2014 AL West Preview

Spring training is almost over and it’s finally time to do season previews. The two west divisions figure to be the best in baseball, with 9 of the 10 teams commonly projected to finish above .500 or right around it. Today, in the AL West Preview, you’ll learn about that 10th unfortunate team, the Houston Astros—and four teams who consider themselves lucky to play the Astros 19 times.

Projected Standings

Team W-L Games Back RS RA
Texas 94-68 755 640
Oakland 91-71 3 740 650
Los Angeles 86-76 8 760 715
Seattle 82-80 12 680 670
Houston 60-102 34 630 800

 
To make these standings I used the Pythagorean Win Expectation formula developed by Bill James. Much of this preview owes credit to Bill James, and some of the categories below are taken directly from his Historical Baseball Abstract. The Pythagorean formula spits out an expected winning percentage when you input a team’s runs scored and runs allowed. I used my projected 2014 totals for those two figures, which you can see above.

Based on my estimations for runs scored and runs allowed, the Astros’ Pythagorean record is actually 62-100. Before I settled upon using the formula, I drew up win totals based on my gut, and for the Astros I had 60-102. I was pleased that the formula came so close to my initial hunch; and I used my gut over the formula because I imagine it will be in Houston’s best interests to lose a couple extra at the end of the season, so they could get yet another first overall pick.

All AL West Team
Bold denotes players who would make All West Team (AL plus NL)

C Jason Castro Houston
1B Prince Fielder Texas
2B Robinson Cano Seattle
3B Adrian Beltre Texas
SS Jed Lowrie Oakland
OF Mike Trout Los Angeles
Shin-Soo Choo Texas
Yoenis Cespedes Oakland
SP Yu Darvish Texas
Felix Hernandez Seattle
Hisashi Iwakuma Seattle
RP Fernando Rodney Seattle
Sean Doolittle Oakland

 
Worst Regular: Robbie Grossman, Houston OF

Worst Rotation Pitcher: Brad Peacock, Houston

Best Rotation
A bit of explanation first: I arrived at these rankings systematically, incorporating my own ratings of each of player and weighting those ratings by playing time. A team’s starting pitchers face about 4000 batters in a season, on average. The team leader in batters faced (TBF, T for total) accounted for, on average, 21 percent of that total—about 850 TBF. The player second to the team leader accounted for 19 percent, and third place accounted for 17 percent. Fourth place accounted for 14 percent, fifth place for 11 percent, and everyone else for 18 percent combined.

I listed out seven starting pitchers for each team, in order of most projected innings pitched to least. [I’ll refer to innings pitched (IP) from now on because it is analogous to total batters faced and more familiar, probably.] Take the Mariners, for example:

1. Felix Hernandez
2. Hisashi Iwakuma
3. Scott Baker
4. Taijuan Walker
5. James Paxton
6. Erasmo Ramirez
7. Blake Beavan/Others

 
Then I assigned ratings on a scale of 1 to 5 to each player: 5 signifying a true ace, one of the best pitchers in the league; 3 meaning a serviceable starter; 1 meaning a replacement player. Let’s go back to Seattle:

1. Felix Hernandez 5
2. Hisashi Iwakuma 4
3. Scott Baker 3
4. Taijuan Walker 2.5
5. James Paxton 2
6. Erasmo Ramirez 2
7. Blake Beavan/Others 1

 
One way to organize my evaluation is to take the sum of these player ratings. That would be 19.5. But I knew that Felix would probably pitch more than Iwakuma, and Iwakuma would probably pitch more than Baker, so to account for that I multiplied each player’s ratings by a coefficient. These coefficients are the same as the TBF percentages I listed above. Felix will likely be the team leader in innings pitched and batters faced, and last year the average team leader accounted for 21 percent of batters faced, so the coefficient I apply to Felix’s rating is 21. Iwakuma’s coefficient is 19, and so on. These calculations led to a Team Score of 317.

Without further ado, here are your entire AL West team ratings.

Team Sum Team Score Weighted Average
1. Texas 21.5 331 3.31
2. Seattle 19.5 317 3.17
3. Oakland 19 295 2.95
4. Los Angeles 16.5 259 2.59
5. Houston 14 222 2.22

 
The Weighted Average column is the team score divided by 100, as you can see. It is also, you may have figured, the weighted average of individual player ratings.

This method is not meant to be scientific. It’s merely a way for me to express my thoughts about the talent of each pitching staff for the upcoming season. Before I came up with this method I was concerned that I would evaluate each team with inconsistent standards, that I wouldn’t know how to settle the matter of depth versus star power. This way I can say I held each team to a uniform standard. We will see how well this method holds up by the end of the season, and next year I may introduce some tweaks to the system.

A few notes about the results:

The two teams with legitimate aces finished above everyone else. Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez are great pitchers and barring injury will throw the most innings on their respective teams. It makes sense that they would provide a great boon in this evaluation.

I have Derek Holland placing fifth on the Rangers in terms of innings pitched, below Darvish, Martin Perez, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando. More innings pitched from him would have resulted in a higher score for Texas, but only slightly. For example, if Holland pitched the second most innings after Darvish, the Rangers’ Team Score would be 339. This speaks to a flaw in the system, namely that it cares less about a player’s actual innings pitched than it cares about where he ranks relative to his teammates in innings pitched. The gap between first and second, second and third, third and fourth, can vary wildly from team to team for innumerable reasons. But I opted for uniformity over nuance in this regard, and we’ll see if this system can overcome that flaw.

Before it was known that Jarrod Parker needed season-ending Tommy John surgery, the Athletics Team Score was 332, one point above Texas. The loss of Parker thus cost Oakland 37 points in my system, more than 10 percent of their original total.

So the A’s have been dealt a serious blow, and another injury to their starting rotation would be disastrous. The Rangers and Mariners may sustain injuries as well, bringing them down to or below the A’s level. Pitchers get injured more than anyone, but that is hardly something to count on if you’re a fan of Oakland. The offense must now shoulder a larger load, as must the bullpen. Luckily…

Best Bullpen: Oakland

Best Infield: Texas (Prince Fielder, Jurickson Profar, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre)

Best Outfield: Oakland (Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick)
Plus Craig Gentry off the bench

Best Platoon Combination: Derek Norris, John Jaso and Stephen Vogt, Oakland catchers
Of the three, Jaso will probably get the least time at catcher and the most at designated hitter. The A’s will probably also rotate their four outfielders through the DH spot as well. Their platoons interlock with each other and are hard to separate, but you can be confident all the players involved will be utilized well.

Best Hitter: Mike Trout, Los Angeles CF

Best Hitting Pitcher: Scott Feldman, Houston
Slugged .297 last year in 38 plate appearances. Six hits in 37 at-bats, three singles, two doubles, one home run, eight RBI. Only 13 strikeouts, a little more than a third of all his plate appearances.

Best Outfield Arm (Vlad Guerrero Award – Fielding): Josh Reddick, Oakland RF
Leads or is at the top of AL leaderboards for outfield assists and double plays started. Fans filling out Tom Tango’s scouting surveys rate his arm strength and accuracy as well as any other outfielder in the league. The components of advanced defensive metrics that are meant to measure the quality of a player’s arm also rate Reddick at or near the best in the league. Also, watch.

Worst Outfield Arm: Coco Crisp, Oakland CF

Glove Team
Bold indicates player would make team from both AL and NL West

C Jason Castro Houston
1B Mitch Moreland Texas
2B Robinson Cano Seattle
3B Adrian Beltre Texas
SS Elvis Andrus Texas
OF Mike Trout Los Angeles
Josh Reddick Oakland
Alex Rios Texas
P Hector Santiago Los Angeles

 
Most Aggressive Hitter (Vlad Guerrero Award – Hitting): Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles OF

Best Base Stealer: Mike Trout, Los Angeles CF

Best Base Runner: Mike Trout, Los Angeles CF

Best Rookie: Taijuan Walker, Seattle SP

Best Front Office: Oakland A’s (Billy Beane & Jonah Hill, Platooning & Roster Building)

Heaviest Player: Prince Fielder, Texas 1B    275 lbs.

Lightest Player: Jesse Chavez, Oakland SP  160 lbs.

Tallest Players:
  Scott Feldman, Houston SP              6’7”
  Jered Weaver, Los Angeles SP           6’7”

Shortest Player: Jose Altuve, Houston 2B    5’5”

Oldest Player: Raul Ibañez, Los Angeles OF            41 (June 2, 1972)

Youngest Player: Jurickson Profar, Texas 2B           21 (February 20, 1993)
 Luis Sardinas is on the Rangers 40-man roster and was born May 16, 1993.

Best-Looking Player: Dustin Ackley, Seattle 2B

Ugliest Player: Raul Ibañez, Los Angeles OF

Player Most Closely Related to a Reptile: Raul Ibañez, Los Angeles OF

Best Name: Erasmo Ramirez, Seattle P

Nickname by Drunk Berman: Charlie “A Bird in the Hand, a Hand in the” Furbush

Highest-Paid Player:
  Robinson Cano, Seattle 2B  $24,000,000
  Prince Fielder, Texas 1B       $24,000,000

Fastest Player: Mike Trout, Los Angeles CF

Slowest Player: Albert Pujols, Los Angeles 1B

2014 Predictions (500 PA)
Most Home Runs: Prince Fielder, 41
Highest Batting Average: Mike Trout, .343
Lowest Batting Average: Justin Smoak, .235
Best ERA: Felix Hernandez, 2.51
Most Strikeouts: Yu Darvish, 262

Swiss Cheese Award for Hitting: Chris Carter, Houston 1B

Ozzie Guillen Award for Walk Avoidance: Erick Aybar, Los Angeles SS

Wet Noodle Award for Floppiest Bat: Elvis Andrus, Texas SS

Iron Man: Prince Fielder, Texas 1B
  Has missed one game since 2009 Opening Day

Best Switch Hitter: Jed Lowrie, Oakland SS

Best Power/Speed Combo: Mike Trout, Los Angeles CF
  Honorable Mention: Alex Rios, Texas OF

Hardest-Throwing Pitchers:                2013 Fastest
  SP Garrett Richards, Los Angeles            97.59 mph
  RP Fernando Rodney, Seattle                 100.17 mph

Best Curve: Jered Weaver, Los Angeles

Best Control Pitcher: Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle

Best Double Play Combination: Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar, Texas

Best Pitching Staff: Texas

Best Offense: Los Angeles

Best Defense: Texas

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