Tuesday, April 5, 2016

2016 AL West Divisional Breakdown

It’s time for baseball.  I’m taking a quick look at each division and making some predictions before the season really takes off. 

I’ll start with the AL West.  A division thought to be between LA and Seattle last year instead saw the Astros finally make good on their potential and the forgotten Rangers get healthy and add an ace (that’s four words in a row that began with “a”) to make a late season run to the division crown.  What will happen this year?


Texas Rangers-        How good can this team be with Cole Hamels pitching for them all season?

Houston Astros-      Can this young team maintain the discipline to contend with expectations heaped upon them, a very new element for this club?

Los Angeles Angels- Is the best player in the game enough to carry this team and their questionable pitching staff?

Seattle Mariners-     Will some new faces be enough for this highly touted team from last year to make good on last off-season’s promise?

Oakland Athletics-  Is there a plan in place?  Or are they just treading water, doing the best they can until their stadium situation gets ironed out?


Texas Rangers-          90-72                          DIVISION WINNER
Houston Astros-         86-76                         
Los Angeles Angels-  82-80
Seattle Mariners-      80-82
Oakland Athletics-     68-94

Texas Rangers

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

SS                                Elvis Andrus
RF                               Shin Soo Choo
3B                               Adrian Beltre
DH                              Prince Fielder
LF                               Ian Desmond
1B                               Mitch Moreland
2B                               Rougned Odor
C                                 Robinson Chirinos
CF                               Delino DeShields

LHP                             Cole Hamels
RHP                             Yu Darvish
LHP                             Derek Holland
LHP                             Martin Perez
RHP                             Colby Lewis
CLOSER                      Shawn Tolleson

For the Rangers, the key is health.  Two years ago many picked them to win the division, but they were torpedoed by injuries.  People forgot about them last year, and then they got healthy, added an ace at the deadline and raced up to the top of the standings.  I love them this year. 

Hamels is a legitimate ace.  If Darvish and Holland are healthy (and if Darvish comes back early in the season) then this is a very strong pitching staff.  While the bullpen is a little muddled, they do seem to have lots of good arms, which may help them if they end up with closer issues.  They are going with Tolleson, but perhaps will let others earn some Saves from time to time.

Either way, they have a phenomenal offense, which will always keep them competitive.  Fielder is still a legitimately fearful power bat that can hit over 300.  Desmond, Moreland and Beltre can all chip in 20 HR.  Andrus isn’t a traditional leadoff man, but he provides some speed while Choo has a great OBP.  One or two of them should get on base enough to score a decent amount of runs. The defense doesn’t blow you away, but it should be solid.  I believe that if this team is healthy, they will win a very close division.

Houston Astros

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

CF                                Carlos Gomez
2B                               Jose Altuve
SS                                Carlos Correa
DH                               Evan Gattis
RF                                George Springer
3B                               Luis Valbuena
LF                                Colby Rasmus
C                                  Jason Castro
1B                               Tyler White

LHP                             Dallas Keuchel
RHP                             Colin McHugh
RHP                             Mike Fiers
RHP                             Scott Feldman
RHP                             Doug Fister
CLOSER                      Luke Gregerson

The Astros rebuild is over.  They finally cashed in on their potential and made the playoffs.  They are young and talented.  They can hit, run and field.  But, they are dealing with something new this year.  They finally have to face expectations. Houston kind of snuck up on everyone last season and contended a year earlier than expected.  But now, people are ready for them and they will get the best that every team has to offer.  Additionally, they never lived up to their hot start.  They played better down the stretch, but they had an insane first month that set them up for success.  But they didn’t win the division and were slowing down as time went on.  I like this team, but I worry that their youth will be an additional hurdle for them.  
Altuve is a star that will hit over 300, steal at least 30 bases (probably closer to 40) and can probably score 85+ R.  He also showed surprising pop with 15 HR last year, which is why I dropped him down a spot to his second.  Perhaps with Gomez on base in front of him, he can see more fastballs and slug another 15 HR.  Gomez is a great fielder who was in the conversation for best center fielder in baseball a few years ago.  He may not be there now, but he should hit for plus AVG with double digit HR and SB.  The big question is:  how good will Carlos Correa be?  A lot of people have him as their MVP pick this year.  I think that’s a little overly ambitions, but I love his talent.  I could see another 270+ season and a 20/20 campaign with close to 100 RBI and R.  There is a drop off after that, but Gattis can slug 30 HR and threaten for 90+ RBI, Springer is always getting better and could be a 20/20 man, Valbuena should surpass 20 HR again and Rasmus can at least slug 15 HR, if he offers little else. 

The pitching staff has a legitimate ace in Keuchel who can win 20 games with 200+ IP and Ks.  McHugh and Fiers are strong arms behind him and I think Fister will surprise and come close to being as dominant as he was in 2013 and 2014.  Gregerson will transition nicely to the closer’s role and Neshek, Giles, Sipp and Fields all have great bullpen arms.  This defense looks fantastic on paper with 2 center fielders patrolling the outfield next to a very good right fielder and a phenomenal double play combo.  I like this team a lot this year and think they have a good chance to return to the postseason.  But, upon review, I'll pick them as the first team to finish outside of October.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

3B                               Yunel Escobar
RF                                Cole Calhoun
CF                                Mike Trout
1B                               Albert Pujols
DH                               C.J. Cron
C                                  Geovany Soto
LF                                Daniel Nava
2B                               Johnny Giovotella
SS                                Andrelton Simmons

RHP                             Garrett Richards
LHP                             Andrew Heaney
RHP                             Jered Weaver
LHP                             Hector Santiago
RHP                             Matt Shoemaker
CLOSER                      Huston Street

There are lots of questions with this team.  And it’s frustrating, because you see the talent of Trout and think that this team should go for it all now.  He is in his prime and is the best player in baseball.  Instead, he gets a little protection from an aging Albert Pujols and nothing else.  The team lacks a true leadoff hitter.  They don’t have a true left fielder.  And they look weak at second base and catcher.  Additionally, they didn’t really address any of those concerns in the offseason. 

They also have lots of pitching questions.  Richards is a very good pitcher.  Not one of the top aces, but I like his stuff.  Heaney has talent and good stuff, but is largely unproven.  I love Santiago and think he gets consistently overlooked.  He’s not an ace, but I like him as a number 2 or a great number 3.  But then the question marks come in.  Jered Weaver has lost all of his velocity.  He is smart, but you can only do so much pitching in the low 80s.  And Shoemaker is nothing more than a back of the rotation starter.  The bullpen looks solid with Street, Smith and Salas, but those are end of the game guys.  It’s the other names that don’t excite you, and with this starting staff’s potential issues, those are the arms that will likely end up throwing more innings than the Angels would like. 

This offense should score runs, but they aren’t the Blue Jays.  Trout is great.  Think 280+ with 30+ HR and over 100 RBI and R.  He wants to run more, but I don’t think we will see another 40 SB season from him again.  Stealing bases can lead to injuries, especially with big guys.  I’ll put my ceiling for him at 20 and expect closer to 15.  Nobody else comes close to performing like him at the plate.  Pujols had a great 40 HR/95 RBI season last year.  I’d expect more like 30 and 80 this year with a 250 AVG.  Kole Calhoun showed some power last year with 26 HR.  He can likely do that again, but offers a fairly pedestrian AVG and little speed. There is nothing else after them.  They added Andrelton Simmons who is the best defender in baseball.  But he plays short, which wasn’t a position of need for them.  The Braves got Aybar back in return, but while the defense will be better, Aybar’s defense wasn’t bad and he was a better hitter.  Simmons is still figuring it out on the plate and offers inconsistent power and little speed.  Escobar is being asked to be a leadoff man based off what he did last season in Washington.  He was very good, but it came out of nowhere.  I don’t know if he can repeat it.  I bet he will hit for at least 270, but offers no speed and can be a clubhouse drain.  Left field will be a platoon between Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry, but neither is exiting.  Gentry is a speedster, but lacks the ability to get on base enough to utilize that tool.  With him in left, this outfield defense should be great.  When it is Nava, it should still be solid.  Simmons and Escobar may comprise the best left side of the infield in baseball.  That will help this team go get it overall.  And they will need to, because the pitching staff has question marks.  I think this team will continue to sit around 500, which is not good enough to contend, but also not good enough to reap draft picks and re-build.  This is a team eternally stuck in purgatory and likely not going anywhere else this year.

Seattle Mariners

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

LF                                Nori Aoki
3B                               Kyle Seager
2B                               Robinson Cano
DH                               Nelson Cruz
1B                               Adam Lind
C                                  Chris Ianetta
RF                                Seth Smith
SS                                Ketel Marte
CF                                Leonys Martin

RHP                             Felix Hernandez
RHP                             Hisashi Iwakuma
LHP                             Wade Miley
RHP                             Taijuan Walker
RHP                             Nate Karns
CLOSER                      Steve Cishek

This team was expected to do good things last year.  They did not.  They have not played well since signing Cano to that huge deal.  I don’t think that has anything to do with their issues, but the fact is the Mariners can’t seem to put it all together.  However, they went out and hired Jerry DiPoto to be their GM and I love what he does. 

I like his moves this offseason.  He added another strong arm in Wade Miley and re-signed Iwakuma.  This pitching staff looks to be strong.  Hernandez is a legitimate ace.  Iwakuma has had a lot of success in Seattle and I see no reason why that won’t continue.  Miley struggled in Boston, but I think a change in scenery will do him well.  He had some success in Arizona, so perhaps a smaller market will take some expectations off of him.  And moving to Seattle helps any pitcher.  All three of those guys can reach 200 IP with King Felix threatening for 20 Wins and an ERA around 3.  Iwakuma could be around 3.50 and I wouldn’t be surprised if Miley was right at 4, or slightly under.  Walker has great stuff but has to put it all together.  He will one day, but I don’t know if it will happen this season.  The back end of the bullpen looks strong with Benoit leading to Cishek, but the other arms are suspect.  And Cishek isn’t bulletproof because he struggled in Miami, which isn’t a bad place to pitch, and lost his job as the closer.  I think he’ll be fine here, but that is something to be aware of.  If the top of the rotation can eat up innings, this pitching staff should be fine. 

But pitching hasn’t been an issue is Seattle.  It has been the offense.  Cano is the offensive centerpiece.  He is very good, but moving to Seattle has affected his numbers.  Not just because Seattle is a harder place to hit, but also because the new Yankee stadium is a ridiculous place to hit.  But I think Cano should approach 300 with 20-25 HR and perhaps 90 RBI, if the top of the lineup can bet on base.  And that is a big if.  Aoki isn’t a bad signing.  But his speed has diminished and he never had much power.  He has a strong OBP, but looks to be primarily a singles hitter without a ton of stolen base speed.  I like him for 285 and a 350 OBP, but no more than 15 SB and likely only 80-85 R.  Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz primarily offer power.  Neither will hurt you in terms of AVG, but both are likely dealing with a 270 ceiling.  And Seager isn’t running much anymore.  Adam Lind is a nice addition to extend the offense a bit, but I think moving to Seattle turns his 20 HR to 15.  The rest of the team offers little in the way of offense.  The defense looks solid with Leonys Martin locking down center, Cano and Seager looking strong at second and third and enough talent everywhere else to keep things in control.  This may not be the best defense in baseball, but it is solid. 

This is a team that looked to do it all last year, but fell short.  They made some changes and hope to bounce back this year.  Lots of people are picking them as dark horse candidates to come out of nowhere and contend.  And that’s possible.  But I think there is too much talent in this division for them to make a real run.  Perhaps they leap the Angles, but I still see them as a team that hovers around 500.

Oakland Athletics

Projected Lineup/Pitching Staff

CF                                            Billy Burns
2B                                           Jed Lowrie
LF                                            Khris Davis
RF                                            Josh Reddick
DH                                           Billy Butler
C                                              Stephen Vogt
1B                                           Mark Canha
3B                                           Danny Valencia
SS                                            Marcus Semien

RHP                                         Sonny Gray
LHP                                         Rich Hill
RHP                                         Chris Bassitt
RHP                                         Kendall Graveman
LHP                                         Felix Doubront
CLOSER                                  Sean Dolittle

The A’s are in a tough spot.  They always have a plan, but have been hamstrung by their financial situation for years.  Billy Beane found ways to contend despite that, but things seem to have gotten worse for the team recently, forcing them to cut and run sooner than ever from talent.  Additionally, other teams know they can’t keep their studs, which is limiting the returns Oakland is getting back.  The team wanted to move to San Jose, which would free them up to be competitive again, but the Giants blocked that, despite other teams seeming to be on board.  So Oakland is stuck wallowing in an old stadium in a market that doesn’t support the team well enough to keep them competitive.  I can’t claim to be an expert on the situation, but from my understanding, the Giants are really forcing the A’s into a corner and refuse to give up their territorial rights on an area that arguably has more A’s fans and is not a stronghold for the Giants.  What also hurts the A’s is that each year that they struggle they lose more fans in that area, eventually making the Giants claim, which was tenuous when they initially stopped the move, grow stronger each year.  It’s bad for baseball and awful for Oakland, but it is where they are.  For that reason, nothing much can happen with this team.  They have some young talent, but have to get rid of it before it can mature fully because they can’t even afford arbitration salaries for most of these guys. 

The biggest question in Oakland, unfortunately, is how long can they keep Sonny Gray.  Gray is a legitimate ace.  He may not be a huge strikeout guy, but I like him for 200 IP, 15 Wins and another sub 3 ERA.  Things drop off after that.  Rich Hill looked great in 4 starts with Boston last year.  But that is a tiny sample size and he is a real unknown.  The other guys are young and also relative unknowns, beyond Felix Doubront.  However, Doubront is coming off down seasons, and the fact that he made this rotation actually speaks to the issues the A’s are facing.  The good news is they have a strong bullpen. If Doolittle is healthy, then I like it a lot.  He will start the year late, but Ryan Madson and John Axford support him.  Neither is the ace closer they used to be, but both know how to pitch and still possess enough stuff to be solid relievers. 

The bigger issue is the offense.  I love young Billy Burns.  He had a great rookie season last year that many missed because it happened in Oakland.  I like him for maybe 30 SB and an AVG north of 270.  Khris Davis was a strong addition to bring some power.  But moving to Oakland from Milwaukee will hurt him.  Think 20 HR this year, not 27.  Billy Butler is likely due for another 250/15 HR campaign.  Reddick and Vogt are likely in line for another 270/20 HR year.  That’s it.   No stars here and little depth.  I don’t like the rest of the offense much and think this will be another long year in Oakland.  The defense even has questions with Semien at short.  The rest of the team looks solid and the outfield looks strong defensively. 

The problem for Oakland is that there is no end in sight.  The rest of their division got better and they just have no path to improve in their financial situation.  They draft and develop well, but have to cut and run so quickly that they can’t build any momentum.  I hope this changes for them soon because they do a great job developing major leaguers.  But until they improve their finances, nothing can happen with this team.

DIVISION MVP:                     Mike Trout.   (Also wins the league MVP)

Hard to pick against the best player in baseball.  Even with a subpar team around him, I like Trout for 290 with 38 HR, 110 RBI, 95 R and 12 SB.  I also think he gets on base at a 350 rate and will win a Gold Glove.  Another great season, wasted by the Angels front office.

I did consider Jose Altuve here.  And he is good enough that I think he is worthy of mention.  This guy has shown an incredible ability to adapt on top of his prodigious talent.  I think he is in for a big year.  I’ll say 340 with 18 HR, 88 RBI, 104 R and 51 SB.

DIVISION CY YOUNG:           Cole Hamels

This one was tough for a different reason.  There were lots of good options.  I love King Felix.  Sonny Gray is really good.  Keuchel won it last year and should be set up for another good year.  And Garrett Richards is a guy to watch out for. 

But I have to go with Hamels.  Generally the Cy Young goes to a guy on a playoff team.  While I think that is a dumb requirement (I know it’s not a real requirement it’s just something that a lot of voters prefer), I think that will help separate Hamels. I’m thinking 15+ Wins with an ERA under 3.25 and over 200 IP and Ks.  Don’t expect the ERA much lower, because while Philly was hitter friendly, Texas is more hitter friendly and moving to the AL and not getting to frequently face the Braves and Mets will hurt his ERA.

The other guy I considered was Dallas Keuchel.  He is another guy who could threaten 20 Wins with 200 IP and Ks.  But Hamels has more strikeout inducing stuff, which will improve his overall chances.  And I suspect Texas will win the division, which makes him my division Cy Young.

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