AL West Preview
Today, Rich, Jeremy and I conclude the division series previews with the AL West. You can find past previews below:
The numbers presented are the averages of each of the projection systems featured on the Fangraphs player pages.
AVG OBP SLG Napoli, M. .246 .352 .480 Salty, J. .259 .336 .421 Suzuki, K. .265 .339 .382 Johjima, K. .259 .307 .392
Jeremy: The Rangers have a rare glut in catching depth, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the best hitter of the group. He put up a 27% line drive rate, which is really solid, but also a 37% strikeout rate, which is ridiculously high for someone who hit only three homers. The two factors resulted in a BABIP of .388 with a batting average of .253. Perhaps he should adjust to make more contact if it means sacrificing whatever power he may have, though of course it’s easier said than done.
Sully: I attended Game 3 of the ALDS last season, when Napoli hit a couple of moonshots at Fenway. I would love to see what he can do playing 125 games or so.
AVG OBP SLG Morales, K. .278 .321 .438 Davis, C. .279 .329 .531 Giambi, J. .239 .372 .463 Branyan, R. .235 .330 .465
Rich: None of these four first basemen held down the job a year ago. Kendry Morales has had a huge spring (.395/.427/.671 with 14 XBH in 82 PA). He won't replace Mark Teixeira's numbers but will surpass those provided by Casey Kotchman, who served as the Angels first baseman for four months last season.
Sully: Kudos to the Mariners for giving Russell Branyan the job. I've long wondered how he might be able to perform with everyday playing time. The M's are going to find out.
AVG OBP SLG Kendrick, H. .309 .340 .448 Kinsler, I. .287 .357 .472 Ellis, M. .256 .329 .398 Lopez, J. .281 .314 .418
Rich: Everybody except the AL West competitors would like to see what Howie Kendrick can do over a full season — if indeed he can stay healthy, which is something he has yet to accomplish. Kendrick, in fact, has never even played 100 games in a single season. His career walk rate (3.1%) and lack of home run power (12 HR in nearly 1000 career PA) suggest his ceiling may be much lower than his biggest supporters would like to believe.
Jeremy: Mark Ellis could foresee the collapse in the Free Agent market, but can he stop popping up a quarter of his fly balls?
Sully: Ian Kinsler hit .319/.375/.517 last season before going down. Given Kinsler's age - he's just 27, I will take the over on the projection listed above.
AVG OBP SLG Figgins, C. .281 .337 .370 Young, M. .293 .347 .418 Chavez, E. .251 .331 .435 Beltre, A. .267 .322 .459
Rich: Although Eric Chavez is only 31, I suspect he is at or near the end of the road. If not for his contract (which pays him $11M in 2009 and $12M in 2010 with a $3M buyout in 2011), I'm afraid Chavez may have been jettisoned by now. His OPS+ has declined from 134 in 2004 to 108 to 105 to 102 to 87 in 2008. The trend is not Eric's friend.
Jeremy: Adrian Beltre. Contract year. Not that he needs incentives. Contrary to popular belief, he’s lived up to his contract, as Fangraphs win values say he’s added $6 million in surplus value over the life of his contract. He’s always had a nice glove, and Safeco is probably the hardest park for right handed power hitters in baseball, so I’d expect some smart team to trade for him (The A's, Rich?) and reap the benefits.
Sully: Rich Lederer, 6/25/2007:
While Michael Young may be the face of the franchise, did it really make sense to give the 30-year-old shortstop an extension for his age 32-36 seasons at a cost of $16M per? Young wasn't eligible to test the free agent waters until after the 2008 campaign. Make no mistake about it, Young is a productive player but the majority of his value rests in his batting average and defensive position. Young will earn his new contract if he continues to hit .310-.330 while playing a decent shortstop, but how valuable will he be if his average slips to .275-.295 as his power declines, especially if he winds up at a less desirable position on the Defensive Spectrum?
AVG OBP SLG Aybar, E. .269 .310 .372 Andrus, E. .251 .302 .327 Cabrera, O. .276 .309 .379 Betancourt, Y. .282 .307 .404
Rich: Can anybody hit here? These shortstops look like they are right out of the 1960s or 1970s. And Yuniesky Betancourt's advanced defensive metrics were horrible last year. But, hey, he saw a MLB-low 3.15 pitches per plate appearance in 2008!
Jeremy: Yeah, can I pass? I’ll say Orlando Cabrera is the only one here still holding his job in August.
Sully: There's nothing really to add about this group. Elvis Andrus will have to be Ozzie Smith reincarnate to make up for his bat.
AVG OBP SLG Abreu, B. .282 .377 .441 Murphy, D. .271 .327 .438 Holliday, M. .297 .370 .500 Chavez, E. .273 .319 .364
Rich: This is a big year for Matt Holliday. The five-year veteran will be a free agent at the end of the season and needs to prove that he can hit outside Coors Field. His career home (.357/.423/.645) and road (.280/.348/.455) splits are about as pronounced as anybody's. That said, Hit Tracker's Greg Rybarczyk, in a guest column on our site, projects Holliday to post a .418 OBP and .563 SLG for an OPS (.981) that is much closer to his home than road performance.
Jeremy: I’m right there with you, Rich. Why do people use Holliday’s road stats as a proxy for his true talent level? Every hitter is better at home. Why not just use park-adjusted stats. A 140 OPS+ and .410 park-adjusted wOBA are awesome, and it would make sense to expect something similar this year.
Sully: Abreu hit .327/.408/.522 in the second half of 2008. If that's the hitter the Angels are getting out of the gates this season, it could go a long way in holding them over while some of their starters heal up.
AVG OBP SLG Hunter, T. .273 .331 .464 Hamilton, J. .296 .365 .523 Sweeney, R. .276 .340 .390 Gutierrez, F. .260 .319 .411
Jeremy: I’ve got to say, Josh Hamilton is highly overrated. So he tallied a bunch of RBI and put on a show during the home run derby. He was one of the worst defensive center fielders in baseball last year and was the third best hitter on his team behind Milton Bradley and Kinsler.
Sully: Now's the time for Ryan Sweeney. He took a big step forward last season, posting an above average offensive season in over 400 plate appearances. Now 24, he's the unquestioned starter on a team with high aspirations.
AVG OBP SLG Guerrero, V. .307 .372 .520 Cruz, N. .273 .343 .501 Buck, T. .266 .344 .429 Suzuki, I. .311 .358 .399
Rich: Just about the time I thought Big Daddy Vladdy was starting to lose it, the 33-year-old ... err, 34-year-old ... right fielder hits .330/.391/.580 during the second half last season. The Angels exercised their team option for 2009 but Guerrero is unsigned for 2010 and beyond.
Jeremy: Vlad and Ichiro are the two *most unique* players I’ve seen in my life. Bobby Abreu and Guerrerro in the corners are the antithesis of Endy Chavez and Ichiro in every way. I expect big things from Cruz, who not only had that well publicized sizzling end to the season with the bat, but also steals bases and is a solid outfielder. This might be his last chance.
Sully: In his Minor League career, Travis Buck hit .326. Last year, he hit .226. I think he is a solid bounce-back candidate in 2009.
AVG OBP SLG Rivera, J. .274 .321 .457 Blalock, H. .275 .336 .459 Cust, J. .243 .382 .466 Griffey, K. .248 .339 .426
Rich: Cust struck out, walked, or homered in 57 percent of his plate appearances last season. His 197 whiffs set an AL record and were the fourth-highest in the history of baseball. Did you know that the top four single-season totals took place in 2007 or 2008?
Jeremy: Interesting. I wonder how much of that is due to the fact that managers have a strong aversion to playing guys who struck out so often. I mean, there’s been a distinct change in styles of play, but managers have historically held a bias against batters who strike out, so as to avoid embarrassment. I’d imagine Juan Rivera plays a corner and Vlad or Abreu DHs. I’d also imagine neither Griffey nor Blalock plays more than 80 games.
Sully: It's amazing but Cust at DH might represent the single biggest positional advantage in the division. Maybe Napoli at catcher edges him.
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Saunders, J. 5.61 2.70 1.34 4.09 Weaver, J. 7.45 2.58 1.26 3.78 Moseley, D. 5.77 3.21 1.53 5.27 Adenhart, N. 5.71 4.52 1.61 5.10 Loux, S. 4.50 2.86 1.45 4.77
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Millwood, K. 6.29 2.77 1.44 4.61 Padilla, V. 6.24 3.37 1.44 4.88 Harrison, M. 4.98 3.40 1.52 5.17 McCarthy, B. 6.33 3.45 1.40 4.57 Jennings, J. 5.78 3.93 1.54 5.10
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Braden, D. 6.34 2.97 1.40 4.48 Cahill, T. 5.75 5.16 1.57 4.68 Eveland, D. 6.69 3.94 1.45 4.25 Anderson, B. 5.64 3.26 1.44 4.81 Outman, J. 5.75 4.13 1.52 5.35
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Hernandez, F. 7.93 3.11 1.32 3.78 Bedard, E. 9.24 3.44 1.26 3.51 Washburn, J. 5.19 2.89 1.39 4.44 Silva, C. 4.13 1.85 1.44 5.05 Rowland-Smith 7.18 3.80 1.40 4.09
Rich: If healthy, the Angels would have the best starting pitching in the division, perhaps by leaps and bounds. However, with John Lackey, Ervin Santana, and Kelvim Escobar shelved for April, the Halos will have to rely on prized prospect Nick Adenhart, journeyman Dustin Moseley, and never-has-been Shane Loux to comprise 60 percent of the rotation for at least the first month. I look for Adenhart to come through but am skeptical of Moseley and downright negative on Loux.
Jeremy: The Mariners have a pretty solid run prevention club. Felix Hernandez and Bedard make for an excellent front two, and the improved outfield defense will do wonders for the rest of the staff who have what you might call a strikeout problem. First step is admitting it, second is adding Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez.
Sully: The Mariners will be a real case study in how much we know about defense metrics. Consensus seems to be that Jarrod Washburn and Carlos Silva in particular stand to improve. Let's see how it plays out.
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Fuentes, B. 9.69 3.41 1.22 3.30 Arredondo, J. 7.68 3.55 1.32 3.66 Shields, S. 8.62 3.61 1.30 3.61
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Francisco, F. 9.82 4.10 1.31 3.59 Wilson, C. 8.07 4.30 1.43 4.37 Guardado, E. 6.32 3.27 1.43 4.61
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Ziegler, B. 5.48 2.92 1.30 3.44 Springer, R. 7.69 3.06 1.19 3.19 Casilla, S. 8.19 3.78 1.37 3.94
K/9 BB/9 WHIP ERA Morrow, B. 9.42 4.88 1.37 3.76 Batista, M. 5.53 4.52 1.61 5.07 Aardsma, D. 8.83 5.02 1.50 4.46
Rich: There are a lot of question marks here. Joey Devine, whose 0.59 ERA in 2008 was the lowest ever for any pitcher with 40 or more innings pitched, will visit Dr. James Andrews next week and is likely to miss at least a few weeks of action, if not the entire season. His injury leaves the closer role in the hands of submariner Brad Ziegler, who set a record with 39 consecutive scoreless innings to start a major league career last summer. Meanwhile, the Angels will have to muddle through without Francisco Rodriguez, the Rangers will hand the ball to the unproven Frank Francisco in the ninth inning, and Brandon Morrow has decided he would rather close than start for the Mariners.
Jeremy: Parting to the bullpen is such a poor decision for Morrow. Why are the Mariners letting him choose his path? And the Angels’ pen won’t miss a beat without K-Rod.
Sully: In 12 appearances last September, hitters pounded Ziegler to the tune of a .362/.423/.617 line.
Jeremy: Brandon Wood has to be better than Aybar, right? And Ramon Vazquez has to be better than Andrus, right? And a loaf of bread has to be better than Bettancourt, right? What’s going on at short?
Sully: Rich has a beat on this one. The Halos bench is the class of the AL West.
Do you foresee any surprises this season in the AL West?
Rich: If two or more of the Angels disabled starters fail to take the hill 20 times this season, then this division is up for grabs and the winner may be the first team to nab 81 victories.
Jeremy: The division is wide open, so any team could potentially surprise. But I feel like some teams will start to follow in the Rays’ footsteps, and not try to contend until ready. I think the Padres, Mariners, and Rangers, who all have progressive front offices best I can tell, will tank until they’re ready to compete. I don’t mean actually try to lose, but I mean they won’t actively try to make a run and make midseason trades so they can have a chance at third place (like the Astros did trading for Randy Wolf).
Sully: I'll take the Mariners to win more than 75 games, which would be a 14-game improvement off of their 2008 total.
Who are the awards candidates in the division?
Rich: MVP: Ken Griffey Jr. Oh wait, this is the 2009 Mariner version, not 1999.
CYA: Felix Hernandez is the best bet here. OK, the only bet.
ROY: Elvis Andrus is the only position player with any chance while Nick Adenhart, Brett Anderson, and Trevor Cahill are long shots as pitchers.
1. Los Angeles Angels: The Halos certainly won't win 100 games again but could fall short of last year's 89 Pythag season and still win this weak, four-team division.
1. Oakland Athletics - too many health questions in the Angels rotation. The default choice.