Mar 272013
 

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

  1. Oakland Athletics
  2. Seattle Mariners
  3. Houston Astros

Breaking down the West   Oakland cant do it again in 2013...can they?The Oakland Athletics won the American League West last year in dramatic fashion, snatching the division title away from the Rangers on the final day of the season.  If you are reading this, I’m betting that you haven’t forgotten.

With a hodge-podge of contributing veterans, break-out players, timely performances and a Cuban who is slugging his way towards stardom, the A’s won the division when the consensus going into 2012 was that they would finish a distant third to the Rangers and Angels.

So, who would dare pick them to finish third again?  Who would challenge Moneyball?  Who would give the A’s their bulletin board material in 2013?  Me…and Dan Szymborski of ESPN.com…and others for that matter…but most importantly ME.

Bottom line (oddly near the top of the article), I’m not a believer.  The Rangers helped the A’s to the West title last year more than any other team in baseball could have.  The A’s don’t have what it takes to win the AL West without another collapse from the Rangers and Angels.  

The Bats & Gloves

This is still a lineup made up of guys (with the exception of a few) that are relative no-names.  No offense to those guys, but these just aren’t names that the average baseball fans is familiar with.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t good…

Projected Line-up

  1. Coco Crisp, CF
  2. Jed Lowrie, SS
  3. Josh Reddick, RF
  4. Yoenis Cespedes, LF
  5. Brandon Moss, 1B
  6. Seth Smith, DH
  7. Josh Donaldson, 3B
  8. John Jaso, C
  9. Scott Sizemore or Eric Sogard, 2B

There are some projections out there that have Jaso batting higher in the order and even 2nd, but Lowrie is leading candidate.  Former Diamondback outfielder Chris Young will also probably get plenty of ABs as the fourth outfielder on the team.

Three bats that peak my interest:

  • Breaking down the West   Oakland cant do it again in 2013...can they?Brandon Moss…solid player who far exceeded expectations in 2012 – or – late blooming journeyman who just needed a chance to prove he is a middle of the order talent?  The 29 year-old Moss, with his fourth team in Oakland, broke out like no other in 2013, and while I’m inclined to call it a “one-hit wonder”, I’m not quite ready to completely dismiss Moss.  In 265 crucial at-bats last year, he hit 21 bombs with a .954 OPS.  Projected over a full season, he would have been a 40+ HR, 100+ RBI MVP candidate.  The only other season in his career in which he had as many plate appearances was in 2009 when he hit 7 dingers with a .236 batting average with 120 more at-bats than what he had last year.  So, will the real Brandon Moss please stand up?  Like I said, I’m intrigued.
  • John Jaso was once trusted to lead off by the great Joe Maddon (he with the sweet black-rimmed specks).  Jaso flies under the radar (just like the A’s like ‘em), but is an extremely productive player when you take into account he is a catcher (thin position).  Last year with the Mariners, he hit 10 HRs with 50 RBIs over just 294 at-bats, while putting together an impressive slash – .276/.394/.456.  While it’s quite possible that Jaso too played above his head a bit in 2012, this dude can hit and he is a perfect fit for this line-up.  Derek Norris will still get time behind the plate, but Jaso’s bat will find away in to the line-up more often than not.
  • Breaking down the West   Oakland cant do it again in 2013...can they?Yoenis Cespedes scares me and he should scare you too.  As stated earlier, this team is made up of a bunch of second-chancers and no names with the exception of a few….and Cespedes is part of the few.  Wanna dark horse for 2013 AL MVP?  Look no further.  Cespedes put together an impressive rookie campaign in 2012 with a .292/.365/.505 slash, but when you look at the splits, you see that he really figured it out in the second half of the season with an OPS of 119 points higher than the first half.  He doesn’t care if the pitcher is a rightie or a leftie, and get’s even better when runners are in scoring position (.345/.430/.540 slash with RISP).

Defensively…well, you’ve probably seen Moneyball…so you know how Billy Beane does it.  Outfielders are good, infielders are average…again, breaking down defense is boring.  Not dismissing it’s importance, but c’mon…

The Arms

The A’s have an impressive stable of young starters who, while none of which are Ace material, combine to make a strong rotation – that’s synergy…maybe.

Projected Rotation

  1. Brett Anderson, LHP
  2. Jarrod Parker, RHP
  3. Tommy Milone, LHP
  4. A.J. Griffin, RHP
  5. Bartolo Colon, RHP

Dan Straily will be the 5th starter for at least the first time through the rotation, but it’s really Colon’s spot to lose.

  • 2nd in the American League in team ERA at 3.48
  • 2nd in the American League in team WHIP at 1.239
  • Last in American League with just 1 Complete Game – they rely on their pen.
  • In the bottom 3 of the AL in strikeouts while in the bottom 5 in the AL in walks – they don’t blow you away, but they also don’t give free passes.

They will definitely miss Brandon McCarthy, but Brett Anderson and Jarrod Parker make up a pretty salty 1-2 punch at the top of the order.  Parker has the potential to be something special for the A’s long-term at the tender age of 24 and under the team’s control through 2017.

The Bullpen

Given the stat above of only one complete game last year, the A’s are a team that leverages their bullpen regularly….exactly 161 times in 2012.  Grant Balfour will be the closer once again.  The bullpen, like the rest of this team, underwhelms you by name but gets the job done.

The Manager

Bob Melvin is a healthy 6’4″, 205 pounds and has a career managerial record of 634 – 628, so….there’s that.

The Bottom Line

Look, the Athletics are a dangerous team, as proven by last year’s dominance down the stretch, but…I don’t think they are better than the Rangers or the Angels…on paper…which is why they play the games.

Could the A’s surprise us all again?  Of course, but this team is not a playoff team without help, in the form of a collapse, from the Rangers and/or Angels unless both wild card teams happen to come from the American League West (which was the prediction from ESPN The Magazine).

  • Best Case: 94-68, same as last year.  While the Astros will help them out in the win column, I see more consistent and improved play from the Rangers and Angels stopping the Athletics from improving upon last year’s mark.
  • Worst Case: 82-80, this team is better than .500, barring any major injuries.

Down to the top 2 now…stay tuned.


Side note – we are less than 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 tomorrow.  Looking forward to it!

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Feb 102012
 

2012 American League West by Position (Part 2)On to round two…

To catch up on what we’re doing and understand the scoring, check out Part 1.

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

Left Field

  1. 2012 American League West by Position (Part 2)Josh Hamilton, TEX
  2. Vernon Wells, LAA
  3. Seth Smith, OAK
  4. Trayvon Robinson, SEA

Let’s break this down.  Vernon Wells is a better player than what we saw in 2011.  Josh Hamilton is as well.  Josh Hamilton is a better player than Vernon Wells.  Is he so much better that he deserves the bonus point here?  I think so.  If we go by 2011 alone, Josh would easily get the bonus, posting a 4.2 WAR, with Wells at 0.3 (Seth Smith was actually better than Wells with a 1.9).

I’m willing to look beyond just 2011 as I do really think Wells will improve upon his first season with the Angels, in which he only played in 131 games.  That said, I think you could say the same thing about Josh.  While his 2011 numbers look good, they were accomplished in only 121 games due to injuries.  Hamilton posted a .882 OPS, compared to the 1.044 OPS he posted in 2010 (MVP season).

In addition to the superior 2011, Josh is also the superior player.

Center Field

  1. 2012 American League West by Position (Part 2)Peter Bourjos/Mike Trout, LAA
  2. Coco Crisp, OAK
  3. Craig Gentry/Julio Borbon, TEX
  4. Franklin Gutierrez, SEA

This was the weakest position across the board in 2011, with Bourjos putting together the best year without question.  There are rumors swirling that the Angels may look to deal Bourjos to make room for phenom Mike Trout.  While I like the idea of Bourjos leaving the American League West, I don’t know if I like the idea of Trout getting more playing time.  Whether it’s Bourjos or Trout or a combination of both (worst case), they lead the pack.  In fact, I’m giving the Angels duo the bonus here, which can base on speculation or Bourjos’ production last year (4.2 WAR) compared to the others on the list.

The battle for 2nd here was very close in my mind, and while I think Gentry can continue to improve (if he wins the job outright), I think Crisp is a better player in 2012.  This is definitely one to watch.

You could make an argument to put Gutierrez in the 3rd spot here, but he’s too far removed from his best season (2009) to think he’s going to be able to bounce back enough to outperform whoever mans center for the Rangers.

Right Field

  1. 2012 American League West by Position (Part 2)Torii Hunter, LAA
  2. Nelson Cruz, TEX
  3. Ichiro Suzuki, SEA
  4. Josh Reddick, OAK

This was the toughest ranking of the outfield positions by far.  Let’s start at the bottom.

Reddick put together a nice season, but needs to prove he can do it again, which I don’t think he’ll do in 2012 as he’ll be in  much weaker line-up.

Ichiro is a Hall of Famer, and one of the greatest hitters of my lifetime.   Ichiro is also going to turn 39 later this year, and while it doesn’t look like he’s slowing down (40 SBs in 2011), his offensive production is on the decline.

So, it comes down to Nellie and Torii for the top spot.  I know many of my fellow Ranger fans are going to gripe about this one, but I have to give Hunter the top spot for 2012.

Cruz had the higher OPS in 2011, and is the better offensive player at this point.  Hunter is the better defensive player and has proven to be more durable and reliable.  It’s very close, but 150 games from Hunter edges out 125 games from Cruz.  Prove me wrong Nellie…

Designated Hitter

  1. 2012 American League West by Position (Part 2)Michael Young, TEX
  2. Jesus Montero, SEA
  3. Mark Trumbo/Kendry Morales, LAA
  4. Jonny Gomes, OAK

Jesus Montero has the ability to be #1 on this list, as does Mark Trumbo, but they won’t in 2012.

Montero was a very highly regarded prospect that came up in the Yankees farm system and debuted last year with the big league team.  He was recently dealt to Seattle in exchange for Michael Pineda.  While he’s well on his way to becoming a productive big league hitter, he’s still developing and has moved to a weaker line-up.  If we’re talking long-term, Montero is easily #1 on this list, as he has more upside than just about anyone on any of these lists. With that, I feel good about slotting him 2nd.

At first glace, I had the Angels in the 2nd spot here, but The Angels, like the Rangers, have some flexibility (though not as much) with the guys that are going to DH this year in that Trumbo and Morales can also play first base.

The soon-to-be 38 year-old Bobby Abreu struggled in 2011, and is becoming more of a situation hitter as opposed to a full-time DH, so I’ve removed him here.  It’s going to be interesting to see who get the bulk of at-bats at the DH position for LA in 2012.  I’m leaning towards it being split pretty evening, with Morales seeing a few more at-bats if he’s healthy, primarily because he’s a switch hitter.

Score at the end of Round 2:

  1. Rangers: 21 from Round 1 + 5 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 35
  2. Angels: 17 from Round 1 + 3 + 5 + 4 + 2 = 31
  3. Athletics: 8 from Round 1 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 1 = 15
  4. Mariners: 7 from Round 1 + 1 + 1 + 2 + 3 = 14

Round 3 will be posted early next week and will cover the bench and the manager.

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