To be quite honest, creating a “Preseason All AL West Team” is a futile exercise. If you are looking for an MLB season preview, full of sound analysis and predictions, this isn’t it. But I’m a visual learner, and there is some value in seeing where the power is in the division, position by position. Of course this isn’t an exact science, no predictions are, and only 2 players are selected per position, so you have a guy like Kyle Seager, the M’s second best position player, not making this list thanks to Beltre and Donaldson. So ya, take this for what it is. A quick snapshot of the division headed into 2014. Although I should point out, by forecasting who has the most 1st and 2nd teamers, I correctly guessed the order of finish in the division last year!
My selection process looks at last year’s performance as well as projections for the upcoming season, and anticipated playing time. Some of the picks are obvious and others are less obvious, so of course I’d love to hear your thoughts too.
Taking the visualization one step further, here’s a super scientific bar graph intended to show the separation between teams, by awarding 2 points for a 1st team selection, and 1 point for a 2nd team selection.
Unlike some college sports, pro sports don’t come out with pre-season 1st and 2nd teams, but if the AL West had its pre-season team, this is how I think it would shake out. Clearly this is not a perfect method to predicting the AL West in 2013, and by season’s end the 1st and 2nd team selections will look different. But, it does provide a snapshot of how the division stacks up. My selection process looks at last year’s performance as well as potential this upcoming year, and projected impact/playing time. Some of the picks are obvious and others are less obvious, so of course I’d love to hear your thoughts too.
A couple bullets:
It is hard to find much separation at the top between Oakland, Texas, and LAA. All 3 have playoff potential, but from this breakdown I would also suggest the Mariners are closer to the good teams in the division, rather than the bad (Houston).
Say what you want about Oakland’s 2012 season being an anomolye, but it’s hard to criticize the roster Billy Beane has been assembled this year. The A’s don’t have a lot of star power but they are solid at every position, and have a ton of depth, which will surely be an asset at some point.
The positions that were hardest to find a clear cut 1st and 2nd team selection were Catcher, DH, and the 2nd team OFs and Starting Ps. At catcher, Montero projects to have the most playing time and potential, so I gave him the honors. You could make a case for Jaso and Pierzynski too. The same is true between Kendrys Morales, Berkman, and Trumbo, but the numbers suggest Morales (when healthy) is the best option in the group. David Murphy is a nice player, as is Coco Crisp, Franklin Gutierrez, and Chris Young. Take your pick, I went with Murhpy. Starting pitching was a bit of a toss up to when you start picking the 8th-10th best in the AL West. I tried hard to justify an Astro but simply could not. Iwakuma was my 10th selection, but it could have easily gone to Derek Holland, Jason Vargas, or really any Oakland starter.
In order to visually quantify the separation between teams based on these picks, I’ve awarded 2 points for a 1st team selection, and 1 point for a 2nd team selection. Here’s how it shakes out on a fancy bar graph.
One year ago I asked your reaction following Prince signing in Detroit. One year later, I’m curious what your take is on Josh Hamilton signing with a division foe, for nearly $100 million less than Prince got.
This is my 5th installment in a series of posts I’ve done recapping and forecasting the Mariners Rebuilding Process, since Jack Z took over as GM. You can find the prior posts here: Years 1 and 2Year 3Year 4
Let’s recap the 5 year rebuild plan I laid out in October 2008.
2009, Year 1: Shed dead weight, Begin overhauling the farm Summary:Traded Putz for Guti, Carp, Vargas, and managed to get rid of Silva, Betancourt, and Johjima, while also using 3 of first 5 picks on Ackley, Franklin, Seager. Grade: A+
2010, Year 2: Shed dead weight, Continue building the farm (and lock up Felix) Summary:Signed Griffey and Sweeney, locked up Felix and acquired Cliff Lee, then swapped him for Smoak. Could have done without the Morrow trade and of course the Figgins contract. Selected Walker, Paxton, Pryor in rounds 1, 4, 5. Grade: B-
2011, Year 3: Bring the youth up, Evaluate potential, Acquire more young talent Summary:Hired Wedge, traded for Brendan Ryan, picked up Wilhelmson at a local bar, and signed low cost vets such as Cust, Olivo, Kennedy. Fielded an even mix of youth and vets, but loads of young talent in the pipeline for the first time in forever. At the deadline traded Fister for Furbush and Wells. Hultzen chosen with #2 pick. Grade: B
2012, Year 4: continue youth movement, achieve .500 record Summary:Swapped Pineda for Montero and made some shrewd acquistions in Jaso, Iwakuma, Luetge, Millwood, Perez, then saw a young roster come up 6 games short of .500, while improving by 8 games from prior season. Picked Mike Zunino #3 overall. Grade: A
2013, Year 5: add 1-2 big pieces, contend for playoffs Summary: Thus far we’ve seen a few low cost signings in Bay, Ibanez, Bonderman, and a 1 for 1 swap of Vargas-Morales. Grade: ???
I’ve said this before, but in 4 1/2 years on the job, Bill Bavasi set this organization back 5 years, minimum. Last year I stated
“For the first time on Jack’s watch, I think the on field W/L record is important. .500 ball is a reasonable expectation this year, which would be a welcomed site for our eyes.”
Well, The M’s flirted with .500 in 2012 and showed noticeable improvement, albeit without much offense yet again. Entering year 5 the talk of laying the foundation and replenishing the system should be over, and playoff contention ought to be close. Zduriencik has said as much if you’ve heard any of his recent interviews.
If the blueprint holds form, the M’s will be adding 1-2 big pieces this offseason, and assembling a playoff capable team in 2013. This sounds great but it is nearly January and almost all the big name free agents have signed elsewhere, and the only acquisitions Seattle has made are Robert Andino, Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez, and a swap of Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales. Not exactly blockbuster moves capable of propelling the M’s from 75 wins into contention. I suppose the big moves we hoped for are still possible if Jack can, for example, land Justin Upton and Michael Bourn, and add a veteran pitcher to round out the rotation. That would certainly be a competitive team, but is that the best route to take?
Given how the AL West is shaping up, it may be best to hang onto the prospects, add a couple decent pieces, and shoot for a respectable 80-85 wins in 2013, while waiting until next year to make the big splash. I don’t see a scenario, at this point, for the M’s to overtake Texas or Anaheim in 2013, and probably not Oakland either. So why go all in? I’m not suggesting Seattle give up any hopes they had for next year, just because the division rivals are pulling away, but I don’t want the M’s to mortgage the future to field a better team next year, but one that cannot be sustained.
Keeping a positive trajectory is crucial next year, seeing an improved offense is also important, but that’s about all we can reasonably expect in 2013. This puts real contention off until next year, and adds a year to the original 5 year blueprint, but taking the path that leads to sustained success is what is most important. We’ve seen the Washington Nationals do this, and Tampa Bay also, and with much less money. It may not be popular, given the fractured fan base, plummeting attendance, and a decade of bad baseball, but Seattle has never given a player a $100 million contract, and unless it is a Felix extension, I don’t see it happening for at least another year. And surprisingly, I’m fine with that.
Unlike NCAA sports, pro sports don’t come out with pre-season 1st and 2nd teams, but if the AL West had its pre-season team, this is how I think it would shake out. My selection process looks at last year’s performance as well as potential this upcoming year, and often I use the sabermetric WAR to break ties. Some of the picks are obvious (Pujols), and others are less obvious (DH), so of course I’d love to hear your thoughts too.
A quick analysis shows that Texas is the class of the division, with more 1st team selections than the rest of the west combined. Anaheim has good 2nd tier depth, solid pitching, and balance. Texas and Anaheim each have 8 1st or 2nd team selections of the possible 10 positional categories, and of the 14 pitching spots, a whopping 11 are Rangers (6) and Angels (5). The M’s are a distant 3rd, but a ways ahead of the re-building A’s, who are loaded with average players but no star power whatsoever.
I wanted to take this chart one step further, and visually quantify the separation between teams based on these picks. To do so, I’ve simply awarded 2 points for a 1st team selection, and 1 point for a 2nd team selection. Here’s how it shakes out on a bar graph.
Here are my quick picks for the various MLB Division Series starting this afternoon!
New York Yankees vs Detroit Tigers
How fun will it be to watch Justin Verlander vs CC Sabathia? A baseball fans dream to be sure. Because both pitchers are so dominant, they cancel each other out dramatically, so that perceived advantage the Tigers have evaporates quickly. I love Doug Fister, but who knows how he’ll do under the bright lights of pressurized playoff baseball. The Yanks have the best lineup in baseball, and I am encouraged by how well they played down the stretch. Detroit can hit, and the Yanks have issues in their rotation, but I can’t see anyone out slugging the Bombers. Yankees in 4.
Texas Rangers vs Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are rolling into post season on one of the most incredible runs ever. Boston’s collapse opened the door for Joe Maddon’s crew to take the AL Wildcard in an unforgettable Wednesday night rollercoaster. It’s a great story, and I admit I’m rooting for Tampa to win this series. The problem is Texas is a better team. People tend to forget Tampa was struggling to score runs most of the season, and even down the stretch it took Evan Longoria’s bat catching fire for them to win. We know Texas can hit and score with anyone. They have a deep, balanced lineup. I think Texas’s pitching is underrated, they have a legit #1 in CJ Wilson and good pieces behind him, with a strong bullpen. Tampa is rolling a green as grass rookie out there for game one, and who knows in game 2. Texas won’t see Shields or Price until games 3 and 4, and then potentially another rookie in game 5. All this means is Tampa’s rotation is messed up for a short 5 game series, while Texas is setting things up nicely. My heart wants Tampa, and hey Joe Maddon gets more out of less than anyone, but I just don’t see how they out hit the Rangers. Tampa will stay on a roll and force 5 games, but that’s it. Rangers in 5.
Milwaukee Brewers vs Arizona Diamondbacks
This is the great mystery match up of the playoffs. Two teams that get almost no national attention, yet are packed with ridiculous talent. The Brewers are lead by Prince and MVP candidate Ryan Braun, while Arizona is lead by Cy Young hopeful Ian Kennedy and young stud Justin Upton. I’ve been intrigued by both teams all year. I love the Brewers make up, a tough, brash arrogant bunch that simply bashes the ball and wins a ton of home games. They have a decent bull pen, with ok starting pitching that is supported by the power bats. Arizona is simply a reflection of their manager, Kirk Gibson. They play tough and together as well, also playing with a chip that borders on arrogance. The key to this series to me is simple: Milwaukee has the home field advantage, statistically the best in baseball. And even on the road at Chase Field, a very homer friendly park, they’ll mash big flys. I think Prince blows up in this series, especially when they go on the road and the DBacks fans boo him again for his perceived all star snub of Upton. Kennedy and Hudson are solid pitchers, but completely unproven in the post season, especially against a powerful lineup. I’m bullish on the Brewers here. Crew in 4.
Philadelphia Phillies vs St Louis Cardinals
The Phillies come into the post season as the perceived favorites in the NL, and for good reason. When you roll Halladay, Lee and Hamels out there for the first three games, it’s hard to see how the Cards win a game, especially when Carpenter isn’t available until they go home. For this reason, and this reason alone, I love the Phillies here. St Louis is much like Tampa: red hot coming into the playoffs, but they have a jumbled starting rotation with a woefully over worked bullpen. Yes, I know the Phils struggled quite a bit down the stretch, but that doesn’t concern me at all. This is a veteran team with one goal, and that’s to win the World Series. They’ll regroup and refocus with renewed energy. I know the Cards are a chic pick in light of their recent success, but I see a let down coming, and I also see the Phillies starters dominating. Cards win one at home with Carpenter on the bump, and that’s it. Phillies in 4.
Pumped for some fall baseball! Wish the M’s were in it! Sick of the losing, wake up Howard and Chuckles! Time to hit the road!
Elation and frustration. Those words describe watching the Mariners play over the course of 12 quick innings. For the first 7 innings, it was elation watching Cliff Lee do exactly what we all hoped he would be. Pinpoint control. A very quick pace on the mound. Working seamlessly with young Adam Moore behind the plate. Baffling Texas batters one after another. The bottom of those innings? I cannot tell you how hard it is to watch professional hitters literally stand and watch as a pitcher throws strikes. The Mariners simply stood and watched as Colby Lewis threw a gem of a game. It was a shame that neither Lee or Lewis got any decision, because they were the stars of the show. Hitters? Not so much. Mangers? Even worse…
Let’s start with the hero of the game, Cliff Lee. It was a joy to watch him pitch. Stats don’t do justice to his night, even though they were outstanding: 7 Innings, 3 hits, 8 K’s, 0 BB’s, 116 pitches, 73 for strikes. He continually pounded the strike zone, kept the Rangers hitters off balance, worked quick (I LOVE that…), interacted positively with Moore behind the plate, and was yucking it up on the bench between innings with the likes of Ryan Rowland-Smith and Felix Hernandez. He seemed to fit right in with the team and seemed to really ENJOY pitching, he seemed to really, truly be happy pitching. I love seeing that from pro athletes. You can tell Cliff Lee is a professional’s professional. Even though the 7 innings Lee pitched went by like a flash, it was a pure baseball joy to watch him pitch. As advertised is an understatement. Well done Cliff, well done!
Ok, on to the co-goats of the night: Mariners hitters and Don Wakamatsu. “Co-goats” you say? Yup. This game had so many goats at the plate and in the dugout it was hard to choose, so I am doing a Good Guys first: a “basically the entire rest of the team goat award”. Harsh? Maybe.
The Mariners as a team left 18 men on base. In the early innings, there were few base runners as the Mariners decided to go with the “stand at the plate and watch” approach. It got so bad I decided to go prepare dinner when the Mariners were at bat, then come back at watch Lee mow down some hitters. I understand Colby Lewis has solid stuff, it was clearly his best start of the year. He was mixing pitches well, throwing strikes, and spotting his breaking balls. Kudos to him. But the Mariners put up no fight whatsoever. On a night where just a few runs wins the game, I was surprised at the lack of urgency at the plate. Hey, guys, you have to score at least one run to win!!
In the later innings, and I mean late, like extra innings, Lewis finally left the game, replaced by Darren Oliver. Oliver was shaky and the Mariners were able to get to him. Griffey led off with a cue-shot grounder to shortstop that was an infield hit because they had the shift one him. Byrnes pinch ran, and Bradley then proceeded to rip a double to left. 2nd and 3rd, no outs. All they need is a fly ball. Kotchman then has one of the worst at bats of the year, completely fooled by Oliver (it was like Kotchman had never seen him before, odd…), constantly hesitant at the plate, finally check swinging and popping out to short. It was painful. Just swing away Casey!!! Swing hard buddy!! Adam Moore was then intentionally walked to get to Jack Wilson. This actually was great because Jack is a hacker, a fly ball artist who would swing for the fences and we’ll get the sac-fly and go home. But wait, Wakamatsu had other ideas. He decided to bring Mike Sweeney, ice cold, off the bench to pinch hit. I didn’t like the move at the time, and I hate it now. Texas brought in submariner O’Day, and Sweeney proceeded to swing at the first pitch for a double play. Fail. Not only on Sweeney, but on Wak. Why pinch hit Wilson? Could he have done any worse?? Wilson may have beat out the DP ball, or better, whacked a fly ball somewhere. Additionally, not having Wilson in the field will cost the Mariners later… I hate the move: goat for Wak, goat for Sweeney.
An inning later, Franky Francisco relieved O’Day. Good news for the M’s! Francisco has struggled all year. Ichiro leads off with a single to left, Figgins then bunts his way on. Ok, here we go I thought, two men on, no outs, heart of the order coming up with speedy Ichiro on 2nd. Smart baseball wins this game. Uh oh! Gutierrez comes to the plate and makes Franky look like Mariano Rivera. Horrid at bat by Guti, strikes out. Lopez was then walked to bring up Byrnes. Here is where it gets weird. As I was watching the at bat, my brother pointed out that third base coach Mike Brumley kept running through the signs for Byrnes, and kept chatting with Ichiro at 3rd. I scoffed and hoped they all just shut up and let Byrnes hit the ball hard somewhere. The Rangers were at DP depth which was great, Byrnes has awesome speed. A ground ball might win the game, a fly ball certainly does. This is easy I say! DOH! Wakamatsu calls of a squeeze play!!! But Byrnes forgets to try and bunt the ball! He just stands there, watches the ball go by, and Ichiro gets tagged out at the plate. Byrnes then proceeds to look horrid, AGAIN, at the plate, striking out. To say this was a cluster of failure is an understatement. I love Don Wakamatsu, but this was a classic case of over management. Just let the guys swing. Yeah, maybe things go sideways anyway, but at some point you have to trust these guys to make a play and win. The situation set itself up nicely for the Mariners, and they out smarted themselves right out of the inning.
Remember Jack Wilson getting pinch hit a couple innings before? Well the top of the 12th came with Matt Tuiasasopo at SS. I love Tui, but he is no Jack Wilson with the glove. To lead off Andrus had an infield single. Then Michael Young chopped a ball over the mound that Tui should have simply ate. Instead he tried to make a play and ended up throwing the ball into the dugout. I am convinced either Wilson makes the play, or eats the ball. If Wilson is in there, the M’s get out of the inning because Texas didn’t even get the ball out of the infield on League, yet they scored 2 runs, largely because of the error on Tui. I am not ripping Tui too bad here, Wak should not have pinch hit Wilson beforehand.
Moore & Lee: Student and Teacher
I have already gone overboard on this recap. Felix is on the mound today, so let’s hope for better things from the plate and get Felix a win. Overall the game was massive highs, and massive lows. The hitting was pathetic, managing not much better, and Cliff Lee was amazing. The call-out of Kotchman at first base was brutal, as was Ron Washington blowing up for no reason and getting tossed. Makes me wonder if he had dinner reservations to get to? It was bizarre.
Goats: Mariners hitters and Don Wakamatsu (see above)
By way of a series preview, I think we’re going to play the who would you rather have game, like we did with the Athletics earlier in the week. Due to the lack of roster changes, we’ll just do it for the first series of the year with each team and maybe the first series after the all-star break, or something like that. It’s a quick fun way to look at rosters though, and doesn’t take much work for us Good Guys!
Note: no line ups today yet, so I’m going with opening day line up for the Rangers. I believe Kinsler and Saltalamacchia are the only guys out right now, so I’ll adjust as needed.
C M’s: Rob Johnson Texas: Taylor Teagarden (Jarrod Saltalamacchia injured)
Pick: Probably the Rangers with either guy. Adam Moore might be a closer comparison to Teagarden.
1B M’s: Casey Kotchman Texas: Chris Davis
2B M’s: Chone Figgins Rangers: Andres Blanco (Ian Kinsler injured)
Pick: Figgins. Might take Kinsler when healthy though.
3B M’s: Jose Lopez Rangers: Michael Young
Pick: Young. I wouldn’t want the contract, but just as a player, I’ll take Young.
SS M’s: Jack Wilson Rangers: Elvis Andrus
Pick: Andrus. Does everything Wilson does offensively and defensively, plus more.
LF M’s: Milton Bradley Rangers: Josh Hamilton
Pick: Hamilton. Similar players with lots of talent but a decent amount of volatility. Hamilton is just better, more talented, and younger.
CF M’s: Franklin Gutierrez Rangers: Julio Borbon
RF M’s: Ichiro! Rangers: Nelson Cruz
Pick: Ichiro. I’d happily take Cruz in left, though.
DH M’s: Griffey Rangers: Vlad Guerrero
Expected Pitching Matchups
Friday M’s: Jason Vargas Rangers: Colby Lewis
Pick: Lewis. Hard to know what to expect from him after a few very good years in Japan, but Vargas isn’t the stiffest competition.
Saturday M’s: Felix Rangers: Scott Harrison
Sunday M’s: Ian Snell Rangers: Scott Feldman
Closer: M’s: David Aardsma Rangers: Frank Francisco
That’s Mariners 3 and Rangers 7 for position players and DH.
2 to 1 Rangers on the rotation, Mariners take the closer spot.
That’s a lot of talent on this Rangers team, with more on the way. Teams like this (young, talented, little success so far except for a winning record last year) often take a “consolidation” year, where they struggle a bit and then become a contender. We’ll see if that’s the case for Texas or if they can win right away. They’re definitely the scariest team in the division, but that doesn’t always mean they’re the best. Enjoy the weekend and go Mariners!