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Marty’s musings: AL West preview

A numbers-based preview of the AL West.

Texas Rangers v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Welcome to “Marty's Musings,” my weekly column of numbers summarizing the happenings across Major League Baseball. As part of our regular-season preview at Beyond the Box Score, I will be your guide in discussing various numbers and metrics that will determine the fate of all 30 MLB teams.

In this week's Musings, we take a look at the American League West. A competitive division that includes talented — albeit flawed — teams, the West is up for grabs by nearly any team that gets some breaks (except for the Athletics... sorry about that). Here’s a look at some numbers that will help determine the success of the teams in the AL West.

All projected 2017 records are based on FanGraphs Depth Chart projected standings as of the weekend before publication.

Texas Rangers

2016 Record: 95-67

2016 Results: First place, lost in ALDS to Toronto (3-0)

2017 Projections: 83-79, three-way tie for second place

8 — Positive run differential for the Rangers in 2016. Despite the fact that Texas finished with only the 14th-best RD in baseball, they managed to win the division and earn the AL’s No. 1 seed.

36-11 — Texas’ record in one-run games. Linked with their run differential number is the fact the Rangers did exceedingly well in close games last year. A .766 winning percentage in games that are pretty much coin-tosses is how a seemingly mediocre team can finish in first place.

100 13 — Yu Darvish’s innings pitched in 2016. Coming off Tommy John Surgery, Darvish was excellent in his half-season of work. In order to be competitive in 2017, Texas will rely heavily on the Japanese righty. Last season he posted 2.7 wins and set a career low in walk rate. If he can do something similar over 190–200 innings, the Rangers will be in great shape at the top of their rotation.

0.9 — Wins above replacement for all Texas first basemen combined. Last season Mitch Moreland started at first base more often than anyone else on the roster but managed a measly 87 wRC+ — the worst of any starting first baseman. This season, Texas is rolling out veteran Mike Napoli, who is coming off a good season (113 wRC+) and is projected to be a modest improvement over last year’s first basemen.

7.33 - Texas’s aggregate bullpen K/9 rate, which ranked second-to-last in baseball, only better than the Angels. The Rangers’ bullpen was well below average last year by fWAR (24th in the majors) and total strikeouts (they ranked 29th). Matt Bush and Sam Dyson look to lead the relief corps again in 2017, but they’ll need some help.

37 - age of Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre. It’s impossible to talk about the Rangers without discussing the ageless Beltre, who has been a linchpin for Texas since his arrival in 2011. Beltre posted a six-win season last year in which he played 153 games, knocked in 32 home runs, and hit for a .300/.358/.521 slash line. He finished the season with a 130 wRC+. For the Rangers to make another divisional run, they’ll need Beltre to defy time and continue to be one of the best third basemen in the game.

Seattle Mariners

2016 Record: 86-76

2016 Results: Second place, missed playoffs

2017 Projections: 83-79, three-way tie for second place

91 - Average four-seam fastball velocity for Mariners veteran Felix Hernandez. Hernandez came up to the big leagues in 2007 with an explosive fastball that averaged over 98 MPH and touched triple digits (per Brooks Baseball, as high as 102 with a near-95 MPH slider). In 2016, though, King Felix posted his least valuable year of his career (a mere 1.0 fWAR), and the fastball velocity may have been a big reason why. The projections are much rosier going into 2017, and a strong season of 200+ innings from the M’s de facto ace could make all the difference.

.221 — Isolated slugging for third baseman Kyle Seager. Seager is quietly becoming of the most exciting infielders in the game of baseball but remains underrated in many circles. Since his first full season in 2012, he has posted at least 3.6 wins in each year and had a career-best 5.5 fWAR last year. He passed the 30 home run threshold for the first time in 2016 and is a key cog in the Mariners lineup.

43 — Home runs for designated hitter Nelson Cruz last year. When the Mariners signed Cruz after the 2014 season, many people believed he was going to be a shadow of his former slugging self as he got into his late-30s. Quite the contrary; Cruz is coming off two of the best seasons of his career and should provide the Mariners with ~35 home runs in the middle of their lineup. Provided he can stay at the DH spot, he’ll be an asset for a Seattle team that should have enough talent to make a playoff run.

107 — Team wRC+ in 2016. The Mariners trailed only the Red Sox in team wRC+ last season and benefitted from great years at the plate by Nelson Cruz (147 wRC+), Robinson Cano (138), and Kyle Seager (133).

13 — Starters used by the Mariners in 2016, trailing only the Dodgers, Braves, Reds, and Padres. No Seattle starter threw over 200 innings (although HIsashi Iwakuma finished at 199). With 40 games started by pitchers not in slots one through six on their depth chart, the innings handed over to Ariel Miranda, Wade LeBlanc, and Cody Martin did not go well for Seattle. If they can stay healthy, rely on seven or eight starters, and avoid the fringe guys most of the year, it will help them remain competitive.

Houston Astros

2016 Record: 84-78

2016 Results: Third place, missed playoffs

2017 Projections: 91-71, first place

4-15 — Houston’s record against divisional rival Texas. It’s pretty difficult to overtake the team in front of you when you give them 11 games in hand. Houston was abysmal against Texas all season long.

7.9 — Bullpen wins above replacement, the best in the majors by a good margin (the Mets finished second at 6.6). Bolstered by Ken Giles, Luke Gregerson, and Will Harris, Houston should have another strong group of relievers.

144 — Strikeouts for Dallas Keuchel last year, down significantly from his 216 in his Cy Young Award-winning 2015 season. The Astros primarily relied on inconsistent starters last year, including Keuchel, who posted half the value he did in 2015, and Lance McCullers, who suffered shoulder and elbow injuries that limited him to only 81 innings.

63 — Percent of batters who either struck out or hit a ground ball against McCullers. With a 30 percent strikeout rate and a 57 percent ground ball rate, McCullers dominated hitters despite the limited time he spent on the mound. If he can throw 170+ innings of that type of ball, the Astros can ease into their excellent bullpen. [Editor’s note: updated to fix a calculation error.]

22 — Years of age for both Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa. The Astros front office rebuilt the team well, and the young Bregman and Correa will be manning the left side of the infield for years to come.

20 — Home run potential from nearly every player in their starting lineup. It would not be a surprise at all to see the Astros with six or more 20 home run players in 2017. Supplementing the obvious choices of Jose Altuve and George Springer are veteran Brian McCann and youngsters Correa and Bregman; even Josh Reddick and Yulieski Gurriel can post 20 or more long balls.

Los Angeles Angels

2016 Record: 74-88

2016 Results: Fourth place, missed playoffs

2017 Projections: 83-79, three-way tie for second place

84 13 — Combined 2016 innings total for Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs. Bit by the injury bug, both pitchers spent significant time on the disabled list last year. Both pitchers suffered elbow problems last year, but for the time being, each has avoided Tommy John Surgery. Last season, Angels pitching finished in the bottom five in strikeouts and home runs allowed. For the Angels to make any sort of playoff run, they’ll need these both of these starters to stay healthy.

16.4 — Percent strikeout rate for the Angels offense last year, best in the majors. Since 2012, only the 2014 and 2015 Royals posted a lower strikeout rate than last year’s Angels. A contact-heavy team, the Angels had six regulars who posted better than league average wRC+s.

1.6 — Last year’s fWAR in Yunel Escobar’s first year in Southern California. He managed a full-time switch from shortstop to third base, but still put up below-average defensive numbers. Even so, if he can post close to the 108 wRC+ he did last year, he can help make up for shortstop Andrelton Simmons’ light bat.

7.19 — Strikeouts per nine innings for Angels pitchers, the worst in the majors. Angels relievers finished with the fourth-fewest strikeouts for any relief corp in baseball last season despite pitching more innings than every team below them. Starters were not much better as they posted a 7.17 K/9, which ranked 25th in the majors.

Oakland Athletics

2016 Record: 69-93

2016 Results: Fifth place, missed playoffs

2017 Projections: 79-83, fifth place

872 Innings thrown by Oakland starters, which ranked last in the American League. Sonny Gray’s encore to a 2015 in which he was an All-Star and finished third in the AL Cy Young voting did not live up to expectations. He suffered from bad performance and bad health — two things that are often related. If the A’s are to go anywhere in 2016, or if they want to accelerate a rebuild, they’ll need a dominant year from Gray to either benefit in the standings, or sell-off for prospects.

0 — Players projected for more than 2.2 wins or more per FanGraphs’ depth charts. The A’s are a middling, mediocre team at best. They have neither stars nor a handful of above-average players. The two best regulars are Marcus Semien and Stephen Vogt, both of whom have trouble getting on base (.300 and .305 2016 OBP, respectively).

.395 — Slugging percentage in 2016, the worst in the American League. The A’s severely lacked both power and speed (only 50 stolen bases last year) and look to do much of the same this season.

2014 — The year the A’s lost a weird and wild Wild Card game to the Royals. It was the most recent success of a franchise that does not look like they will be competitive for some time.


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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano