2014 Division Preview – American League West

AL West

Welcome to part four of 500 Level Fan’s season preview series.  Today’s focus is on the AL West.

Defending Champion

Oakland Athletics

Past Five Champions

2013 – Oakland

2012 – Oakland

2011 – Texas

2010 – Texas

2009 – Los Angeles

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 94.6

Best Player

Mike Trout, Angels

I don’t know what is more amazing: the fact that Mike Trout actually had a better season in 2013 than in 2012, or the fact that he is still only 22 years old.  That’s right – 22 years old, meaning he is still about 5 years away from even reaching his prime!  The list of his accomplishments from last season is mind blowing.  Trout finished in the top-5 in the AL in each of the following categories: WAR (9.2), Average (.323), OBP (.432), Slugging (.557), OPS (.988), Runs (109), Hits (190), Total Bases (328), 3B (9), Walks (110), and a host of advanced metrics as well.  He also just barely missed out on a second straight 30/30 season (27 HR, 33 SB).  He is simply the best. 

Honourable Mention: Robinson Cano, Mariners; Adrian Beltre, Rangers

Best Pitcher

Yu Darvish, Rangers

Tough to choose between Darvish and Felix Hernandez, but this year the nod goes to Darvish.  He pitched five more innings than King Felix last season, and posted a lower ERA (2.83 to 3.04), lower WHIP (1.07 to 1.13), and significantly more strikeouts (277 to 216).  He also won more games, and was a victim of an outrageous number of 1-0 losses (four of them).  In fact, other than wins, his numbers were basically on par with Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer.  Darvish should only get better now that he is comfortable in the majors.      

Honourable Mention: Felix Hernandez, Mariners; Jered Weaver, Angels

Three Storylines For 2014

1. Oakland Three-peat?

The A’s came out of nowhere to win the division in 2012, then with many predicting them to regress, proved they were no fluke by winning again last year.  Can they do it again?  It won’t be easy.  With Bartolo Colon and Brett Anderson both gone and Jarrod Parker already lost for the season, they will be relying on a very young rotation of Sonny Gray, AJ Griffin, and Dan Straily.  The cost-conscious A’s did spend some money in the offseason, bringing in closer Jim Johnson and starter Scott Kazmir.  But they will need to avoid regression from corner infielders Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss, and injuries to the injury-prone Josh Reddick, Jed Lowrie, and Kazmir, in order to hold off the improved Rangers, Angels, and Mariners.

2. Rise of the Angels

To say things have been disappointing in LA would be an understatement.  Two years ago the Angels brought in Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and flopped.  Last year they added Josh Hamilton and flopped again.  So this year they decided to get rid of Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo, bringing in David Freese, Raul Ibanez, Tyler Skaggs, and Hector Santiago.  Though it was the Mariners who made the big splash with Robinson Cano, the moves by the Angels might be more important.  If the pitching can hold together, this could finally be the year that LA lives up to expectations.  Never count out Trout.

3. Prince to the Rescue

After signing a massive free agent contract with the Tigers, Prince Fielder spent two solid but not outstanding seasons in Detroit.  This year, after an offseason trade that saw him swapped straight up for Ian Kinsler, Fielder joins the Rangers, in a hitters paradise, hoping to lead Texas back to the postseason.  Putting Fielder’s bat in the middle of that lineup could be deadly.  With Elvis Andrus, a full season of rookie Jurickson Profar, perennial MVP candidate Adrian Beltre, and former Blue Jays Alex Rios and J.P. Arencibia, the Rangers will score a lot of runs.  Will it be enough to win what might be baseball’s most competitive division?

Interesting Stat

Ever since the introduction of interleague play, baseball has been using an unbalanced schedule.  Some people like it, some people hate it, but one thing is certain: for a league that offers wild card playoff spots, an unbalanced schedule is very, very unfair.  Case in point – the 2013 Texas Rangers, who ended tied for the second AL Wild Card with Tampa Bay.  But while the Rays were forced to play 19 games against the Red Sox, Orioles, and Yankees, the Rangers received the luxury of playing 19 games against the league worst Houston Astros.  By dominating Houston (Texas went 17-2 against the Astros), they somewhat undeservedly qualified for a play-in game.  It sounds odd to say, but many teams in the AL East and Central will be hoping for a much improved Houston team in 2014.

What the Bloggers are Saying

I reached out to Tim Chalberg, a Seattle Mariners blogger who runs a great site called Seattle Mariners Musings.

Biggest Storyline

The arms race attached to the pennant chase.  The A’s, Angels, and Rangers all have their  eyes set on the division crown.  All were aggressive in the offseason.  I doubt the arms race is done for.  I don’t know who these teams will pursue as the season unfolds but it wouldn’t surprise me to see all three of these teams in bidding wars against each other as they battle for the AL West crown.  I think it could create a west coast version of the Yankees-Red Sox duels from the mid-2000’s.

Most Interesting Player

Yoenis Cespedes, and the more I think about it, there’s nobody close to him.  Here’s why.  To start with, Cespedes is an athletic freak.  I like the Bo Jackson cmparisons.  Also, his playing style (particularly at the plate) reminds me of Vladimir Guerrero’s – hyper aggressive for better and worse.  Cespedes will chase pitches he shouldn’t, yet also hit some of those bad pitches a long, long way.  I could see Cespedes bat .240 again with a low OBP and home runs, or figure out MLB pitching a bit more and be a legitimate MVP threat.  If Cespedes is closer to the latter instead of the former, the A’s are scary good.

Who Wins?

Oakland.  Their pitching depth, both in the rotation and bullpen, is very good.  That plays up even better in O.co Coliseum because it is a pitcher’s park.  Bob Melvin is also one of the best tactical managers in MLB, in my opinion at least, which helps.  I wonder how consistent the A’s offense will be (I think it’s a little home run heavy) but it’s been good enough the past few years and I don’t see any major reasons it will take a step back this year.

Who Should Win

Oakland 

Who Will Win

Find out in my season prediction column on March 27th.

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