Welcome to part four of 500 Level Fan’s season preview series. Today’s focus is on the AL West.
Past Five Champions
2015 – Texas
2014 – Los Angeles
2013 – Oakland
2012 – Oakland
2011 – Texas
Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 94.4
Mike Trout, Angels
No explanation needed, although I will throw out one stat. Last season Trout led the AL with a 9.4 WAR, the fourth year in a row he has topped the league. The last American League player to do that? Mickey Mantle from 1955-1958. Yeah, Trout is good.
Honourable Mention: Jose Altuve, Astros; Adrian Beltre, Rangers
Dallas Keuchel, Astros
Keuchel was a very good pitcher in 2014 (2.93 ERA in 29 starts) so he didn’t exactly come out of nowhere last year. But to say that he would win the Cy Young award? Nobody saw that coming. Keuchel was
the rock of an Astros team that stunned baseball by making the playoffs last year, arriving several years ahead of schedule. He led the league with 20 wins, 2 shutouts, 232 IP, a 162 ERA+, and a 1.017 WHIP, and he finished second in ERA (2.48), and Hits per 9 (7.17). He was named the starting pitcher for the AL in the All-Star game, and to top it all off he tossed 6 shutout innings of 3-hit ball on short rest against the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game. It’s safe to say, he will not be catching anybody by surprise in 2016.
Honourable Mention: Felix Hernandez, Mariners; Sonny Gray, Athletics
Three Storylines For 2016
1. Astro Revolution
They were a team that set out on a radical experiment, one that began in 2009 and really took flight in 2011: to win in the long-term by losing in the short-term. Losing meant high draft picks, which in turn meant a fully rebuilt farm system richly stocked with high-ceiling prospects. The future looked so bright that Sports Illustrated crowned them the 2017 World Series champions. But after losing 416 games in the four seasons from 2011-14, the Astros bulldozed their way to 86 wins and a Wild Card birth last season, at least two years ahead of schedule. They enter 2016 with an amazing core of players both on the offensive side (Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Carlos Gomez, Jon Singleton) and the pitching side (Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers), and brought in reinforcements in Doug Fister and new closer Ken Giles. The biggest question they face now is how they fare as the favourite. Will they continue to build on their fantastic 2016, or will regression rear its ugly head?
2. Wasting Trout?
Mike Trout is a generational talent, his early career results leading to comparisons with Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Barry Bonds. Unfortunately for him, the Angels are slowly crumbling from a contender into a pretender. In Trout’s four seasons he has only been to the playoffs once (2014), and last season LA’s win total plummeted from 98 to 85, leaving them in third place in the AL West and on the outside of the Wild Card game. In order to get back to the playoffs, the team brought in the declining Yunel Escobar to play third and the all-D no-O SS Andrelton Simmons. They are hoping that the aging Albert Pujols can stay healthy and still has some magic in his bat, and that Daniel Nava, Kole Calhoun, and CJ Cron can consistently hit big league pitching. With a “meh” rotation – a clearly declining Jered Weaver, the inconsistent Richards, Shoemaker, and Santiago, and the raw Andrew Heaney – and a very tough division, the Angels are in real danger of wasting another year of Trout’s prime.
3. Is Texas For Real?
The Rangers finished dead last in 2014 and then came seemingly out of nowhere to win the division last year. Heading into 2016, the roster looks pretty much the same as the one that lost to the Blue Jays in the ALDS – which might be a good thing or a bad thing. On the offensive side, Beltre, Fielder, Choo, Andrus, and Odor look legit, but the lineup is not without question marks. The health of Josh Hamilton is a major question, so much so that Texas brought in Ian Desmond, a man with 7.1 innings of outfield experience in his career, to be the starting left fielder. Cole Hamels is on board for a full season (good) and Yu Darvish will come back mid-year (good), but how will Lewis, Holland, and the rest of the rotation hold up (questionable)? Finally, closer Shawn Tolleson faded heavily down the stretch last year, and Sam Dyson is probably still in shock from Bautista’s bat flip. This team could be a 100-win juggernaut, or an under .500 basement dweller.
After watching the Blue Jays make the playoffs in 2015, the dubious distinction of longest playoff drought is now held by the Seattle Mariners. For a team that is loaded with guys like Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, Felix Hernandez, and Hisashi Iwakuma, that is hard to believe. But it is easy to see Seattle’s flaws. Their team defense was awful (AL worst -7.6 dWAR) and their 1B couldn’t hit (2nd worst .702 OPS). Acquiring Leonys Martin, Nori Aoki, and Adam Lind will go a long way towards rectifying those areas. But one black hole still exists: catcher. Mike Zunino, Jesus Sucre, Welington Castillo, John Hick, and Steven Baron combined for a .159 AVG, .205 OBP, and .464 OPS (!!!) last season. That is atrocious. Seattle signed Chris Iannetta, a guy who hit .188 with a .628 OPS of his own last year, to improve the position. From 2011 – 2014 Iannetta posted an OPS+ of 109, meaning he was an above average hitter. The Mariners need him to rediscover that form or else another year of Cano and King Felix will go to waste.
Who Should Win
Who Will Win
Find out in my season prediction column in early April.