Monday, October 24, 2011

AL West Preview

Below is the AL West Season 4 Preview. Teams are listed in no particular order.

Seattle Mariners

Season 3 record – 77-85

Pythag Expected – 80-82

Season 4 Payroll - $67.7M

ML Players Acquired: 2B Melvin Rose (trade), 1B Matt Teixeira (trade), DH Bruce Connelly (FA), C Eric English (FA), SS Rigo Mujica (Rule 5).

MiL Players Acquired: DH Larry Browning (trade)

ML Players Lost: 1B Gerald Martin (trade), SP Arthur Bynam (trade), RF Nipsey Greer (FA), C Jered Ross (FA), SS Chase Mackowiak (FA), SS Nicky Cronin (FA).

MiL Players Lost: SP Hipolito Lima (1st Rd Pick, traded), RP Ruben Villalona (comp 1st rd pick, traded), SP Aubrey Pavlik (1st Rd pick, traded), RP Artie Blackburn (trade).

Outlook: Coming off back-to-back 90+ win seasons, Seattle fell off the pace in season 3, posting the franchise’s first losing season. The advanced metrics suggest they performed close to expectations as well. Moving into season 4, ownership decided to shake it up a bit, in what owner jakaitis referred to as a “schizophrenic” offseason.

Last year’s major problems were the offense and bullpen, as Seattle’s rotation did a good job of keeping them in games. Ultimately, the offense couldn’t spark a rally, or the bullpen would give some ground and Seattle wound up as an average squad. As a result, many moves were made in the offseason to address the areas of concern. In comparison to their division rivals, Seattle was easily the most active team this offseason.

In addition to the myriad moves above, Seattle is also going to summon some top hitting prospects to reinforce the offense this year. RF Rich Coco brings an all around talent to the middle of Seattle’s order, DH Frank Terrell will flat out kill the ball when he’s in the lineup (though low DUR is a major concern), and we might even see some of COF Cliff Drew later in the year, bringing a power bat and discerning eye to the show.

On the other side of the ledger, Seattle will continue to rely on a strong rotation. Though they lack a true top-end ace, Seattle can boast several reliable middle of the rotation types – Carter, Osoria, Diaz, and Martinez; the final three of which are in their mid-20’s still. Add to the mix late season call-up Fritz Gray and Seattle certainly has a formidable starting five. While those guys hold down the fort, Seattle continues to work the phones in an attempt to land a true #1. Should those efforts eventually prove fruitful, the rest of the division may want to watch out.

Key Run Producer: Teixeira is the strongest bat in the ML lineup currently, though it is likely that Terrell will post the best production once he gets the call. If he can stay in the lineup even 75% of the time, Seattle’s offense will be markedly improved.

Key Run Preventer: Gray has all the tools to step into the top of this rotation, and a full season of him taking the ball every fifth day should certainly help Seattle’s staff. As previously mentioned, Seattle has an abundance of #2-3 type SP, so they’ll need someone – possibly Gray – to step up and lead the staff.

train’s Season 4 Prediction: Seattle looks improved in all facets, and a return to contention in the division is well within reach. 85-90 wins sounds about right.

Colorado Rockies

Season 3 record – 109-53

Pythag Expected – 98-64

Season 4 Payroll - $81M

ML Players Acquired: RP Rick Coveleski (pending trade as of this writing), RP Eugene Beckham (pending trade).

ML Players Lost: LF Benito Marichal (FA), SS Andrew Forbes (FA).

MiL Players Acquired: none

MiL Players Lost: RF Yovani Rijo (season 3 $20m INT Bonus Baby, traded), LF Max Rios (traded), SP Ralph Torres (traded).

Outlook: Colorado ran away from the rest of the competition in season 3, comfortably winning the division by about a hundred games (approximate). For nearly the entire preseason, they adopted the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, content to avoid any FA or trades until just recently (more on that later).

Colorado did just about everything right in season 3. The offense clicked just like you’d expect for a Rocky Mountain-based team, though the home/road splits were as severe as you’ll ever see - .927 team OPS at home, .705 away. The amazing part of the Colorado season came from their moundsmen. Colorado had multiple Cy Young candidates, which is not a common occurrence in that park. All return for season 4.

Reinforcing that ridiculous pitching staff is some new bullpen arms we alluded to previously. Colorado moved some pretty good pieces to solidify the ‘pen, which was the only real area of concern for this team. Last year’s bullpen featured a lockdown closer, and a lot of uncertainty in every other role. The additions of Coveleski and Beckham should help alleviate some of that uncertainty. Adding a solid back-end of the ‘pen to an already-strong rotation and lineup is scary to the rest of the division, to say the least.

Key Run Producer: Hiplito Iglesias is a beast, pure and simple. He loves hitting a mile high and the fans love him for it. His career triple slash line is an absurd .356/.449/.629. Does he play any defense? Nope. Does he need to with that bat? Nope. He’ll continue to key a potent Rocky attack.

Key Run Preventer: Taking time away from a long-running broadcasting career, SP Hugh Downs was dominant after a mid-season trade last year. If he can duplicate those results again this year, the rest of the Colorado rotation will fall into place nicely behind him.

train’s Season 4 Prediction: If you look at the expected season 3 record, you’d assume some serious regression is in order for Colorado. That said, the season 4 version is arguably stronger than last year, thanks to the improved bullpen. 100 wins is the likely target for this squad, though I’m going to pencil them in for somewhere in the 95-100 range.

Anaheim Angels

Season 3 record – 60-102

Pythag Expected – 66-96

Season 4 Payroll - $72.1M

ML Players Acquired: (COF) Milt Forbes (trade), LF Peter Thurman (Rule 5)

MiL Players Acquired: None

ML Players Lost: None

MiL Players Lost: P Scooter Thomas (trade)

Outlook: Season three saw the Angels continue to decline in the standings. Win totals have dropped from 98 to 80 to 60 last season. At the same time, an ownership change occurred, with new owner mskakunan coming on board. Any time you lose 100+ games, more things went wrong than right. Such was the case for Anaheim in season 3.

The offense struggled mightily during the season, with only Michael Blasingame carrying his weight. Fortunately, he’s young and talented and a good piece to build around. Rule 5 pickup Peter Thurman should contribute (at the very least he should pound lefties), and 3B Phil Perez should return to form after a serious injury. The rest of the offense also struggled, and as a team they posted just a .705 OPS. Likewise, the pitching struggled, with only one pitcher finishing with an ERA under 4 (min 60 IP). Derek Hoffman, in particular, underperformed with an ERA near 5. Given his level of talent, Anaheim should expect some positive regression this season.

For now, Anaheim is firmly focused on the future. As mskakunan put it, “the highlight of this team’s season will likely come on amateur draft day.” Given the relative strength of the three other teams in the division, a dedicated effort to rebuild appears to be the proper path.

Key Run Producer: Blasingame is a star amid a sea of darkness (or something like that). He should continue to produce, though the rest of the lineup will need to help out more this season.

Key Run Preventer: Gerald Lui did a great job out of the pen last season, but the team will need Hoffman to step up to creep back into contention. More innings equals more importance in this category, and Hoffman will be counted on to be the horse in the rotation this year.

train’s Season 4 Prediction: It looks to be another tough year in the magic kingdom (that’s Disneyland, right?). With a focus on the future the next few years could be lean, but needed. That said, 60 wins seems to be below the level of talent here, and approaching - but possibly just missing - 70 wins seems more realistic.

Oakland Athletics

Season 3 record – 86-76

Pythag Expected – 93-69

Season 4 Payroll - $38M

ML Players Acquired: SP George Foster (trade), LF Louis Wise (rule 5), RP Roy Campbell (Rule 5)

MiL Players Acquired: None

ML Players Lost: DH Nate Cunningham (FA), RF Ed Parkinson (FA)

MiL Players Lost: C Juan Rosa (trade), SP Ryan Fasano (trade)

Outlook: Oakland posted a near-identical record in seasons 2 and 3, with the notable difference being a playoff run all the way to the season 3 World Series, attributable mostly to luck. With a young and inexpensive (for now) core, Oakland hopes to build off that success and land another playoff spot. Given the strength of Colorado, and a likely Seattle resurgence, that could prove difficult.

The offense performed reasonably well, considering the drain on offense provided by the home park. Unfortunately most of the key players suffer from either low DUR, low Health, or both. While they remained relatively healthy last season, that may not occur again this year. Oakland does plan to call up former top pick Benj Fox, despite the fact that he’s clearly missing an “I” in his first name. In addition to vowel-deficiency, Benj also suffers from the low DUR/Health as other Oakland position players, but he should help the offense at 2B when he’s in the lineup.

On the pitching side of the ledger, Oakland offers up a similar rotation to Seattle’s: A lot of mid-rotation types, all fairly young, but no true ace at the top. If Oakland can add an ace, they could be truly dangerous. The biggest weakness for this team is the bullpen. Attempts to acquire bullpen help in the offseason proved to be a bit too expensive for management’s taste.

Key Run Producer: Coming off three consecutive strong offensive seasons, C Jake Rhodes is back for more. While low DUR limits him to 120-ish games, he can usually be penciled in for .300/.400/.500 each year. His receiving skills leave a bit to be desired, but this paragraph is about offense, folks.

Key Run Preventer: Oakland is moving Brian O’Malley into the rotation this year, and will need him to provide solid numbers over at least 160-ish innings. He has some stamina concerns, but management is hoping he can cut it as a starter.

Outlook: The WS run last season was nice, but the reality is Oakland was really a mid-80’s win team, and is bringing back a similar roster again this season. The expected win% indicates a slight underperformance and something near 90 wins seems reasonable.

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