2016 American League West Predictions
Texas dominated the division last year; the STATE of Texas, as the Rangers and the Astros both made the playoffs in a shocker of a season for both squads. The Rangers rode the backs of some crafty veterans while the ‘Stros relied on an outstanding youth movement to become the new face of what rebuilding can do.
The Astros had one of the biggest turnarounds in league history, improving by a whopping 35 games over the past two seasons. Relying on an outstanding farm system rather than expensive free agents, second year manager AJ Hinch has the luxury of coaching a young, very talented squad who should only improve. The outfield of Colby Rasmus, Carlos Gomez, and George Springer is fast and will cover a ton of ground, while Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve will be two of the best middle infielders in the game; Correa could be an MVP candidate as soon as this year – this year’s version of Trout and Harper. Springer is ripe for a monster breakout season; expect .280/.370/.550 with a couple dozen steals and solid power tossed into the mix for the budding star. The corners of the infield are the team’s Achilles heel. Luis Valbuena and Jon Singleton possess nice power, but strike out far too much and could struggle to hit .225.
The pitching staff is strong from top to bottom, especially in the bullpen where newly acquired closer Ken Giles will be an upgrade, as he allows Luke Gregerson to shift back to a set-up role. Will Harris and Tony Sipp will handle their seventh and eighth inning chores just fine as well. As far as the rotation goes, it remains intact save for the addition of Doug Fister. His presence could bump Scott Feldman into a long relief role; certainly not a bad thing. Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, and Mike Fiers should all be solid – though a tiny regression for Keuchel wouldn’t be a shock.
Take the Astros over 88 wins (-115)
Seattle was one of the bigger disappointments in baseball, as the dollars spent certainly didn’t match the result in the win column. Enter new manager Scott Servais, the latest in a line of former big league catchers to run an MLB team. He inherits a squad that, on paper, should contend for the division title. The lineup has a nice blend of power, speed, and on-base ability – especially with OF Nori Aoki and SS Ketel Marte setting the table in the top two slots. Expect a big bounce back season from 2B Robinson Cano. Something was way off for him early last year, but he simply raked from the All Star game on. Don’t expect 40+ HRs from Nelson Cruz again, by 32-36 could be acceptable. Any offense from new CF Leonys Martin would be a gift; he was a perpetual offensive underachiever in Texas, though he has a very good glove.
There are some risky propositions on the pitching staff as age, injury, and inconsistency are all too present. Felix Hernandez experienced significant jumps in ERA, walk and HR rate, and a lowered strikeout rate. Perhaps averaging over 220 innings over the past ten years is taking its toll? Hisashi Iwakuma is another risky proposition, while Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Nate Karns, and Wade Miley have yet to prove consistency beyond AAA. The ‘pen could be shaky, especially at the back-end where former closers Joaquin Benoit and Steve Cishek will be battling for the open closer role.
Take the Mariners over 82.5 wins (-140)
Texas rebounded nicely from an injury-ravaged 2014 to take their first AL West title since 2011. There’s a nice mix of youth and experience in the lineup, though many of the veterans are high injury risks. The Rangers finally wised up and moved SS Elvis Andrus and his poor on-base skills out of the leadoff spot; CF Delino DeShields has a much better eye and could score 100+ runs in front of RBI machines like Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, and Mitch Moreland. Former Nats SS Ian Desmond was a late signing and will take over left field, where his brutal glove skills should be a bit tempered, though his hitting skills appear to be deteriorating at a rapid pace.
The pitching staff is OK, and will be better once ace Yu Darvish returns from TJ surgery. Cole Hamels did well transitioning from the NL, though his ERA will more in line with last season’s 3.65 rather than his career average of 3.31. Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, and Martin Perez are injury risks, but can be competent and keep the Rangers in games. The bullpen may not be as fortunate. Closer Shawn Tolleson did well after taking over early in the season, but may give way to someone less prone to the long ball – like import Tom Wilhelmsen. Neither are lights-out options, however, and the remainder of the ‘pen is light on quality depth.
Take the Rangers under 83.5 wins (+110)
The Angels brought back manager Mike Scioscia for a 17th season, but don’t be shocked if he isn’t around for the end of it. Despite the presence of the best player in the game (Mike Trout), the team is loaded with some bad contracts (Albert Pujols, CJ Wilson), declining veterans (Jered Weaver), and all-glove, no-hit players (Andrelton Simmons, Johnny Giavotella, Craig Gentry, Daniel Nava). The defense will certainly help, and Pujols, Trout and Kole Calhoun can still hit the long ball, but the holes in the lineup and the lack of depth throughout far outweigh the awesomeness of Trout.
SP Garrett Richards returned from injury and had a really nice season; there’s no reason to think that he can’t continue to improve and remain a true ace. Weaver is already experiencing some significant back issues; his status for the season is unknown, and his future appears murky. Wilson is coming off of both shoulder tendonitis and minor elbow surgery; with a decreasing K-rate, and being 35, he can’t be counted on to be a consistent #2 in Weaver’s absence. Hector Santiago may surpass Wilson, but giving up 29 HRs when many of your games are in pitcher’s parks (home, Seattle, Oakland…) is unacceptable.
Take the Angels under 80.5 wins (-140)
Oakland has done a wonderful job exceeding expectations over the past 15 years or so, but they haven’t been this void of talent in quite some time. The late pickup of OF Khris Davis from the Brewers gave them their only consistent power source, though the move to spacious O.co Coliseum certainly won’t help his HR totals. CF Billy Burns was a bright spot, showing good on-base skills, range in the outfield, and outstanding speed on the base paths. The rest? Eerily similar throughout, as the likes of Billy Butler, Josh Reddick, Stephen Vogt, Danny Valencia, Yonder Alonso, and Marcus Semien will all hit around .260 with 12-18 HRs, and 65-ish RBIs. Not a lot to get excited about at all.
The rotation possesses a star in Sonny Gray, meaning he’ll probably be traded for prospects come the trade deadline. He reminds us of a young Roy Oswalt; slight of stature, but big on ability. On any other team he’d be a Cy Young contender, especially if he can up his K-rate just a bit. Jesse Hahn is a pitch-to-contact type who lacks the ability to miss bats as well. The remainder of the rotation is loaded with inconsistent youth and Rich Hill, a 36 year-old journeyman junkballer who parlayed four September starts into a six million dollar payoff for this season.
Take the Athletics under 76.5 (even)
American League West Predictions
- Houston 91-71
- Seattle 88-74
- Texas 83-79
- LA Angels 78-84
- Oakland 71-91