Sunday, March 22, 2015

Texas Rangers 2015 Team Brewkdown


Texas Rangers

2014 Finish:              67-95 (Last Place)

Projected Batting Order                                                         My batting Order

RF        Shin Soo Choo                                                            CF        Leonys Martin
SS        Elvis Andrus                                                              SS        Elvis Andrus
3B       Adrian Beltre                                                             3B       Adrian Beltre
1B       Prince Fielder                                                                        1B       Prince Fielder
DH       Mitch Moreland                                                         RF        Shin Soo Choo
LF        Jake Smolinski                                                           DH       Mitch Moreland
C          Robinson Chirinos                                                     C          Robinson Chirinos
2B       Rougned Odor                                                           LF        Jake Smolinski
CF        Leonys Martin                                                           2B       Rougned Odor

Projected Starting Rotation/Closer

LHP                 Derek Holland
RHP                 Yovani Gallardo
LHP                 Ross Detwiler
RHP                 Colby Lewis
RHP                 Nick Tepesch
CLOSER          Neftali Feliz


2014 was a lost season for the Texas Rangers.  Despite an exciting offseason, injuries stopped them in their tracks.  Losing guys like Prince Fielder, Derek Holland and Shin Soo Choo gives you some cover but the rest of the team (aside from Adrian Beltre) played poorly.  And now the Rangers will have to try to come back without Yu Darvish, who will miss the year undergoing Tommy John surgery.

If the Rangers are going to return to legitimacy, they have to stay healthy.  They used the disabled list more than any other team in 2014 and paid over $46 million to players on the DL.  But health may not be enough. The Angels and Mariners look really good and Oakland should be formidable as well.  The Rangers will need to stay healthy, get their offense back to where it was and see the pitching staff get a lot better.  That’s a lot that has to go back for the Rangers to have a chance in 2015. 

Offense/Defense:

Last year’s Rangers team saw a dip in production across the board.  Offensively, their production dipped precipitously.  They ranked below average in R and were second to last in HR, which is shocking considering their home park.  The Rangers are built for offense, so getting better with the bats is key.

Adrian Beltre is the offensive leader on this club.  He was one of two players with a positive WAR last season (with Leonys Martin) and he hit 324 with 19 HR and 77 RBI.  He’s hit over 300 for 4 of the last 5 seasons and he hit over 30 HR 3 of the last 4 seasons.  With better protection, I think we can see him return to 25 HR with an average north of 280 and 85+ RBI. 

Prince Fielder missed the majority of the season with a neck injury.  In his last full season, he hit 279 with 25 HR and 106 RBI, which was actually a down season for him.  The Tigers didn’t like his production, so he was traded to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler last offseason before going to the DL for the first time in his career.  The question is, what does Fielder have left?  I personally believe he’s got a good amount left.  He’s still a big strong lefty playing in a park that is perfect for his power.  He may not hit 300 anymore, but if he hits 260+ with 30 HR and 100 RBI, that’s a win for this club. 

The other major offseason addition last year was Shin Soo Choo.   Choo appeared in 123 games last year hitting a mere 242 with 13 HR, 40 RBI, 53 R and 3 SB (in 7 attempts).  He still had an impressive OBP (340) but below his career mark of 383.  I predict a slight bounce back.  Think 270 with an OBP north of 360.  He may add in 15 HR and 80 R.  He spent the majority of his career in Cleveland as a middle of the order bat, but Cincinnati saw his OBP potential two years ago and turned to him to be a leadoff man.  He’s good at it, but with his declining speed I think he profiles better hitting 5th in this lineup, especially with his ability to hit for power.

Highly paid shortstop Elvis Andrus has been a disappointment since they signed him to an extension.  His AVG has fallen three straight years, his defense has gotten sloppy and he still can’t take a walk.  I think Andrus is good for 25+ SB, a 270 AVG and 70 R.  Not bad, but not what they are paying for.

One of the few bright spots for Texas last year was Leonys Martin.  Martin was a platoon player for years until interim manager, Tim Bogar, put Martin in the starting lineup where he excelled.  As a result, Martin played in 155 games, the most in his career, and hit 274 with 31 SB, 68 R and led the league in bunts hits (17).  I see the speedy center fielder hitting 275 with 40 SB and 80 R.  If he plays like that, we may see him move up in the lineup, perhaps freeing Choo to hit 5th and use his power to drive in some runs.

Catcher Robinson Chirinos played in 93 games last year showing good defensive skills and some power with 13 HR.  Jake Smolinski is winning the fight with Michael Choice for the starting job in left field.  Smolinski played well in 24 games last year hitting 349 with 3 HR.  Mitch Moreland is still around to DH and maybe take some at bats at first to give Fielder a rest.  Moreland has a long career of being a complimentary player but never a star.  Jewel of the franchise Jurickson Profar is likely to miss his second straight season with shoulder surgery.  As he was not available to replace Ian Kinsler last year, the team promoted Rougned Odor from Double A.  Odor hit 259 in 114 games last year while manning second.  He needed more seasoning, but the Rangers didn’t have the luxury of waiting.  He showed nice power (9 HR) and solid defense but no plate discipline, swinging at the first pitch in almost one third of his at bats and piling up the Ks.

This offense is top heavy.  They need to get good production from the top four spots of the lineup to really have a chance to succeed.  But those top 4 spots have questions.  Shin Soo Choo was limited by an injury, but struggled while he was playing.  Elvis Andrus has underperformed for 2 straight years.  Adrian Beltre is getting older.  And Prince Fielder is a big question mark whose numbers are trending the wrong way.  If the Rangers are going to succeed this season, Martin and Andrus have to have big years, Fiedler and Choo have to bounce back and Beltre has to keep doing what he’s been doing.

I think this offense will fare better if they are able to utilize the lineup I put up next to their projected batting order.  Choo can do a lot of things well, but they could really use his power, especially now that his speed is diminishing.  Having that power lower in the lineup in an RBI spot will help them.  But that can only happen if Martin continues to paly well enough to take over as the leadoff man.

The defense looks suspect.  Fielder was never good at first, but has gotten worse.  Andrus is losing range at short and playing sloppy.  Age has finally caught up to Adrian Beltre and his third base defense has suffered greatly.  Odor is above average at second.  Choo has lost a step in the outfield and is returning to right, the easiest outfield position to play in Arlington and also where he spent the majority of his career.  Martin is good in center and both Choice and Smolinski will be more than okay in left.  Chirinos is good behind the plate, but that only gives the Rangers two plus defenders in the field and maybe 2 more average ones.

Pitching:

The Rangers pitching staff wasn’t immune to injury either last year either.  They lost Derek Holland, Matin Perez and Matt Harrison and dealt with subpar performances from their substitutes.  As a team, the Rangers had a 4.49 ERA, second worst in the league.  To improve the staff, the Rangers added Yovani Gallardo and Ross Detwiler via trade.  The hope was they could support Holland and Darvish.  But news came down recently that Yu Darvish will need Tommy John surgery and will miss the season.  In addition, Harrison and Perez won’t be ready until June at best so the Rangers will have to figure something out.

Their new ace has to be considered Derek Holland, who truly doesn’t have the stuff to earn that designation.  He missed the majority of the year last season dealing with knee surgery and has reported discomfort in Spring Training, which has pushed his debut back.  Over six MLB seasons, Holland is 51-38 with a 4.32 ERA.  He’s got good command and can use his breaking pitchers at any point in the count, but he’s got to learn to keep runners off base. 

Yovani Gallardo was added this offseason via a trade with the Brewers.  Gallardo used to be considered an ace, but has not pitched like one in recent years.  Last year he went 8-11 with a 3.51 ERA.  Those numbers are fine, but the concern is the drop in Ks.  Gallardo had 200+ Ks from 2009 to 2012, but less that 150 the last few years.  However, he has surpassed 180 innings every year since 2009.  He could stand to avoid the walks more, but I like him for a 200 inning season with an ERA around 3.80 and 10 wins.

Newcomer Ross Detwiler will also be asked to deliver some big innings.  He was relegated to bullpen duty last year on the pitching rich Nationals but has 69 career starts under his belt.  His career ERA is 3.82, but it comes with troubling secondary stats.  Both his 1.37 career WHIP and 271 BAA are much higher than average and you worry about him moving to a great hitters park in the more offensive league.  He’s not a big strikeout guy and gives up too many hits.  I think he may struggle with an ERA north over 4.50 and perhaps more losses than wins.

Colby Lewis will now move from the 5th starter’s spot up into the middle of the rotation.  Last year, he logged 29 starts and went 10-14 with a 5.18 ERA.  The ERA was his worst since he returned to the Rangers (2010) and his WHIP (1.52) and BAA were both terrible.  My best case for Lewis is a sub 5 ERA and 8 wins with a full complement of starts.  He may reach 200 innings, but only because there is no one else to push him.

Expect to see both Tanner Scheppers and Nick Tepesch start some this year.  Tepesch went 5-11 with a 4.36 ERA in 22 starts last season.  He could stand to cut down on both walks and hits allowed, but he won’t kill you out there and the hope is with more experience he will get better.  He’s got the inside track on the fifth rotation spot, ahead of Tanner Scheppers who was terrible as a starter and much better in relief last season.  In 2013, Scheppers was a great reliever with a 1.88 ERA in 76 appearances.  They like him be in the bullpen, but he may have to spot start some if Derek Holland is late joining the team or others get injured. 

Neftali Feliz will anchor a bullpen that is due to see a lot of work.  Feliz is back in the closer’s role, after an up and down career.  He tried to start, had Tommy John, then went to the minors because of his loss of velocity.  He got most of it back and returned to the closer’s role at midseason, going 13 for 14 in Save chances with a 1.99 ERA.  He kept hitters off balance (183 BAA) and didn’t put runners on (0.98 WHIP).  I think he can still be an effective closer and pitch to a sub 3 ERA converting the majority of his Saves, despite his dropping K rate.

After him, there are questions.  Lefty Robbie Ross will join Scheppers as a long man in the bullpen.  The Rangers took a chance on Kyuji Fujikawa who missed last year with Tommy John and failed to impress in two seasons with the Cubs before that.  No other names jump out at you as overly talented, so the pitching staff could be in trouble, lacking guys with successful track records.

This pitching staff was hit hard by injuries last year and really struggled.  They have some injuries already this year and don’t look to be off to a good start.  The back of the rotation has questions, as does the bullpen.  I think this pitching staff will be hurting again this year and ultimately the loss of Darvish will be too much to overcome.

Prediction:

I initially liked the Rangers more this year.  The Astros aren’t ready and the A’s have lost a lot of offensive talent.  I also believe in Fielder and Choo.  If Leonys Martin keeps playing like he did at the end of last season, Beltre stays healthy, and Prince Fielder regains even half of his form, this team will score some runs.  But I think the pitching staff will keep this team well out of the playoff hunt.  I’ll put them down for 75 Wins and a fourth place finish.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Oakland Athletics 2015 Team Breakdown


Oakland Athletics

2014 Finish:              88-74 (Second Place)

Projected Batting Order

CF        Coco Crisp
3B       Brett Lawrie
2B       Ben Zobrist
DH       Billy Butler
RF        Josh Reddick
1B       Ike Davis
C          Stephen Vogt
LF        Sam Fuld
SS        Marcus Semien

Projected Starting Rotation/Closer

RHP                 Sonny Gray
LHP                 Scott Kazmir
RHP                 Jesse Hahn
LHP                 Drew Pomeranz
RHP                 Jarrod Parker
CLOSER          Sean Doolittle

The Oakland A’s have had an interesting offseason.  Billy Beane was extremely active due to the financial constraints placed upon him by his team.  The A’s pinned their hopes to the move to San Jose, but the San Francisco Giants turned to MLB to shut that down.  For that reason the A’s are stuck in an old park dealing with an apathetic fan base in an area that is far more interested in the Giants.  More immediately, that means the A’s are forced to cut ties with players sooner than other teams for economic reasons, not baseball ones.

There have been numerous changes for Oakland again this offseason.  Gone is a litany of quality players including Josh Donaldson, Jon Lester, and Jeff Samardzjia.
In return the A’s got quality prospects and a few major leaguers including Ben Zobrist, Jesse Hahn and Brett Lawrie.  Add to that free agent Billy Butler and the Athletics feature a team that is still talented, but doesn’t cost as much to put on the field.

The hope is that this team can still hit enough to support a talented young pitching staff.  While many think this will be a down year and stretch of mediocrity for Oakland, I’m not so sure.  I think Beane got enough quality major league players back and has enough pitching talent to stay interesting in the division at the very least.


Offense/Defense:

Over the past few years, the A’s have featured a very strong offense to go with some talented pitching.   Last year the offense slipped bit and it cost them.  The A’s hit 244 as a team, tied for second to last in the league.  Interestingly they were third in runs scored, but sat in the bottom half of hits, HR and SB, which means they may have been a bit lucky.  Beane knew he couldn’t afford to hang on to all the pieces of last year’s team and also felt that that team couldn’t win the division.  So he made some trades to keep the A’s competitive in the short term and rebuild a bit for the long term.

This year’s offense looks vastly different from the 2014 version.  At third, the A’s traded away their best player, Josh Donaldson and got Brett Lawrie back.  While he’s certainly a downgrade over Donaldson, the A’s hands were tied due to their financial constraints.  But getting a player of Lawrie’s caliber back is not too bad.  Lawrie’s biggest issue has been health, as he’s never played in more than 125 games in a season and was limited to 70 games last year.  In that time, he hit 247 with 12 HR and 38 RBI.  But his AVG has dropped each year he’s played and he didn’t even attempt a stolen base last year.  Lawrie is a fastball hitter who doesn’t handle breaking stuff well.  Additionally he gest upset easily and plays poorly when he’s angry. 

Billy Butler will join the A’s as their primary DH.  He is a line drive hitter with a career 295 batting average.  Butler played in 151 games with the Royals last year, but still hit fewer home runs (9) than any season other than his rookie year.  Playing in Kansas City saps power some, but playing in Oakland saps it even more.  Butler’s numbers are trending down as he gets older, with his AVG and HR totals dropping consistently over the last 3 years.  But I think he’s got something left in the tank.  He won’t hit 300 with 40 doubles and 100 RBI anymore, but I think he can hit 270 again, with perhaps 10 HR and 70 RBI.

Coco Crisp is the spark that gets the offense going.  This year, the A’s are moving him out of center and into left, hoping the move will keep him healthy.  He’s a career 270 hitter with 297 career SB.  But his speed has been a bit sapped by age and his AVG has dropped over recent years.  Last year he hit 246 with only 19 SB.  But he gets on base at a 330+ clip and is a great clubhouse presence.  Also, he’s got some pop with 9 HR last year and 22 in 2013.  I think a full season from him (which is probably only 140 games) can see a return to the 260 territory with a 330+ OBP, 25 SB, 10 HR and 75 R. 

The last major offensive piece in Oakland this season will be Ben Zobrist, who was added via trade from the Rays.  Zobrist is a very talented player who can contribute a little bit in each category offensively and play just about every position on the field.  Last season, he hit 272 with 10 HR, 10 SB, 52 RBI and 83 R.  I think the A’s will ask Zobrist to hit third this year.  I like him for 270, 10 HR, 70 RBI, 70 R and 10 SB.

The rest of the A’s offense is a mixed cast.  Ike Davis will play first and hope to finally be healthy.  After hitting 32 HR in 2012, Davis has only managed 20 in the last two seasons.  He did stay on the field for over 140 games last year, but hit a meager 233 with 11 HR between the Mets and Pirates.  Marcus Semien was brought in to upgrade the defense at short.  His offense is a question.  Right now I don’t expect much as he doesn’t handle off speed stuff well and swings for the fences more than he should.  Josh Reddick is the best player remaining on the offense, but he is streaky.  He hit 264 with 12 HR and 54 RBI last year.  After hitting 32 HR in 2012, Reddick has failed to appear in 120 games in either 2013 or 2014 and spread 24 HR across those two seasons.  If he can stay healthy, think another 240 season with 25 HR.  Stephen Vogt will be the primary catcher.  He was a pleasant find last year hitting 279 with 9 HR over 84 games.  However he has only 149 games of experience under his belt.  He always looks to pull the ball with power, so I suspect the AVG will drop.  But he could contribute 15 HR, which would be a welcome addition on this club.  The center field battle will be between Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry.  Fuld, the lefty, has more experience.  He hit 239 over 113 games for the Twins and A’s last year but saw a major drop in production after arriving in Oakland .  Craig Gentry faired a little better in his 94 games with the A’s last year.  He has great speed, going 20 for 22 on the bases, but not much else.  I expect a timeshare with both players getting about 300 ABs.

The A’s will miss Cespedes, Moss and Donaldson, their three best hitters last year.  They’ve added Lawrie, Zobrist and Butler, good players but not as good as what they lost.  I think the A’s will see their offense suffer a bit, with perhaps a better AVG, but fewer R and HR. 

The defense should be greatly improved.  Ike Davis, for all his issues, is a good defensive first baseman and an upgrade over Moss.  Ben Zobrist is not as strong as Eric Sogard at second, but plays the position well.  Semien is a big upgrade over Jed Lowrie in terms of range alone.  Brett Lawrie is very good defensively at third and will be a lot better than Donaldson.  Crisp was a bad defensive center fielder last year, but should be good in left with his speed.  Reddick is great in right.  And both Fuld and Gentry are good in center.  Stephen Vogt needs to work a lot on his defense behind the plate. Butler is the primary DH and not good at first, but not as bad as most people believe.  Eric Sogard is still around to back up second, freeing Zobrist to back up just about every other position.  This defense isn’t great, but it is a big improvement over Oakland’s 2014 squad.

Pitching :

The A’s pitching staff kept them relevant last year.  While recent years have seen them survive more on their offense, 2014 saw a return to the norm in Oakland with the pitching carrying the team.  They were second in the league with a 3.22 team ERA, first in team WHIP at 1.14 and they allowed the second fewest hits and walks.  The A’s will try to repeat that success, despite the loss of Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzjia, additions at midseason who played very well down the stretch.

Sonny Gray is the ace.  He went 14-10 over 33 starts last year logging 219 innings and a team leading 183 Ks.  He pitched to a 3.04 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 232 BAA.  He has great stuff, one of the best curves in the game and a phenomenal feel for what to do on the mound.  Think 15 Wins, 200 IP, 175 Ks and an ERA around 3.

Scott Kazmir returns for another season by the bay in the midst of a career renaissance.  He led the A’s with 15 wins last year to go with a 3.55 ERA.  There was concern that his season with Cleveland in 2013 was a bit of an outlier, but he was even better last year in Oakland.  Playing in the Coliseum helps, but Kazmir has enough experience to know how to pitch with diminished stuff.  There is concern that his second half swoon (4-6 with an ERA over 5) is a sign of things to come.  I think he may struggle some this year, but believe he can pitch at least as well as he did in 2013 with the Indians.  Think double digit wins with an ERA around 4.

Jesse Hahn is a very talented young pitcher who the A’s got back in a trade with the Padres.  In 14 games and 12 starts, Hahn went 7-4, his only year in the majors, with a 3.07 ERA and 70 Ks in 73 IP.  He could stand to avoid the walks a bit, but he is very young and will be getting a lot more experience this year.  Hahn has a great future and will be a building block for Oakland for the next few years.  He’s got a good sinker with some up and coming secondary pitches. 

Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin are coming back from Tommy John surgery and hoping to contribute.

Parker missed all of last year but hopes to be back for Opening Day.  He’s not a huge strikeout guy, but he is able to keep his team in games by limiting runners.  If he comes back strong, the goal is 175 good innings. 

Griffin is further behind schedule and not expected back until around the All Star break.  He is 21-11 over 47 big league starts with a 3.60 career ERA.  He’s got good stuff, but may not be back to full strength until next year.

Until both are ready, expect to see Drew Pomeranz and Jesse Chavez fill the void.  Chavez made 33 appearances and 21 starts for the A’s last year, going 8-8 with a 3.45 ERA.  He allows too many runners but gives the A’s quality, competitive innings. 

Drew Pomeranz has the size and stuff to be a star, but it hasn’t translated yet.  He’s your classic 5 inning pitcher who shuts down a lineup the first time through, but struggles as they see him again.  However I think he is a sleeper candidate this year.

Sean Doolittle, the closer, will anchor the bullpen.  Doolittle, a converted first baseman, has been a reliever at the major league level for the last three years.  Last year, his first year as the primary closer, he notched 22 Saves while pitching to a 2.73 ERA.  His 0.73 WHIP was sparkling and his 169 BAA and 89 Ks in 63 IP show how dominating he was.  Unfortunately, Doolittle is coming back from an offseason shoulder injury and will likely miss the start of the year. 

Tyler Clippard will likely start the season as the closer and then go back to the setup role when Doolittle returns.  Ryan Cook and Eric O’Flaherty make up the rest of the bullpen’s core and hope to keep the A’s in the conversation for best bullpen in the league.

Pitching will carry this team.  It will have to as the offense if fairly diminished from last season. Hahn may be the key, as we know what Gray and Kazmir can do.  If the A’s are going to taste postseason baseball this year, then this pitching staff will have to once again be one of the best in the league.

Prediction:


The A’s are consistently competitive despite their financial situation.  They were a playoff team last year but almost missed the postseason and were sent home after the single elimination wildcard game.  They lost their three best offensive players and their two best starters.  They have enough talent to compete, but their offense is not as good as it was last year.  Neither is their starting staff.  Add to that the talent on the Angels and Mariners and I just can’t see this team making the postseason.

I’ll put them down for 85 Wins and a third place finish in the division.  That will have them on the outside looking in of the postseason.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 2015 Team Breakdown


Projected Division Finish

1.              Seattle Mariners
2.              Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
3.              Oakland Athletics
4.              Texas Rangers
5.              Houston Astros

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

2014 Finish:     98-64 (First Place)

Projected Batting Order

RF        Kole Calhoun
SS        Erik Aybar
CF        Mike Trout
1B       Albert Pujols
LF        Josh Hamilton
3B       David Freese
DH       Matt Joyce
2B       Josh Rutledge
C          Chris Ianetta

Projected Starting Rotation/Closer

RHP                 Jered Weaver
RHP                 Garrett Richards
LHP                 C.J. Wilson
RHP                 Matt Shoemaker
LHP                 Hector Santiago
CLOSER          Huston Street


The Angels had the best record in the major leagues last year.  But you wouldn’t know it based on what has happened since the end of the regular season.  The Angels were swept by the red hot Royals and were then summarily overlooked by everyone in the offseason.  The talk about the Angels has focused on their closing window, the issues with Josh Hamilton and questions about Albert Pujols. The Angels look like a forgotten division winner from a year ago.  They hope to remind everyone they are still around and come back with a vengeance when the season starts.

Offense/Defense:

The offense looks to be in pretty good shape.  While they lost the extremely talented and heavily underrated Howie Kendrick, they were able to add talent in the forms of Matt Joyce and Josh Rutledge.  And while Rutledge is a downgrade from Kendrick at second, Joyce is a major upgrade at DH.

The Angels had a fairly prolific offense last season, leading the league in runs while sitting second in the hits column and third in team AVG.  They didn’t feature a ton of power or speed overall, but have guys who can contribute in multiple categories and hit for a plus AVG. 

The best player in baseball, Mike Trout, leads this offense.  Trout has earned his honorific by being a great all around player: with the bat, the glove and on the base paths. He does it all, hitting 287 last year while leading the team with 36 HR and 111 RBI, both career highs.  His stolen base totals have declined three straight years (49, 33, 16) but part of that is due to his spot in the lineup changing and his putting more balls over the fence.  He will anchor this lineup, likely hitting third, and probably produce another season of 280+ with 25+ HR, 100 RBI and maybe 10 SB, depending on where the Angels bat him in the order.  He will excel, no matter what LA needs him to do.

Albert Pujols will likely back him up in the order.  He hit 272 last year with 28 HR and 105 RBI.  The cleanup hole is a better place for him to hit now as he can focus on driving in runs.  He drove in over 100 runs for the 12th time in his 14 year career.  28 homers is nothing to sneeze at in this current offensive climate.  And his AVG won’t hurt you.  I will expect him to have another productive season of 25+ HRs and around 100 RBI with an AVG north of 260, which is great for anyone but looks subpar for a player who was once the best offensive player in baseball.

Josh Hamilton was supposed to be the number 5 man protecting both Trout and Pujols, but he’s had a tough offseason.  That follows a tough regular season where he only played in 89 games due to injury.  He was hot before he went got hurt, but never made it back to that level when he returned.  He is a consistent injury risk, due to his early struggles with drugs and alcohol.  He had shoulder surgery in early February before suffering a drug relapse, which may require time in rehab and an additional suspension.  He was supposed to be the third musketeer of this offense, but we have no idea when he will be back with the Angels and what he will bring when he comes back.  It is a major question for LA, and one that will likely have a major impact on their season.

Luckily the Angels signed Matt Joyce in the offseason to be their primary DH and provide some depth in the outfield.  Joyce is not a star, but he will provide some good innings both in left and with the bat for the Halos.  He hit 254 with 9 HR last year for the Rays in one of his worst offensive seasons.  The hope is that in a better lineup, he will see more pitches to hit and return to his previous levels of power, when he routinely slugged 15+ HRs, which was as recent as 2013 (18 HR).  He’s career 250 hitter who can provide good at bats, a couple stolen bases and some RBI production. 

Erik Aybar was a pleasant surprise last year, and with the injuries to Hamilton, the Angels would like to see him continue to play like he did in 2014.  Aybar hit 278 while swiping 16 bags and continuing to play great defense.  He’s always been a bit underappreciated, but has great speed and has always been an above average hitter. He is a good fit for the number 2 hole, with his speed and ability to put the ball in play.  And seeing more fastballs, he has the chance to be a double-digit home run man.  But as important as Aybar has been to this team in the past, he is even more important this year with the loss of Hamilton.  I think we know his AVG will be around 275.  But if the Angels are going to be successful, then we need to see 8-10 HRs, 70+ RBI/R and another 15+ SB season.

The rest of the Angels offense is a varied group.  Kole Calhoun was given the leadoff role last year and ran with it.  I think Trout would have been a better option (with Pujols hitting third, Kendrick second and Hamilton cleanup) but Calhoun’s success allowed Trout to hit lower in the batting order.  Calhoun hit 272, slugged 17 HR and scored 90 runs, doing exactly what the Angels wanted him to do.  He doesn’t have the speed that most teams want in their leadoff hitter, but he runs the bases well, even though he’s not a base stealer.  More important was his 325 OBP and ability to hit with runners in scoring position.  David Freese will likely hit 6th and man the hot corner.  He has never lived up to his potential, outside of the Cardinals’ great world series run a few years ago.  He hit 260 last year with 10 HR.  But his defense is only average, he has no speed and doesn’t hit for incredible power.  That’s not what you are looking from a corner infielder.  University of Alabama graduate Josh Rutledge, who the Angels picked up in a trade with the Rockies, has the inside track to replace Howie Kendrick at second.  He is a significant downgrade from Kendrick across the board.  He’s still young so he could improve, as he’s never played more than 105 games in a season.  Catcher Chris Ianetta provides good at bats and defense.  Pitchers love throwing to him and Mike Scioscia, a former catcher, expects a lot from his backstops defensively.  He’s got double digit pop at the plate and does a good job working walks.  Colin Cowgill is the fourth outfielder due to see a lot of work this year.  They wanted a quality fourth outfielder to take over for Josh Hamilton in late innings.  But now, Cowgill will man left field more than expected.  He hit 250 last year in 260 ABs.   He also hit a career high 5 HRs, got on base at a 330 clip and went 4 for 4 on the bases.  Drew Butera is a solid backup, known more for defense behind the plate than his work with the bat and Johnny Giovatella offers some experience at second and a passable glove. 

This offense doesn’t excel at anything, but they have a lot of players who are above average, a few who are good and one who is great.  The key is everyone can provide quality at bats, a few have speed and more than a few have some power.  I think this is the best overall team in the division and the offense is a major part of it. 

The defense isn’t too shabby either.  Mike Scioscia has made Chris Ianetta a very good defender behind the plate.  Albert Pujols is good at first and Erik Aybar is very good at short.  They will miss Howie Kendrick’s defense at second, but Rutledge is a young, energetic defender who should only get better and isn’t bad now.  Freese is average at third and there aren’t a lot of options currently behind him on the roster.  In the outfield, Trout is a Gold Glove caliber center fielder, Calhoun is above average in right and Joyce is okay in left.  Hamilton is actually not a bad defensive left fielder; his health just precludes him from logging as many innings in the field.  Cowgill can back up all three outfield spots and is an excellent left fielder, which is where he will get most of his playing time.  Johnny Giovatella is good at second and Butera is even better backing up the catcher’s spot.

Pitching:

The pitching staff is not as strong as the offense.  Their 2014 team ERA of 3.58 was pretty average.  They gave up the third most walks in the league, but made up for it by allowing only the fourth most hits.  Looking at it like that, they have pitchers with good stuff, but that are perhaps a little sloppy.  The good news is that you can fix that, but it’s not easy.  And if they are going to win this division again, they need their pitching staff to be at least as good and probably a little better than they were in 2014.

Jered Weaver is still their number one on paper, though he is not the pitcher he once was.  His velocity has fallen off a cliff, as he’s gotten older.  But he was such a good pitcher before that he knows how to survive with lesser stuff.  He led the Angels with 18 wins and 169 Ks last year, despite having a fastball that barely touches 90 MPH.  Weaver pitched to a 3.59 ERA while logging 213 innings and a 239 BAA.  He will likely give them another 200+ innings of quality, sub 4 ERA baseball, avoiding walks and keeping the Angels in the game. 

Their true ace is Garrett Richards.  He has always had good stuff, but finally found his way last year.  He led the league in average MPH on his fastball (96) and went 13-4 in 26 starts with a 2.61 ERA.  His 1.04 WHIP and 201 BAA show how dominating he was.  He tore a knee tendon covering first in a game in August and likely won’t be back until May.  But when he comes back, the Angels will need him to be their ace.  He’s got the stuff, but not necessarily the track record. 

The biggest question on the starting staff is C.J. Wilson.  He signed a huge contract with the Angels a few years ago but saw the wheels come off last season.  His ERA ballooned to 4.51, his WHIP grew to 1.45 and his 258 BAA was not at all good.  He led the AL in walks and ended his season on a low note failing to get out of the first inning against the Royals.  He’s got good stuff, but has to get out of his head and deliver for the Angels this year, especially with Weaver getting older and using smoke and mirrors to get by and Richards possibly dealing with injury to start the year.

Matt Shoemaker was another revelation for the Angels last year, though he was greatly overshadowed by his teammate Garrett Richards.  Shoemaker’s emergence was definitely a key to the Angels winning the division as he went 16-4 in 20 starts with a 3.04 ERA.  Those numbers are great, and supported by his 1.07 WHIP.  He doesn’t walk a lot of guys and won’t beat himself.  However it was his first full season in the bigs and a number of teams only saw him pitch once.  This year he will have to improve, as his stuff is only average (he gets by with great control and an above average splitter as a strikeout pitch) and now teams will have a book on how to face him.

Hector Santiago will likely be the 5th starter, or at least is the man to beat.  He is a quality pitcher who needs to avoid the walk and not pitch too much to contact.  Andrew Heaney will try to push him for the spot, but if he succeeds, then Santiago is a good long man in the bullpen and possible spot starter. The left-handed Heaney has a bright future and good stuff, but perhaps needs a little more seasoning, especially moving from a more pitcher friendly league and stadium.

Closer Huston Street will anchor the bullpen for the Halos in 2014.  He made 61 appearances between the Padres and Angels last year with 41 Saves and a 1.37 ERA.  He’s not a big strikeout guy, but his BAA and WHIP are exquisite.  He’s got 275 career Saves and a 2.82 ERA.  I think he will be fine as the Angels closer.

Joe Smith is the top setup man.  He had a 1.81 ERA over 76 appearances last year and even spent some time in the closer’s role before the Angels added Street.  His underhand delivery and sinking fastball was extremely effective as he notched 15 Saves, 18 Holds and held hitters to a 172 BAA while pitching to a 0.80 WHIP, both of which are phenomenal.  The rest of the bullpen is made up of young arms that aren’t overly exciting and need to rein in their command.

Prediction:

I truly think the Angels are the best team in this division.  I’ve thought that before and picked them to win the division in 2012 and 2013.  They didn’t.  So I finally picked someone else to win the division in 2014….and they finally get it together and win it.  This team seems to hate me.  I was all set to pick them to win the division this year…but I stopped short.  Hamilton is a question mark who will assuredly miss some time.  Without him, Trout and Pujols don’t have protection.  Add to that the loss of Kendrick, and I think this year’s offense won’t be as strong as the 2014 edition.  Richards will miss the beginning of the year, Wilson is a question and Shoemaker has to see how he does now that opposing hitters will have film on him.  Add to that some young, question marks in the bullpen, and this team may not be quite as good as they were last year.  On the flip side, the rest of the division (especially the Mariners) has definitely gotten better.  That’s enough improvement in the division that I can’t see them winning 98 games anymore.

I’ll pick them to finish second, take home a wildcard and finish with around 90 Wins.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Seattle Mariners 2015 Team Breakdown


AL West Projected Division Finish

1.              Seattle Mariners
2.              Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
3.              Texas Rangers
4.              Oakland Athletics
5.              Houston Astros



Seattle Mariners 

2014 Finish:              87-75 (Third Place)

Projected Batting Order

CF        Austin Jackson
3B       Kyle Seager
2B       Robinson Cano
DH       Nelson Cruz
1B       Logan Morrison
LF        Dustin Ackley
RF        Seth Smith
C          Mike Zunino
SS        Brad Miller


Projected Starting Rotation/Closer

RHP                 Felix Hernandez
RHP                 Hishashi Iwakuma
RHP                 Taijuan Walker
LHP                 James Paxton
LHP                 J.A. Happ
CLOSER          Fernando Rodney


Last year’s Mariners team came a long way in terms of improvement gaining 16 games in the win column from 2013 and finishing with their first winning record since 2009.  A strong pitching staff with a weak offense for years, the current Mariner’s front office got to work on improving the bats last offseason with the signing of Robinson Cano.  His addition turned them into an 87-win team and had them finish 1 game outside of the playoffs.  However there was some frustration by fans the fans in the Pacific Northwest that the Mariners didn’t do more.  Nelson Cruz was sitting there for the taking at a cheap price coming off his PED suspension, but the Mariners refused to spend the money to get him.  He then went to Baltimore and led the majors in homers.  This year, they swallowed their pride and signed Cruz, who all of a sudden cost much more after his career year with Baltimore.  Added to Cano, budding star Kyle Seager and a strong pitching staff, the Mariners hope they can make up that one game and then some to get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

Offense/Defense:

They could still stand to see some improvement on the offensive side of the ball.  The team batted 244, which was tied for second worst in the league.  They finished last in OBP, second to last in hits and in the bottom half of the league in HR, RBI and R. 

Robinson Cano was their offensive leader hitting a team best 314 with 14 HR and 82 RBI.  He is the premier second baseman in the game, but had no protection last year.  He saw his HR totals drop precipitously, but that can be tied to moving from a stadium with little league dimensions (the New Yankee stadium) to one of the toughest hitter’s parks in the league.  He still was great, but needed some protection and that was priority number one in the offseason.

That protection comes in the form of Nelson Cruz, who led the majors with 40 HR and was third with 108 RBI.  He added 87 R and a strong 271 AVG to that line to be a very good all-around offensive player.  His defense has fallen off a cliff and after going 4 for 9 on the bases he is done trying to steal.  But he was signed to protect Cano and launch homers deep into the Seattle night, as only deep HR have a chance to leave the ballpark.  I think he will succeed in his new digs, though 40 HR would be a stretch.  Think 30-35 with a 260+ AVG.  His bigger mark will be on Robinson Cano, who should now see better pitches to hit and perhaps pull that average up to 320 with 20+ HR and 90-100 RBI.

The third leg of Seattle’s offense is newly extended third baseman Kyle Seager.  Seager led the team with 25 HR and 96 RBI.  But while his HR totals make him seem like a one-dimensional hitter, his AVG has climbed three straight seasons to a career high 268 last year.  He will likely hit second, hoping to see fastballs with the leadoff guy on base in front of him.  If that doesn’t work, they can drop him to fifth, but they hope he can succeed hitting second, as he will get more at bats and create a murder’s row for opposing pitchers in the second through fourth part of the order (Seager, Cano, Cruz).  I like his power and think he will continue to grow as a hitter.  Think another 25+ HR year with a drop in RBI but bump in R paired with a 250-270 AVG.

The last potential problem area with this team is the leadoff spot.  The Mariners added Austin Jackson at the deadline for a little push to get into the playoffs, but he was terrible upon arriving in Seattle.  He only hit 229 with 0 HR in 54 games.  He did swipe 11 bags, 2 more than he took in over twice as many games in Detroit.  Overall he hit 256 last year, which is pretty far off from his normal 275-300 range.  He’s not a prototypical leadoff hitter and actually batted fifth in Detroit last year after hitting 28 HRs across 2012 and 2013.  But his power diminished greatly in 2014, which is why Seattle wants him to leadoff.  He has to learn to take a few walks and is likely a 270 hitter, not the 300 man we saw early on in his career.  If he stops swinging for the fences, we may see him start to hit line drives, get on base and score some runs.  They are hoping to see him hit around 280 with 25-30 SB and 80+ R.  I think that’s a little high of an estimate, but could see 265, 20 SB and 70 R.  With the Mariners’ pitching staff that should be enough.

The rest of the offense is nothing special.  Logan Morrision will play first and likely bat fifth (268, 11 HR).  He showed some pop in 2011 with 23 HR in 123 games, but not as much since then.  He may not stay fifth in the lineup if Dustin Ackley (14 HR) and Seth Smith (12 HR) continue to hit for power.  Mike Zunino is a limited hitter (199) but hit 22 HR in 131 games.  Brad Miller and Chris Taylor are both defensive players fighting for the starting spot at short.  Justin Ruggiano may log some playing time in the outfield after hitting 281 in 81 games last year and Rickie Weeks hopes to prove himself after the Mariners took a flier on him after another injury shortened season in Milwaukee.  When healthy, he is a force, but he will be in an extreme pitcher’s park learning a new defensive position in left.  He’s still got some power and a little speed, but I think playing part time will hurt him as much as the position change and Safeco dimensions.  Jesus Montero is still around, but a PED suspension, subpar performances and clubhouse issues have derailed his career, there is little expected from this once highly touted prospect.  If this offense is going to play, it will need to get a lot out of the top 4 spots in the lineup.

On the diamond, the Mariners are hit and miss.  The infield looks to be in good shape with Cano and Seager playing Gold Glove caliber defense at second and third and both shortstop options being average or better with the glove.  Chris Taylor is the better defender at short, but Brad Miller’s bat will get him more playing time and his defense is fine.  Morrison isn’t great at first, but won’t kill you either.  The problem comes in the outfield.  Austin Jackson was a shockingly bad defender last year and Dustin Ackley is a natural second baseman that is trying to learn to play left field.  Seth Smith is fine in right, but when two thirds of your outfield is a question mark, you don’t like what you see.  The bench doesn’t provide any defensive relief either with Neleson Cruz strictly a DH at this point and Rickie Weeks, another natural second baseman, trying to learn left.  Justin Ruggiano is fine in either corner, but that leaves you with more bad options (4) than good (2).  The pitchers’ goals will be to keep the ball on the ground in Seattle for more than the traditional reasons.

Pitching:

For years, the only thing that kept this team viable was their electric pitching.  The Mariners led the league with a 3.17 team ERA last year.  They also finished tops in the league in hits allowed, second in WHIP and in the top half of the league in Ks and walks allowed.

Felix Hernandez is the ace and arguably the best right-handed starter in the game.  He’s on the short list for best pitchers in the game.  He was great again last season, winning his team’s triple crown by leading them with 15 Wins, a 2.14 ERA and 248 Ks in 236 IP.  His 0.92 WHIP and 200 BAA only underscore his brilliance.  Pitching in Safeco helps, but he’s great anywhere he goes.  Expect another season of 15 wins, sub 3 ERA and 200+ IP and Ks.

Hisashi Iwakuma is their number 2 man.  He continued his success in 2014 with a 15-9 record and a 3.52 ERA.  He’s not as dominating with a 244 BAA and only 154 Ks in 179 IP.  But in Safeco, he is great and competitive outside of Seattle. 

Taijuan Walker was very strong in 5 starts and 3 relief appearances in 2014.  He struck out 34 in 38 innings, limiting hitters to a 223 BAA and turning in a 2.61 ERA.  He needs to cut down on the walks, but his stuff is electric.  He will be in the starting rotation from opening day this year and may end up being one of their better pitchers. 

James Paxton and J.A. Happ will make up the rest of the starting rotation.  Paxton was solid in 13 starts going 6-4 with a 3.04 ERA.  The ERA is great and partly a result of pitching in Safeco.  But he’s got good stuff and a good idea of how to pitch.  His 1.20 WHIP and 223 BAA were both better than average.  If he stays in command of his pitches (not a guarantee) he will use that sinker to get outs.  Happ is more of a mystery.  He is a flyball pitcher who likes to work up in the zone.  It’s hurt him in Philly and Toronto.  Last year he improved some going 11-11 with a 4.22 ERA.  A lot of that had to do with his fastball velocity returning to the 92-95 MPH range.  His flyball tendencies will play better in Seattle.

Closer Fernando Rodney, who has had a career renaissance over the last few years, anchors the bullpen.  The key to his resurgence has been his ability to throw his changeup and not rely strictly on his sinking fastball.  He has continued to excel over the last three years going 133 for 146 in Save opportunities.  He has to learn to avoid giving up free bases via the walk, but the next pitching coach that can help him in that area of his game will be the first.  There is no reason not to believe he won’t turn in another great season in Seattle in 2015.

The support group leading to him is equally impressive.  Tom Wilhemsen has closing experience, but has been far better as a set up man.  His 2.27 ERA and 171 BAA show that he is a shutdown reliever who gets the job done.  Danny Farquhar is another great setup option that had more Ks than IP last year and provides some insurance for Rodney as someone who can Save a few games in the season if necessary.  Beyond those three, Dominic Leone and Yoervis Medina are good K guys with live arms and Charlie Furbush is a converted starter, who has fared much better in the bullpen with 51 Ks in 42 IP last year.  It may not be the best bullpen in baseball, but it’s a very good one supported by a ballpark that really helps the men on the mound.


Prediction:

I went back and forth on this one for a while.  I like the Mariners this year.  But I think the Angels are probably a better team.  Additionally, when September rolled around last year and Mariners had a chance to make the playoffs, they went 4-11 and knocked themselves out of contention.  There is a lot of youth on this team and the offense is limited.   

The pitching staff is still great.  Their 8.5 WAR was the best in baseball last year.  The bullpen turned in a MLB best 3.5 WAR as well.  This team will go as far as their pitching staff will take them.

The offense I love less, but they came close to the playoffs last year and got better this offseason.  This team doesn’t need a great deal of runs to win games they just need some.  I have no doubt Cano will be great, and have more of an impact with Cruz hitting behind him.  Kyle Seager will likely have another strong year.  I think the key for Seattle’s offense is Austin Jackson.  If he can get on base for the big boppers behind him, then they will have a chance.  But he has to embrace being a leadoff guy and stop trying to hit homers.  It worked in Detroit.  It won’t work in Seattle.

I’ll put the Mariners down for 92 wins and first place in the AL West, just edging out the Angels.