AL West First Quarter Report
Warm Up Tosses:
Gill Alexander, the de-facto mayor of, if not Las Vegas, then at least the Hard Rock Hotel Pool and Cabana scene in Sin City, invited me back on his podcast this week. We talked baseball, El Padrino, and proving you can take the man out of the markets but you can’t take the markets out of the man, we also spent a fair amount of time talking about the stock market and Facebook’s IPO. During the discussion, I dropped the term “greenshoe” on an entirely new audience. As always, great fun and you can listen here: http://goo.gl/7M0a
Finishing up the American League, with the National League coming next week . . .
Original Projection: 88 – 74, Current Pace: 101 – 61
I run my model before every game is played and it’s based off of the same information that goes into the preseason projections. In doing so, I take the starting line up of each team, including that night’s starting pitcher, and estimate how many games that particular configuration of talent would win if it played all 162 games. (For instance, behind Yu Darvish in his last start, the Rangers sported, by my calculations, a 104-win line up.) I averaged the sum of those wins for the Texas’ first 40 games and calculate the Rangers, on average, sent a 96-win team on the field each game. Yet, I only estimated those same players would win 88 games over the course of the season.
The difference? Playing time assumptions. Due to the injury history of many of the Rangers All-Star starters, I only had them playing about ¾ of the season. It’s not an unrealistic assumption. Josh Hamilton, for instance, has only played in an average of 114 games for Texas over the last three years. That’s why his career-high for home runs in a season is “only” 32. With 18 home runs through 40 games this year, if he stays healthy, Hamilton should put the 50-home run mark into play and the Rangers will likely remain on a 100-win pace.
Through 40 games, there are no holes to poke in Texas’ performance. The Rangers are the highest scoring team in baseball and its underlying data supports every one of the runs they scored. They’re defense is outstanding – third best in baseball through 40 games at converting batted balls into outs – but that’s simply a continuation of last year’s stellar fielding team featuring the same players. The bullpen has an incredibly low ERA of 2.12, second only to Baltimore’s 2.07, but unlike the Orioles, the hurlers in the Rangers bullpen have the skill sets to continue to dominate opposing hitters.
Texas is off to a great start in its quest to get back to the World Series for the third straight year.
Los Angeles Angels
Original Projection: 91 – 71, Current Pace: 73 – 89
There are a number of offensive matters for Angels fans to be worried about beyond the wretched performance of Albert Pujols through the first 40 games of the season. The Angels simply have trouble getting on base, producing a baserunner at just a .305 clip per plate appearance. That an on-base percentage is third-worst in the AL (although, amazingly, second in the division.) Yes, Pujols only had one home run through May 15, but a half-dozen more wouldn’t have been much help if they were all solo shots. Elevating the electrifying youngster Mike Trout (.377 OBP), finally, to an everyday role as the result of a Vernon Wells (.282 OBP) injury should help. It’s quite possible though that the Angels just don’t have an offense that has the skill sets in terms of batting eye and line-drive hitting ability to get on base at even a league-average rate.
From a pitching perspective, while the starters have met or even slightly exceed very high expectations, the Angels relievers have been among the league’s worst posting an ERA of 4.36. The weak performance of the bullpen doesn’t appear to be the result of fluky misfortune; the Angels relievers strike out batters at a below-average rate and walk them at an above-average rate – a deadly combination for pitchers working in high leverage situations
The season isn’t lost yet but it’s a little past the point where the Angels can simply say “it’s early.” Based on player skill sets, it’s unlikely the Angels will seriously challenge the Rangers but they have plenty of time to right themselves for a wild card race.
Original Projection: 79 – 83, Current Pace: 81 – 81
The A’s have put together a solid performing team and for Bay Area residents, one that is enjoyable to watch as well. They’ve landed an absolute gem in Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes who not only can electrify fans with mammoth home runs but, alongside Josh Reddick in right field, provides the Athletics with two cannon arms in the outfield. The .500 start has been a pleasant development for Oakland’s fans but beneath the surface there are a number of warning signs.
The pitching staff has posted above-average results in terms of ERA but, although it hasn’t shown up in their runs allowed yet, the top four members of the rotation have seen a deterioration of their skill sets compared to 2011. Staff ace, Brendan McCarthy has a sub-3.00 ERA which is lower than last year’s 3.32 figure. However, he’s pitching considerably worse in 2012 as measured by a lower strikeout rate, a higher walk rate, and a lower groundball rate. There is no way that combination – worse peripheral statistics but better results – will persist over the rest of the season. To a lesser degree, this is true of Oakland’s other starters as well.
The bullpen is in line for an even larger regression for the same reason as the Baltimore Orioles’ pen: The A’s are fielding batted balls at a much higher success rate when the relievers are in the game.
There are many beneath-the-surface issues lurking for Oakland on the run prevention side of the ledger. The team may continue to be entertaining the rest of the year, aided in that regard by the return of Manny Ramirez to the major leagues, but the A’s should be very content if they stay close to the .500 level for the rest of the season.
Original Projection: 74 – 88, Current Pace: 65 – 97
Only in the American League West could the Angels be one of the worst teams in baseball at getting on base and still rank second in that category in its own division. That’s because as bad as the Angels and Athletics are at getting on base, the Mariners sport an on-base percentage of .287 through 40 games. That’s so low that if the Texas Rangers hadn’t gotten one walk all year, they’d still have a higher on base percentage than Seattle thanks to the Rangers team batting average of .291. The Mariners tried addressing its anemic offensive results of the past couple years this off-season – most obviously by acquiring super-prospect Jesus Montero from the New York Yankees – but as of yet the results have been uninspiring. Still the performance is not entirely without merit; the Mariners are on pace to score more runs than last year.
The Mariners are in a very similar situation as the A’s. .500 ball is a reasonable goal, but almost certainly represents the ceiling for success in 2012.
Mop Up Duty:
Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, the Newsletter, a companion piece to Trading Bases, A Story about Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball* (*) Not necessarily in that order, a Dutton Books/Penguin (U.S.A.) February, 2013 release.
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