Mar 212013
 

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

  1. Seattle Mariners
  2. Houston Astros

Breaking Down the West   Seattle Mariners   Moving the fences in...The Mariners look forward to the arrival of the Astros in the American League West with the hope of getting out of last place for the first time in the last three years.  The Mariners took some positive steps during the offseason, including securing one of the best pitchers in the game to a long-term contract, but it won’t be enough to overcome Oakland, Anaheim or Texas.

This is a team with young talented players at some key positions in “King” Felix Hernandez (SP), Dustin Ackley (2B), Jesus Montero (C/DH), Kyle Seager (3B), Michael Saunders (RF) and the freshly drafted Mike Zunino (C).  Couple the young talent with some veterans sprinkled in and we should see the Mariners improve upon their 77-85 mark from 2012.  By how much is the question…

The Bats & Gloves

This lineup has some holes in it, but if a few of these guys can take a step in the right direction, it’s a lineup that could greatly improve over last year’s performance.

Projected Lineup

  1. Dustin Ackley, 2B
  2. Franklin Gutierrez, CF
  3. Kyle Seager, 3B
  4. Michael Morse, LF
  5. Kendrys Morales, DH
  6. Jesus Montero, C
  7. Justin Smoak, 1B
  8. Michael Saunders, RF
  9. Brendan Ryan, SS

I don’t think Manager Eric Wedge has unveiled his official Opening Day lineup, but it should look similar to what’s above, barring injury.  There are three bats in this lineup that peak my interest:

  • Breaking Down the West   Seattle Mariners   Moving the fences in...Dustin Ackley was less than impressive last year (.226/.294/.328) and MUST take a major step in 2013 for this lineup to have success.  Keep in mind that he is still only 25 years old, but as the table-setter, the Mariners will be depending on him to get on base at a higher rate than .294.
  • Kyle Seager is an impressive young player (also only 25) who I secretly admire.  In his first full season last year, Seager put up a pretty respectable line (.259/.316/.423) with many of his metrics improving in the second half.  I think Seager will improve further in 2013 and be an important part of this lineup’s run production.
  • In mid-December, the Mariners shipped the frustrating Jason Vargas to the Angels for Kendrys Morales who just didn’t have a spot in the Angel’s stacked lineup.  It was one of those rare intra-division trades that addressed a need for both teams at the major league level.  I loved this trade for the Mariners.  Morales has has been hindered by injury and lack of playing time over the last two seasons, but it wasn’t that long ago (2009) that he finished 5th in the AL MVP voting (.306/.355/.569) and was the centerpiece of the Angel’s lineup.  Can he return to that form?  He’s only 29 years old, and I could see the change of scenery and opportunity to play ever day get him close.

Defensively, the Mariners are good, as the mantra of “pitching and defense” is still part of their identity.  They only committed 72 errors in 2012 (2nd best in AL) and had the second highest Defensive Efficiency rating in the American League.

The middle of the lineup may get some help from the fences moving in, but remember…that works both ways.

The Arms

The Mariners have something that we Ranger fans have coveted for a long, long time…a true Ace.  Perhaps one of the more upsetting off-season occurrences that didn’t directly involve the Rangers was the contract extension between the Mariners and King Felix which will keep Hernandez in Seattle through 2019.

Quick – who were the other four starters for Seattle last year?

I gave you Vargas, so that doesn’t count, and you probably thought of former-Ranger prospect Blake Beavan.  Do either of those guys do much for you?  Me neither, but the Mainers pitching staff was pretty good in 2012 when compared to the rest of the American League:

  • 4th in team ERA in AL at 3.76
  • 3rd in team WHIP in AL at 1.241

So, this is what a pitcher’s park and King Felix will get you.

Projected Rotation

  1. Felix Hernandez
  2. Hisashi Iwakuma
  3. Joe Saunders
  4. Blake Beavan
  5. Brandon Mauer – this spot is still an open competition, but Mauer’s got my vote. Erasmo Ramirez was probably the favorite to win the spot (ala Martin Perez) and could still win the spot (ala not Martin Perez).

Breaking Down the West   Seattle Mariners   Moving the fences in...Can Hisashi Iwakuma be a legit #2?  There is no doubt in my mind that he can if he isn’t already.  Last year’s performance was good, but take a closer look – he was great at the end of the season.  Keep in mind 2012 was his first season in MLB, so the inconsistencies near the beginning of the season can be dismissed as part of his “adjustment period”.  In August and September, Iwakuma posted a 7-3 record with an ERA in the low 2′s.  I think he’s adjusted and gives the Mariners a nice 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation.

The Pen

The bullpen is fair, anchored by Tom Wilhelmson who assumed the closing duties last year and converted 29 saves on 24 opportunities.  Bullpens are generally boring.

The Manager

Eric Wedge.  Enough said.  Nothing special.  Career 703-755 managerial record with Indians and Mariners.

The Bottom Line

In my opinion, the Mariners could push for 3rd place in the American League West, but I think a 4th place finish is more likely.

IF…the the lineup can get consistency from some of the youngsters (Ackley, Montero, Smoak).  IF…the back-end of the rotation can be average.  IF…they can stay healthy.  Three big IF’s, but it could happen.

  • Best case: 84-78 record behind the emergence of Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero as legit major league all-star caliber players.
  • Worst case: 77-85…again…hey, they have King Felix.

Up next…you can probably figure it out from here.


Side note – we are close to two weeks away from the 2nd Annual Baseball Do Field Trip.  We still have tickets available.  If you want to go and your want your shirt to be ready for the Field Trip,  you need to order your tickets by next Wednesday at the latest.

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Feb 072012
 

2012 American League West by Position (Part 1)I recently got into an argument with a fellow Rangers fan regarding how much the Angels improved though their off-season acquisitions.  As we talked through Pujols and C.J., it lead to a position-by-position comparison of the Rangers and Angels for the 2012 season.  I’ve taken the next step here to bring the Mariners and Athletics into the argument.  While they look to have no reasonable chance to contend in the division, there are two reason to include them here:

  1. You never know.
  2. Allows us to rank 1-4 for each position.  So, even if you are primarily interested in Rangers vs. Angels, you can get an understanding of where the players actually stack up against other peers to give you a frame of reference.
We’ll break this up into four pieces to be posted over the next couple of weeks.  Feel free to chime in with your comments!
  • Catcher & Infield
  • Outfield & DH
  • Bench & Manager
  • Starting Rotation, Relievers & Closer
We’ll track inverse points (ex. Napoli is #1 catcher, so he get’s 4 points), and award a bonus point in situations where the top player has an extreme advantage over the rest of the players at that position.  We’ll define extreme advantage as a WAR (wins above replacement) variance of 2 or more in 2011.  WAR can be a bit inconsistent depending on the source, so we’ll be using fangraphs.com.

Catcher

  1. 2012 American League West by Position (Part 1)Mike Napoli, TEX
  2. Chris Ianetta, LAA
  3. Kurt Suzuki, OAK
  4. Miguel Olivo, SEA

Nap takes the top spot here easily and get’s the +1 with a 2011 WAR of 5.6, compared to Ianetta who was at 3.3.  Even with Napoli’s season being a bit of an outlier when you look at his career, I don’t see Ianetta or Suzuki closing the gap enought in 2012 to argue against it.

The biggest debate here is between 2nd and 3rd place, primarily because Ianetta is changing leagues and may be in adjustment mode during the first part of 2012.  That said, Ianetta had a better WAR and OPS in 2011, and will be managed by a former catcher that can certainly help in improve even further behind the plate.

1st Base

  1. 2012 American League West by Position (Part 1)Albert Pujols, LAA
  2. Mitch Moreland, TEX
  3. Justin Smoak, SEA
  4. Brandon Allen/Daric Barton/Chris Carter, OAK

Similar to catcher, you can’t argue with number one, as Pujols not only takes the prize, but also takes the bonus point with relative ease.  Pujols put up a 5.4 WAR last year in the National League with the Cardinals and a .906 OPS, which was a down year for him, compared to a .733 OPS for Moreland and .717 for Smoak.

The battle for 2nd and 3rd is a lot closer than most Rangers fans would like to think, as you can tell by the OPS stats above.  Statistically, Moreland and Smoak had  very similar years in 2011, with Moreland producing at a slightly higher level than Smoak in almost all categories.  Both are still young players that should improve even further in 2012.

I give the edge to Mitch here in a close one.  Smoak was the more highly touted prospect, so you might expect him to progress at a more accelerated rate than Moreland, but I don’t think you’ll see that in this case, primarily because of the teams that surround them.  Mitch faces far less pressure and will face many more bullpen caliber pitchers because of the extremely productive lineup that he is playing in.  Switch their situations, I would lean the other way.

2nd Base

  1. 2012 American League West by Position (Part 1)Ian Kinsler, TEX
  2. Howie Kendrick, LAA
  3. Dustin Ackley, SEA
  4. Jemile Weeks, OAK

This is by far the best position across the board.  Kinsler had the strongest campaign in 2011 and should be the most productive in 2012, but the divide between he and Kendrick is not big enough for the bonus here.

I think the rankings are clear cut, but we could see both Ackley and Weeks close the gap even further during 2012.

All three players had an OPS in 2011 above .761, with Ian leading the pack at .832.  There is no weak player in this bunch.

3rd Base

  1. 2012 American League West by Position (Part 1)Adrian Beltre, TEX
  2. Alberto Callaspo, LAA
  3. Scott Sizemore, OAK
  4. Kyle Seager, SEA

Clear cut number one at the hot corner, as Beltre dominated the group statistically.  Beltre’s dominance is enough to get him the bonus point here as well, outpacing Callaspo’s 2011 WAR ranking by 2.1 (5.7 for Beltre to 3.6 for Callaspo).

Callaspo get the nod for 2nd place here, but again, it could be closer than you think, and rumors of Mark Trumbo making the switch to 3rd base cloud the ranking a bit.  That said, if Callaspo is the starting 3rd basemen for the Angels in 2012, he’ll be hitting in the much more productive line-up and is better defensively.

Shortstop

  1. 2012 American League West by Position (Part 1)Elvis Andrus, TEX
  2. Erik Aybar, LAA
  3. Cliff Pennington, OAK
  4. Brendan Ryan, SEA
Close race for the top spot between Andrus and Aybar here, but Elvis takes 1st place by a small margin.  Statistically, the two are very close, with Aybar posting a higher OPS in 2011 at .743 compared to Elvis at .708.  Elvis is superior defensively and is the younger player.  Both stand to improve in 2012 as Elvis continues to mature and Aybar welcomes a much needed bat to the Angel’s line-up (Mr. Pujols).

This is my biggest decision in the rankings so far, and I have to lean towards Elvis here.  Even factoring out my bias, if that’s possible, I see Elvis improving at the plate in 2012 to an equal level of Aybar, and far outplaying Aybar defensively.

Score at the end of Round 1:

  1. Rangers: 5 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 4 = 21
  2. Angels: 3 + 5 + 3 + 3 + 3 = 17
  3. Athletics: 2 + 1 + 1 + 2 + 2 = 8
  4. Mariners: 1 + 2 + 2 + 1 + 1 = 7
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