenders, but far from favorites.
|Position||Player||Projected WAR||Projected UZR|
|1B||Kotchman/Garko||1.5||0 < X < 5|
|2B||Jose Lopez||2.3||-2 < X < 3|
|3B||Chone Figgins||4.0||5 < X < 10|
|SS||Jack Wilson||1.7||4 < X < 9|
|LF||Byrnes/Langerhans/Bradley||1.5||2 < x < 7|
|CF||Franklin Gutierrez||4.5||10 < X < 15|
|RF||Ichiro||4.0||5 < X < 10|
Total: 43.6 (88.6)
Lost: Brandon Morrow, Carlos Silva, Miguel Batista, Chris Jakubauskas, Jarrod Washburn (mid-season)
Acquired: Cliff Lee, Brandon League, Yusmeiro Petit, Ian Snell (mid-season)
The Mariners a pitching staff last year that was completely overrated by the mainstream media, because, that’s right, they had a low ERA. However, anyone who’s still reading this probably knows that they weren’t very good, and the good surface numbers were mainly just factors of the best defense in baseball, and the friendly confines of Safeco Field. This was especially true for guys like Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista, who ran respective FIP’s of 4.58 and 4.64. In reality, this just wasn’t a real good staff in 2009, however, 2010 could be a different story.
Last year, Felix was really only the consistent, solid piece in the rotation, while Lowe and Aardsma were the only consistent, solid pieces in the bullpen. This offseason, though, Jack Zduriencik has gone a long way towards improving both groups. The rotational improvements should be extremely obvious – in an outstanding trade, GMZ acquired Cliff Lee, one of the best 5 or 10 pitchers in the game, to slot in behind Felix, who should be roughly a 4 WAR improvement over the production we got out of the #2 spot in 2009. He also brought back Erik Bedard, who should be good for 1-2 WAR out of the #3 spot if he’s able to deliver 80-100 innings after he returns, which, while not anywhere near a sure thing, is certainly a possibility. On top of that, this team should be getting full seasons from both Ryan Rowland-Smith and Ian Snell. These changes still aren’t enough to give the Mariners a great rotation, but it’s decent, and certainly a large improvement over what they sent out last year.
The bullpen should be much better too. The M’s were able to do some effortless addition by subtraction, as Miguel Batista’s awful contract finally came to a close – and while he was able to eat a good amount of innings in 2009, the mop up spot would still be better filled by someone who doesn’t suck. The team also improved the pen, for now at least, when they moved Brandon Morrow and acquired Brandon League from the Jays. While I wasn’t a big fan of this move, it still in all likelihood makes the team better for 2010. With Morrow, it’s always been about potential, and he probably doesn’t have any better of a chance to realize it in 2010 then he did in 2009. League, on the other hand, is already a solid late inning guy, whose sinker was, by the numbers, the best pitching in baseball last season. Even though swapping Morrow for League may not work out so well in the long run, the Mariners have a real chance at contending in 2010, and League is more valuable to this team right now.
The rest of the bullpen is likely to consist of David Aardsma, Mark Lowe, Shawn Kelley, Sean White (if he’s healthy), and any one of a plethora of mop up candidates. If I had to guess right now, I’d say the #5 spot goes to Doug Fister, and the mop up spot goes to Jason Vargas. They’re probably pretty close to a wash at the back of the rotation, and it’s nice to have at least one lefty in your pen. While that pen will still be far from the best in the division, it’s still respectable, and a huge improvement over a bullpen last year that was 27.5 runs below average.
Lost: Adrian Beltre, Russell Branyan, Endy Chavez, Ronny Cedeno (mid-season), Kenji Johjima, Yuniesky Betancourt (mid-season)
Acquired: Milton Bradley, Chone Figgins, Casey Kotchman, Ryan Garko, Eric Byrnes, Jack Wilson (mid-season)
The Mariners had one of, if not the worst offenses in baseball last season, and many people point to that as the reason they didn’t seriously contend. While I’m not sure that’s sound logic, it’s hard to argue that this team really needed to improve their lineup coming into this offseason – and they have. Even though they didn’t necessarily add the “big bat” that so many fans were craving, this is a better offense than it was in 2009. I’m not sure going over this position-by-position is the most intelligent way to do it, but it seems like the easiest to understand, so I’ll give it a go.
Last year, the shortstop position was occupied mostly by Yuniesky Betancourt, the least valuable player in baseball, who wOBA’d .269, and Ronny Cedeno, who wOBA’d .219. Jack Wilson has a career wOBA of .298, and was injured during his time with the Mariners last year. Any way you slice it, the M’s are going to get better production out of shortstop in 2010 than they did in 2009. As for third base, most of the time went to Adrian Beltre, who had an injury-ridden, miserable offensive season. Of course, he was still 2.4 win player because of his defense, but the offensive production just wasn’t there. His replacement is Chone Figgins, who has a career wOBA of .339, and is nearly as good of a defensive third baseman. While his offense probably won’t be better than what Beltre produces at Fenway in 2010, it will certainly be an improvement over what we got out of the position in 2009. Just for reference, when Beltre was hurt, most of the starts at third base went to Jack Hannahan and Chris Woodward, who wOBA’d .294 and .252, respectively.
And perhaps the biggest offensive improvement will come from the DH role. Last year, with Griffey and Sweeney sharing time, the position had a wOBA of .327, and some of the worst production in the league. Sweeney won’t make the team, and Griffey is 40 years old, so a good amount of time in that role is going to fall into the hands of Milton Bradley. When healthy, Bradley is an excellent offensive player. He’s been above average at the plate for each of the last 7 seasons, and he was a 4.6 win DH as recently as 2008. Now, it’d be unrealistic to expect a repeat in that production, but if he can avoid any serious injuries, he’s got a real good shot at continuing to be above average at the plate, and at being a 2-3 win player. Either way, big offensive improvement.
So those are the spots in which the team got significantly better at the plate, what about the other side of things? Well, there are a couple of spots in which the team won’t get quite as much offensive production as they did last year, but they aren’t real significant. First base is the easiest one to figure out, as a Kotchman/Garko platoon isn’t going to give you the same type of offense that the M’s got from Branyan last season, but they make up for a good portion of that value with better defense. However, both players have noticeable platoon splits – especially Garko – and if used correctly, could provide the team with at least decent offensive production out of first base.
The most complicated position is clearly going to be left field, as it looks to be a 3-player tandem. I’d imagine Byrnes will get the vast majority of the starts against left-handed pitching. That’s the simple part. Against righties, it’s going to be some kind of a time-split between Langerhans and Milton Bradley. My guess would be that on most of the days when both Bradley and Griffey are healthy, and there’s a right-handed pitcher on the mound, they’ll put Bradley out in left so that Griffey can DH. On the occasions that either Griffey or Bradley are hurt, or just need a day off (and there are sure to be a good amount of these occasions), Langerhans will likely get the start out in left. Much like the first base situation, if these 3 players are utilized effectively, left field shouldn’t be an issue, defensively or offensively.
I really shouldn’t have to tell you what this team’s biggest strength is. Here’s a hint: it was their biggest strength last year, too. Give up? It’s defense. The Mariners would have been a pretty bad team in 2009 if it weren’t for their defense, and while the value scale isn’t tipped quite as far in that direction anymore, it’s still extremely important for this team. The Mariners don’t have a single bad defensive starter, and everyone excluding Lopez, Garko, and Bradley is really, really good. Gutierrez is incredible, Ichiro is really good, Kotchman is really good, Jack Wilson is incredible, and Chone Figgins is really good. The 2010 Mariners will certainly get a lot of their value from defense, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
|Position||Player||Projected WAR||Projected UZR|
|1B||Chris Davis||1.0||-5 < X < 0|
|2B||Ian Kinsler||4.5||-5 < X < 0|
|3B||Michael Young||3.0||-10 < X < -5|
|SS||Elvis Andrus||3.0||5 < X < 10|
|LF||Josh Hamilton||3.0||0 < X < 5|
|CF||Julio Borbon||2.0||-3 < X < 3|
|RF||Nelson Cruz||3.2||3 < X < 8|
Total: 38.2 (83.2)
Lost: Kevin Millwood, Jason Jennings, Vicente Padilla (mid-season), Eddie Guardado
Acquired: Rich Harden, Darren Oliver, Chris Ray, Colby Lewis
The Rangers starting rotation was overrated by a lot of people in 2009 for the same reason that the Mariners’ was. They had low ERA’s and a good defense behind them. However, the Rangers’ rotation was even worse than the Mariners’…. much worse. They were 52 runs below average. Their FIP as a staff was good for 8th worst in baseball at 4.56, and it’s important to remember that that number would have been much worse if not for an above average bullpen. Yeah, they were bad.
They aren’t going to be quite as bad in 2010, but they still aren’t good. They basically replaced Kevin Millwood with Rich Harden, and while it’s impossible to argue that Rich Harden isn’t significantly better, he’s still a pretty big question mark. The fact is, it’s hard to pencil Harden in for more than 120 or so innings, and it’s tough to eclipse the 2.4 wins that Kevin Millwood was worth last year in only 120 innings. Sure, it’d be completely within the realm of possibility for Harden to pitch 150 innings, post an FIP of 3.50 and be worth 3.5 wins, but that still isn’t anywhere near enough to turn this rotation into a good one.
And after Harden, the rotation really hasn’t improved, at all. Scott Feldman is roughly average, but he benefit from a lot of good luck in 2009, running a .275 BABIP and a 9.2% HR/FB…. in Texas. Derek Holland has a lot of potential, but he’s extremely young, and his 2009 numbers indicate that he just isn’t quite there yet. Tommy Hunter and Brandon McCarthy are both very similar to Feldman, just slightly worse, and both were really lucky in 2009. Put it all together and you have an extremely mediocre rotation. Fortunately for them, the Rangers are strong in other areas.
Namely, the bullpen. The Rangers have a really good bullpen. Frank Francisco is a serviceable closer, though not as good as some people would tell you – he was worth 1.1 wins in 2009, with a 3.90 tRA. Darren Oliver, C.J. Wilson, and Darren O’Day are all above average late inning guys who ran low tRA’s in 2009 and struck a ton of guys out. And then, there’s Neftali Feliz. He posted a 2.48 FIP during his big league time last year, and while he did run a ridiculously low BABIP of .185, when you have a relief pitcher that can touch 100 with great command, it’s hard to call any of his numbers luck. Neftali Feliz is ridiculously good, and we can only hope that the Rangers make the mistake of keeping him in the bullpen. The only weak link here is Chris Ray, who was really bad in 2009, even if a bit unlucky.
Lost: Andruw Jones, Ivan Rodriguez, Omar Vizquel, Hank Blalock, Marlon Byrd, Taylor Teagarden
Acquired: Vladimir Guerrero, Khalil Greene
The Rangers have the reputation of being a powerhouse offense filled with sluggers, but that really wasn’t the case in 2009. They were actually pretty bad offensively – 40.1 runs below average. A lot of that was because Hank Blalock, Chris Davis, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Elvis Andrus were really bad offensively. Blalock is gone now, and Andrus is so good defensively that he makes up for it, on top of being quite young. I don’t have excuses for the other two.
Hank Blalock has been replaced at DH by Vladimir Guerrero, who, while not the player that he used to be, is still an above average hitter, and a 1-2 win player, as long as they keep him out of the field at all costs. Losing Marlon Byrd is going to hurt this team, as he was a 2.4 win player for them last year who can both hit well and play decent defense. They also lost Andruw Jones, another one of their few above average offensive players in 2009.
As for the rest of their position players; Ian Kinsler is awesome, and continues to be well above average offensively and serviceable defensively at second base. Michael Young is still valuable because of his offense, despite being a completely overrated and terrible defensive infielder. Nelson Cruz is an excellent, underrated player, who Ron Washington was absolutely out of his mind to bench last season. He plays really good defense out in right field despite his size, and he wOBA’d .368 in 2009 – all good for 3.7 WAR. We all know about Josh Hamilton, I think – feel good story, outstanding year in 2008, put on a show at the home run derby, then suffered an injury ridden, mediocre 2009. If he manages to stay healthy and stay off the coke, though, there’s no reason to think he won’t at least get back to being a 2.5-3 win player this season, as he is a really good player.
The Rangers played excellent defense in 2009, posting a team UZR of 32.5, good enough for 6th best in baseball. However, I’m not so sure it will be quite as good this season. Ian Kinsler’s 9.6 UZR at second base was a big part of what they did last year, and you can’t really expect a repeat performance. The fact is, that number was a huge outlier, and he’s been well below average on the defensive end of things during the other 3 years of his career. He might be average in 2010, but I’d be surprised at anything beyond that. Nelson Cruz’s 11.6 UZR in right was also a bit of an outlier among the rest of his career numbers, and I’d expect him to be closer to the +5 or +6 area in 2010. It won’t be a huge drop off, but as a team I think +20 is a realistic projection, rather than the +32.5 they posted in 2009.
So, there you have it. I hope this piece does a nice job of illustrating just how ridiculously interesting this division is going to be.