Feb 212013
 

Weekly preview of each of the Rangers’ American League West rivals for the 2013 season – from the bottom up.

  1. Houston Astros

Breaking Down the West   Houston Astros: Will a move to the AL get them out of the cellar?

The Rangers’ cross-state inter-league rival is making the move to the American League West starting in the 2013 season to become a more frequent opponent on the Rangers’ schedule and potentially bring more intrigue and consequence to each match-up.

Breaking Down the West   Houston Astros: Will a move to the AL get them out of the cellar?

New Manager Bo Porter hopes to get things turned around in Houston.

The Astros are a young team who will struggle to really build their identity in the American League in 2013.  However, with new manager Bo Porter in place, a respected front-office and a strong farm system (4th on Keith Law’s organizational rankings),they hope to get out of the cellar in the next 2-3 seasons.

Unfortunately, with the move to the AL West (Hello DH!), the limited experience of many key players (youth) and the anticipated improvement in Seattle, it’s not likely that they will finish anywhere but last this season.  The question is, how many games will this team lose?

After finishing last in the National League Central in 2011 and 2012, with 106 and 107 losses respectively, the win’s won’t come any easier in 2013.  Is another 100+ loss season on tap for the Lastros (sorry, couldn’t resist)?  Uhhhh…yes.

The Bats & Gloves

As stated earlier, the Astros have some young talent at the Major League level and the large majority of that, if not all, falls to the position players.  With some moving parts and flexibility in the line-up, it could easily change, but…

Projected Lineup (from Chip Bailey, Ultimate Astros blog)

  1. Breaking Down the West   Houston Astros: Will a move to the AL get them out of the cellar?

    Jose Altuve will set the tone for the Astros’ lineup in 2013.

    Jose Altuve, 2B

  2. Tyler Greene, SS
  3. Brett Wallace, 1B
  4. Chris Carter, LF
  5. Justin Maxwell, CF
  6. J.D. Martinez, RF
  7. Carlos Pena, DH
  8. Jason Castro, C
  9. Matt Dominguez, 3B

There are many potential variations out there for the Astros’ lineup, but the players are pretty set with the exception of OF Fernando Martinez who should crack the lineup regularly throughout the season.

The 5’5″ Altuve is a solid lead-off option, but beyond that the Astros have a number of question marks with inexperience and inconsistency being the big culprits.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some players here, but I don’t think the Astros can count on the offense to improve enough to avoid 100 losses again.

If a couple of the youngsters (Martinez, Martinez, Wallace, Castro & Dominguez) can break out and if they can get some consistency from the veterans (Pena, Maxwell), they could help win 7+ more games in 2013, but….

The Arms

Breaking Down the West   Houston Astros: Will a move to the AL get them out of the cellar?

Can the Rocket improve this pitching staff?

A few key figures from 2012:

  • .270 Batting Average Against – 27th in the Majors
  • .337 Opponents On-Base Percentage – 28th in Majors
  • .427 Opponents Slugging Percentage – 25th in Majors
  • 2.17 K/BB – 25th in Majors
  • 1.43 WHIP – 29th in Majors
  • Only blew 19 saves…but that was on only 50 save opportunities, so good enough for a 62% Save Rate – 26th in Majors

With all due respect to Andrew McCutchen, Ryan Braun and Joey Votto…it’s not going to get any easier in the American League West.

The Astros brought former Cy Young award winner Roger Clemens in to help, but that’s not going to help unless he brought Brian McNamee along.

The Rotation

There are as many as 10 pitchers in the mix, vying for a spot in the starting rotation, but here’s what’s likely:

  1. Bud Norris
  2. Lucas Harrell
  3. Phillip Humber
  4. Jordan Lyles
  5. Erik Bedard

Brad Peacock, Alex White, Jared Cosart and John Ely are all talented young pitchers who will very likely get a shot at some point during the season as well.

The Pen

Looking at this bunch, I would say there are no clearly defined roles with setup and closing duties open for competition in Spring Training – and the possibility of some of the youngsters mentioned above (Peacock, White, Cosart and Ely) fighting for spots in the bullpen (ala Robbie Ross).

More than likely, Jose Veras will be the closer at least to start the season.

The Manager

First year rookie manager Bo Porter has his hands full, but barring a cluster of unforgivable mistakes, expect the Astros front office to have some patience with him.  I, for one, think Porter was an excellent hire and if given time can be a good major league manager.

From “The Legend of Bo Porter” on RantSports.com:

Porter studied all 162 games of the Astros season last year. He believes the Astros could have won 35 more games than the 55 that the Astros did actually win. If you do the math, that is 90 win season for the Astros and would have ultimately propelled the Astros into the playoffs as the second Wild Card. Porter said those 35 games were lost at the “breaking point”. He also went on to say all the Astros need was mental toughness, and of course, a little motivation.

Maybe a little much, but shows the enthusiasm and confidence.

The Bottom Line

Breaking Down the West   Houston Astros: Will a move to the AL get them out of the cellar?

Astros’ prospect Delino Deshields Jr.

The facts:

  • New rookie manager
  • Move to the American League
  • Lots of unproven young talent
  • Very shaky (at best) pitching staff
  • Highly regarded front office
  • More young talent in the minor league system

Not working this game by game, but here are my predictions:

  • Best case: 77-95 – Altuve solidifies himself as an up-and-coming MLB star, a couple of the young bats really break out and Brad Peacock and Alex White save the pitching staff.
  • Worst case: 52-110 – Altuve regresses and Porter can’t find the right mix offensively or with his staff all season.

Up next…stay tuned.

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Feb 182012
 

This is the final round of our American League West Position Rankings.  To see how we got to our current standings/scores, be sure to check out the first three round.

Score at the end of Round 3:

    1. Rangers: 53
    2. Angels: 49
    3. Mariners: 26
    4. Athletics: 22

The primary reason for doing a full review of the American League West, rather than a Rangers vs. Angels review, was to provide a better reference point for how a player truly stacks up against his peers.  That said, the Rangers and the Angels have dominated the top two spot at most positions (exceptions being DH and CF).  The final round will consist of all facets of each team’s pitching, including 5 rotation spots, relief and the closer position.  Similar to the adjustments we made to the scoring for Manager and DH, we’re going to increase the weighting for the relief position since that is made up of a handful of pitchers and not just one.

Starting Pitching

We’re going to go through the starting 5 for each team’s rotation and stack them up against each other.  In order to avoid making assumptions around the rotation order, I’m going to be the using the depth charts for each team that they have posted on their team’s website.  They seem to be pretty accurate as to what most would think, with the exception of a few.

2012 American League West by Position (Part 4)   Final Scores

The Ace

  1. Jered Weaver, LAA
    1.  Felix Hernandez, SEA
  2. Colby Lewis, TEX
  3. Brandon McCarthy, OAK

Only real debate lies between the top two here, and I’ve gone back and forth on the order of these two guys quite a bit over the last few days.  It’s very close, but I give Weaver the slight edge, no I give it to Felix, no Weaver…you get the point.

2012 American League West by Position (Part 4)   Final ScoresYou could debate for days over who will have a better year in 2012, and in the end, I think they will both have dominating years where they finish in the top 8 in Cy Young voting.  With that said, I’m going to give them both the top spot from a points perspective, and I’m going to give them both the bonus point.  It’s not a knock on Colby Lewis, it’s just how good these two guys are.

The #2

  1. Dan Haren, LAA
  2. Yu Darvish, TEX
  3. Dallas Braden, OAK
  4. Jason Vargas, SEA
2012 American League West by Position (Part 4)   Final ScoresI’d love to give Yu the nod here, and this is one where I could dispute the order of the rotation, as I envision Darvish being the 3rd starter and Holland pitching 2nd, but it wouldn’t really matter, as Haren has an edge on both of them given the unknowns around Darvish and the need for continued development with Holland. While I think Darvish is capable of putting up similar numbers to what Haren delivered in 2011 (16 W’s, low 3 ERA, low WHIP), Haren has proven what he can do at the MLB level and takes the top spot here.Darvish takes the second spot in the rankings over a rehabbing Dallas Braden and a mediocre Jason Vargas.

You could make an argument for putting Vargas in the third spot, but I think Braden is the better pitcher if he can bounce back from injury successfully (and word is he is ahead of schedule).

The #3

  1. 2012 American League West by Position (Part 4)   Final ScoresC.J. Wilson, LAA
  2. Derek Holland, TEX
  3. Brett Anderson, OAK
  4. Hisashi Iwakuma, SEA

This is another close race between the top two, and I know my fellow Ranger fans are throwing their hands up in the air as they look at the ranking, but if I put my bias aside and look at the two  pitchers, I lean towards C.J. having a slightly better campaign in 2012.

Baseball Do followers probably don’t want to hear this, but I think C.J. is going to improve slightly in 2012, primarily due to his new ballpark and being closer to home – which you could argue that his pitching ability isn’t really improving, but rather his conditions are.

I also believe that Holland is going to take the next step in his progression towards being a front-line MLB starter.  He showed flashes of brilliance last year down the stretch and of course in showing us all that he could one day be an Ace with his performance in Game 4 of the World Series.  All that said, he needs to prove that he can put a full season together, avoiding a slow start and showing more consistency.

2012 American League West by Position (Part 4)   Final Scores

The #4

  1. Neftali Feliz, TEX
  2. Ervin Santana, LAA
  3. Blake Beavan, SEA
  4. Brad Peacock, OAK
Not going to spend a ton of time on these next two spots.  If you don’t already know how we feel about Feliz and what we expect from him production-wise in 2012, check out “The Other New Guy”.  Santana is a very good #4, but I think Feliz will have a better year.

2012 American League West by Position (Part 4)   Final Scores

The #5

  1. Matt Harrison, TEX
  2. Jarrod Parker, OAK
  3. Jerome Williams, LAA
  4. Charlie Furbush, SEA
We all know how good of a pitcher Matt Harrison is, primarily because his case has been stated so often as a reason for not signing Roy Oswalt.  For many teams, he is easily a mid-rotation guy, and far outpaces the other three pitchers on this list, and for that get’s the bonus point.
I give Parker the edge over Williams on speculation of what Parker could become vs. what we know of Jerome Williams.

2012 American League West by Position (Part 4)   Final Scores

Relief (not including Closer)

Given the importance of the bullpen and the fact the bullpen is generally made up of 6-8 pitchers, we are going to adjust the scoring for this position by multiplying it by two.

Keep in mind, that the names representing each team’s bullpen could change between now and Opening Day, and obviously by mid-season or season’s end.  That said, I’m going to try to avoid too much speculation with prospects and trades.

  1. Adams, Uehara (or maybe Mike Gonzalez…), Feldman, Ogando, Tateyama, Lowe – TEX
  2. Downs, Hawkins, Takahashi, Thompson, Cassevah, Bell, Mills, Jepsen – LAA
  3. Devine, Balfour, Fuentes, Wagner, Blevins, Carignan, Godfrey, De Los Santos – OAK
  4. Kelley, Wilhelmsen, Ruffin, Delabar, Sherrill, Jimenez – SEA
You could write an entire article breaking down the bullpens, but this is not the place.  The Rangers take the top spot primarily based on depth.  Downs and Adams are both top-notch set-up men, from there I think the depth of the Ranger bullpen gives them the edge.  They still need another left-handed specialist to replace Darren Oliver, which could be Mike Gonzalez, whom they are rumored to sign after they deal Koji Uehara.

2012 American League West by Position (Part 4)   Final ScoresCloser

  1. Brandon League, SEA
  2. Jordan Walden, LAA
  3. Joe Nathan, TEX
  4. Whoever, OAK
Three years ago, JoeNathan is the clear cut leader on this list and easily gets the bonus point.  That was then.  Now Nathan has something to prove, and while I’m fairly optimistic that Nathan will serve as a strong closer, I think Walden and League rank higher until Nathan proves it.I went back and forth between League and Walden for the top spot here.  League was better last year, and while I think Walden will get more saves than him in 2012, it’s going to be based on the fact that he will be presented with many more opportunities.  The better number to look at here is Save% (Saves/Opportunities), where League (88%) outshines Walden (76%) and I think he’ll continue to do so in 2012.

Final Score of the Baseball Do American League West Position Rankings

  1. Rangers: Score After 3 Rounds of 53 + 2 + 3 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 8 + 2 = 80
  2. Angels: Score After 3 Rounds of 49  + 5 + 4 + 4 + 3 + 2 + 6 + 3 = 76
  3. Mariners: Score After 3 Rounds of 26 + 5 + 1 + 1 + 2 + 1 + 2 + 4 = 42
  4. Athletics: Score After 3 Rounds of 22 + 1 + 2 + 2 + 1 + 3 + 4 + 1 = 36
There you have it.  On paper, according to Baseball Do, the Rangers should win the American League West in 2012.  And while I’m always on board with victory for the Rangers, the best part of all the time and work that went into these rankings and write-ups is that the games still have to be played on the field.

Keep in mind as well, that all four of these teams could look different by the trade deadline, with the Rangers and Angels both of some attractive pieces they could move in order improve, and the Mariners and Athletics have some attractive veterans they could deal in an effort to add youth.

My honest belief is that this is going to be one hell of a season for the Rangers and the Angels, which will come down to the final week, if the not the final 2-3 games.  The final series between the two is here in Arlington, September 28th through 30th, so get your tickets for those games now, as the entire season could hinge on those three games.  As fans, let’s just enjoy the ride.  A ride which will hopefully continue into the post-season for the Rangers and end with the ultimate reward…

‘case that’s the way baseball go…

2012 American League West by Position (Part 4)   Final Scores

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