2015 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

Los Angeles Angels

Past Five Champions

2014 – Los Angeles

2013 – Oakland

2012 – Oakland

2011 – Texas

2010 – Texas

Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 94.8

Best Player

Mike Trout, Angels

All you need to know about how good Mike Trout is, is this: 2014 was his worst major league season.  How bad was it?  Take a look: .287 AVG, .939 OPS, 36 HR, 111 RBI, 115 R, 16 SB, 7.9 WAR.  He also won the American League MVP award for the first time.  If that is what he can do at his worst, there’s no doubt he is the best in the division – not only now, but maybe even for the next decade.

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

Best Pitcher

Felix Hernandez, Mariners

2014 was another dominant year in the career of one of the most dominant pitchers of his generation.  King Felix went 15-6 and led the league with a 2.14 ERA and 0.91 WHIP, while adding an impressive 248 strikeouts.  More importantly, he was finally able to pitch at a high level for a contending team.  Unfortunately for Hernandez, the year ended in very narrow disappointment on two fronts: the Mariners missed out on the playoffs by one game, and he was pipped by Corey Kluber for the Cy Young.  Those disappointments might give him added fuel to dominate in 2015, which should be scary news for the rest of the AL West.

Honourable Mention: Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners; Sonny Gray, Athletics

Three Storylines For 2015

1. Can Trout Get Even Better?

As mentioned already, Mike Trout had his worst statistical season last year, yet still came away with the MVP award and a division title.  That his Angels were upset in the playoffs by the magical Royals team that went to the World Series should only drive Trout forward more.  Which begs the question: what else can he do?  In his three full seasons, he has dominated every aspect of the game. He hits for power and average, he steals bases, he makes highlight reel defensive plays.  The only thing he has yet to do, however, is hit in the playoffs.  In last year’s sweep by the Royals, Trout hit a mere .083 with only 1 hit and 3 walks.  The Angels are still the division favourite, but with an aging Pujols and a relapsing Hamilton, Trout might need to be better than ever in order to get a chance to prove he can hit in the postseason.

2. Mysterious Oakland

Billy Beane has been known to make crazy decisions and retool on the fly, so nobody should really have been surprised by what he did over the winter.  But what did make his roster transformation so shocking were both the number and magnitude of the moves he made.  Gone are Josh Donaldson, Derek Norris, Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Brandon Moss, and others.  In are Ben Zobrist, Billy Butler, Tyler Clippard, Brett Lawrie, Marcus Semien, and Ike Davis.  Beane replaced almost half of the 2014 Wild Card team in a few months.  Are they better?  On paper, absolutely not.  But will they contend?  With a Beane team, you never know.

3. The Upward Mariners

After signing Robinson Cano to a huge free agent deal last winter, baseball experts and fans slammed Cano as being a money chaser, a player who didn’t care about winning.  That’s how far away Seattle looked from contention.  My oh my how things can change.  Seattle won 87 games last season, coming within a single win of reaching the AL Wild Card game.  Now, after making a free agent splash for the second straight winter with the acquisition of AL HR leader Nelson Cruz, they just might be poised to get over the top.  Cruz, Cano, and last season’s breakouts Kyle Seager and Dustin Ackley give them a mighty offense, and with King Felix, the pitching will also be sound.  And the division looks winnable as well, what with Oakland retooling, Texas already without Darvish, the Angels going through Josh Hamilton chaos, and the Astros still a few years away.  This could be the year.

Interesting Stat

That the Seattle Mariners finished one game out of a playoff spot last year is almost mircaculous when you consider the production of their DH.  Pick a category, any category, and the Mariners designated hitters were likely near or at the bottom of the American League.  Runs Scored?  Dead last, with 60.  Hits?  Dead last, 108.  Average, OBP, OPS, HR?  Last (.190), last (.266), last (.567), and 2nd last (15).  At a position where power hitting is supposed to be the norm, the .567 OPS put up by Seattle DH’s would have been the worst in the entire American League for a single player – by a mile.  Of the 76 batters who qualified for the batting title, Houston’s Matt Dominguez had the lowest OPS, .586.  All of which makes the signing of Nelson Cruz so massive.  If can come anywhere close to the .859 mark he put up last year, we might be seeing the Mariners in October.

Who Should Win

LA

Who Will Win

Find out in my season prediction column in early April.

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