AL West: Power Division
Though ESPN has dropped the Mariners from existence*–likely due to an ineptitude in the department of scoring more runs than their adversaries–Seattle’s division is another a story. In this other story, the AL West is possibly the best division in the American League. A bold statement say you, but I didn’t write the story.
I’ll start with my concession: the AL East has won 55% of its games out-of-division to the West’s 53%. Some might say “case closed” right there, but winning percentage is only one indicator a team’s ability to win games.
Now for my rebuttal: Baltimore, the AL East’s second-ranked team, is 23 – 22 against the AL West and AL Central while being eye-gougingly outscored 232 – 185. The Birds are a whopping 19 – 6 in one-run games, including a (partly overlapping) 10 – 2 record in extra-inning games. Those winning records are things that I would consider unsustainable. It’s their closer, you say! Bullshit. Jim Johnson strikes out just 5 batters per 9 innings. Here’s the collection of closer-seasons since 2005 with at least 25 save opportunities and a strikeout rate lower than 6K/9 :
Chris Perez (2011), Francisco Cordero (2011), Ryan Franklin (2008 and 2010), Bobby Jenks (2008), Salomon Torres (2008), David Weathers (2007), Todd Jones (2006 and 2007), Bob Wickman (2005), Dustin Hermanson (2005), Braden Looper (2005), and Jose Mesa (2005).
Not exactly your who’s who of closers. These guys were able to maintain success for one–and occasionally two–seasons, but it wasn’t to last. This season, Johnson has inherited just four baserunners, and all four have scored–a stat no doubt influenced by that weak strikeout rate. The O’s should probably not be 19-6 in one-run games, and Johnson probably shouldn’t be 30/32 in save chances.
Now that I have–perhaps unfairly–used Baltimore as an example of why I think the West could actually be better than the East, let’s summarize the three American League divisions overall (though I think we can agree the Central is out of the running).
The East may have edged out the West in winning percentage against the other AL divisions, but the West has a similar edge over the East in run-scoring. Run-scoring tends to be both very good at explaining past success, and also helpful for projecting future success. Like, for instance, the AL West is not likely to continue winning one-run games just 47% of the time. If you think that, perhaps, shaky bullpens are the culprit for the West’s close-game troubles, it turns out that all four AL West teams’ pens are in the top 12 (MLB) for park-adjusted ERA.
In terms of success against that other league, the AL West has gone 44-28 (61.1%) with a run differential of +76. The AL East has done about as well, going 53-37 (58.9%) with a run differential of +73. Looking at all these numbers–which admittedly sometimes makes even me feel like I’m looking at a Magic Eye–it’s hard to argue definitively that the AL West is best, but easy enough to show it is right up there with the AL East.
You might argue that the AL East, with Boston currently in fifth, is the deepest division around. But if the playoffs started right now, the AL West would have two teams in for sure, and the East would have just one. Oakland would be playing Baltimore for the final playoff spot, and with the A’s +17 run differential against the O’s -44, there is little debate in my mind which is the better team. And let’s not crap all over Seattle (remember, this is a blog about the Mariners). The AL West’s worst team has an expected record of 47-50 (based on runs for and against) putting it snugly between the Rays and the Orioles in those wonderful hypothetical standings.
With strength at the top (back-to-back showings in the World Series) and a pulse at the bottom (we aren’t that bad), the AL West has the depth and talent to be considered–at least–in heated competition for the best division in the American League (and really, thus, the majors).