Welcome to part four of 500 Level Fan’s season preview series. Today’s focus is on the AL West.
Past Five Champions
2016 – Texas
2015 – Texas
2014 – Los Angeles
2013 – Oakland
2012 – Oakland
Average Wins of Past Five Champions: 94.2
Mike Trout, LA Angels
Is an explanation even necessary? Trout put up yet another unbelievable season in 2016. He led the league in Runs (123), Walks (116), OBP (.441), OPS+ (171), and WAR (10.6), while winning his second MVP award. In fact, the 10.6 WAR was tied for the 113th best single season mark in big league history, tied for the 40th best single mark since 1920, and tied for the 6th best season since 2000. And the scary thing is that he seems to be getting even better. From 2015 to 2016 Trout reduced his number of strikeouts by 21, walked 24 more times, stole 19 more bases, and improved his defensive metrics. About the only thing he didn’t do was drag his injury riddled team into the playoffs. Just give him the 2017 MVP now.
Honourable Mention: Jose Altuve, Astros; Robinson Cano, Mariners
Cole Hamels, Texas Rangers
Last season was a real down y ear for pitching in the AL West. Many of the division’s aces struggled, either with injury, underperformance, or decline. Names like Darvish, Hernandez, Iwakuma, Gray, Keuchel, McCullers, and Shoemaker left a lot to be desired. And then there was Cole Hamels who put up his typical All-Star worthy season. It was another 200-inning, 200-strikeout, sub-3.50 ERA campaign for the lefty, who added a 15-5 record to the mix. More importantly for the Rangers was the fact that he made all 32 starts, providing stability to a rotation that badly needed it.
Honourable Mention: Felix Hernandez, Mariners; Yu Darvish, Rangers
Three Storylines For 2017
1. Texas Threepeat?
In 2015 the Texas Rangers lost Yu Darvish for the season yet somehow won the AL West. In 2016 they dealt with the sudden and abrupt retirement of Prince Fielder, a half-season from Darvish, a year-long injury saga with Josh Hamilton, and a middling +8 run differential to somehow outlast Houston and repeat. All of which begs the following questions: what will go wrong in 2017 and how will they once again overcome? IF they are to threepeat they will do so with a different roster. Gone are Mitch Moreland, 2016 standout Ian Desmond, and trade deadline acquisition Carlos Beltran. But fellow deadline pickup Jonathan Lucroy is back for a full season, Darvish is (presumably) healthy, and Texas brought back Mike Napoli to try and plug the DH hole. The big questions are in the rotation. Will Darvish stay healthy and will new signees Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner provide anything? If so, the Rangers are set up well to once again lose to the Jays in the ALDS.
2. Houston Going for Broke
2016 was a mess for Houston. A year after making the playoffs for the first time with their young core, a terrible start put the Astros in a hole they couldn’t dig themselves out of. The team regressed to 84 wins and an October spent watching TV. To rectify that, Astro management decided to go all-in on 2017. They opened up their wallets and brought in Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick, Nori Aoki, and Charlie Morton. The absurdly talented core returns intact, with Altuve, Correa, Springer, and Bregman bolstering the lineup. The season may hinge on an inconsistent rotation. If 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel can return from shoulder surgery and find his form, this one scary, scary team.
3. Breaking Another Drought?
The Seattle Mariners are the current holders of a title that nobody wants: baseball’s longest playoff drought. But if there is good news for the Mariners it’s that baseball has been in a habit of breaking droughts recently. The Giants broke a 56-year World Series drought in 2010. The Pirates broke a 21-year playoff drought in 2013. The Royals broke a 29-year playoff drought in 2014. The Blue Jays broke a 22-year playoff drought in 2015. And of course the Cubs broke a 108-year World Series drought last season. The Mariners haven’t reached October since 2001, but they sit poised to end that dark period in 2017. Jerry Dipoto took his 86-win team that barely missed the playoffs and made a ton of moves to put them over the hump. In are Jarrod Dyson, Yovani Gallardo, Carlos Ruiz, Jean Segura, Danny Valencia, and Drew Smyly. Electric closer Edwin Diaz will handle the 9th inning for a full season, and with Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, and Robinson Cano all back, this is a team that could make some noise.
It’s hard to be blown away anymore by Mike Trout. The guy is simply unreal. But let’s try: In five full seasons (plus a 40-game stint in 2011) Trout has compiled a career WAR of 48.5, a total that places him 327th on MLB’s all time list. To reiterate, Trout has played only five full major league seasons and doesn’t turn 26 until August, yet he already ranks in the top 2% of all players to ever play the game. If his 2017 performance matches 2016, Trout will pass such notables as Sandy Koufax, Nellie Fox, Ralph Kiner, Dennis Martinez, Bernie Williams, Fred Lynn, Minnie Minoso, Kirby Puckett, Fred McGriff, Davit Ortiz, and Whitey Ford on the career list. Projecting future performance is a fool’s game but Trout is on a historic pace, one that could conceivably see him cross the 100-WAR threshold by the time he hits his early 30’s. For perspective, only 32 players in major league history have ever reached that mark, and Trout might get there still in his relative prime. Incredible.
Who Should Win
Who Will Win
Find out in my season prediction column at the end of March.