We come to the division with less teams than any other in baseball (until next year) which we’re very thankful for in writing this post because there are a lot of players to talk about. I’d argue that no division saw more of an influx of impactful players enter during the off-season than the AL West. Then there’s also the case of the A’s who just accumulated a lot of…..uh….bodies for lack of a more descriptive term. I’m really gonna have to assume that Billy Beane hasn’t lost his mind and knows a lot of somethings that we don’t or Michael Lewis can make some more money writing the sequel…“Crazy Ball”.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
2011 park factors for LHB/RHB: wOBA 99/98, wRC+ 90/93
Everyone assumed that the Vernon Wells deal was going to choke the life out of the Angels financially going forward, but then they got themselves one of those big TV deals and became the Yankees this winter. The starting pitching is loaded and suddenly the offense doesn’t look so old and flat.
Fantasy Impact: Obviously, the big game changer this off-season was Chris Iannetta. Frustrated Angels fans will never have to watch Jeff Mathis bat for their team again. He’s one of those players who’s true value wasn’t always apparent to everyone because of the low AVG (.235) and high K’s (21.9%), but he does have his positives. He walks a lot (13.9%) and has some pop (.195 ISO) which translates to almost perfectly average offensive production (.346 wOBA, 101 wRC+) throughout his career. The caution flag is that his entire career up till this point was played in Colorado. Yeah, his Home splits (.230 ISO, .375 wOBA, 122 wRC+) far outweigh his Road numbers (.161 ISO, .317 wOBA, 81 wRC+), but his patience played across the board. Although not terrible vs RHP, he hits well above average vs LHP. While the concern about the park switch is valid, you may still find some value vs LHP.
The Angels also signed Albert Pujols just to create a log jam at 1B. You’d never be able to tell that St Louis played fairly extreme against RHB’s (96 wOBA – 74 HR) from the way Pujols hit there. Compare that to Pujol’s new digs and it looks like paradise, which kind of presents us with an interesting dynamic. Pujols is still a great player, although not as good as he once was. 2011 marked his 1st sub-.400 wOBA (.385) and 2nd sub-150 wRC+ (148) of his career. His .242 ISO was close to 50 points below his career average. He noticeably chased more pitches than ever (31.8% O-Swing* LY vs 21.4% career) as his walk rate plummeted (9.4% LY – 13.1% career). He was still making contact with those pitches as his strikeout rate actually moved slightly positively (8.9% LY – 9.5% career), but he was rolling over on those pitches and hitting more ground balls (44.7,38.3 GB,FB% LY – 40.9,40% career) than ever by a large margin. This is a sign of decline and concerning. Ground balls aren’t going to leave the park no matter where you play, but Pujols should see some benefits from moving to a friendlier park. It’s important to watch those rates in 2012 to get a better idea of who he’ll be going forward.
*O-Swing represents % of pitches swung at outside the strike zone.
CJ Wilson is a good pitcher and is going in an opposite direction than Pujols in that he’s going from an extreme hitters park to a slightly pitcher friendly one. Plus, he’s not going to be dependeded on to lead the staff as he was in Texas either. Wilson’s ability to thrive in Texas had much to do with his GB rate (50.7% career), but LY was by far the lowest BB% (8.1%) of his career with absolutely zero detriment to a very healthy K% (22.5%). The loss he’ll feel in infield defense (Rangers were GOOD!), should be made up for by the friendlier park. Although obviously better vs LHB, he’s still competent vs RHB’s.
LaTroy Hawkins is currently listed as the RH set-up man. He could sniff a few Saves, but has minimal fantasy value. I’ll leave it with the following batted ball profile which represent his 2011 and then his career numbers after a surprisingly solid 48.1 innings for Milwauke last year (2.42 ERA – 2.76 FIP – 3.42 xFIP – 3.06 SIERA): LD% 16 LY, 19.9 C – GB% 61.7 LY, 47.1 C – FB% 22.2 LY, 33 C – IFFB 13.9 LY, 10.9 C – HR/FB% 2.8 LY, 8.1 C. Pretty drastic, huh?
What Else?: There’s not much else to say. There’s still a lot of “Old” in the OF and at DH if they insist contracts dictating they play Abreu and Wells. Although Abreu is said to be grumbling about playing time and requesting a trade already. The Angels could only hope.
Peter Bourjos is a speedster who strikes out a lot, doesn’t walk, but had 49 XBH in his 1st full ML season. That sort of cuts into his base stealing opportunities. He’s kind of the anti-Brett Gardner in a way. If he could show some patience, he could be a star.
Mike Trout could be interesting, but he’s currently being blocked by “Grumpy Old Men” in the outfield. He’s still only 20 years old though and didn’t exactly kill it, showing some holes in 40 ML games LY.
2011 park factors for LHB/RHB: wOBA 95/94, wRC+ 89/80
I’d like to take my free pass now and punt on the A’s, but I guess I did this to myself when I decided to take on this project. It looks like the A’s plan to play with only 6 OF’s a 1B and 2 DH’s in their lineup this season. And Manny Ramirez? Where are they going to put all these bodies? They also turned over nearly their entire starting pitching staff. Are they rebuilding again or not? Buckle up, we’ll try to keep this as short and painless as possible.
Fantasy Impact: Josh Reddick has shown a reverse platoon split in his short major league career, but he’s struck out 27.3% of the time in just over 50 PA’s vs LHP. With all of those bodies crowding the OF, don’t expect him to see too many lefties. He’s shown some pop in the minors, but not as much in the majors. Fenway was actually 10% tougher for LH power last year than Oakland though.
Seth Smith hits RHP very well (377 wOBA, 125 wRC+, 228 ISO, 10.2 BB%, 16.7 K% career). He also hit in Colorado until this year (.395 wOBA, 136 wRC+, .263 ISO, 9.8 BB%, 14.6 K% Home career – .327 wOBA, 91 wRC+, .161 ISO, 9.8 BB%, 19.9% Road career). Think he’ll still hit RHP somewhere above league average, though not as well as in Colorado. Good candidate for mid-season trade, to a friendlier park perhaps?
There’s some debate as to how Yeonis Cespedes’s Carribean stats translates to the majors. I’m a skeptic, although many believe that he has 25 HR potential, even in Oakland. There’s a lot of unsurity surrounding him now, even as to when he’ll make his major league debut. They paid a lot for him though, so he’ll get more rope than any of these other guys.
In the last 7 seasons, Jonny Gomes has only failed to surpass a .372 wOBA, a 128 wRC+, and a 194 ISO vs LHP one time each. Again, though, Oakland can be really tough on RH power hitters. Choose your spots wisely because he also strikes out a ton.
Colin Cowgill had unreal numbers in AAA last year, walking nearly as much as he struck out, before big struggles after being called up to Arizona. His K/BB ratio plummeted to 3/1 in the majors where he was especially terrible vs RHP. More of a runner than a slugger though, Oakland shouldn’t hurt him as much as others.
Manny Ramirez, come on, really? I have no idea what he has left in the tank after he sits out at least the 1st 50 games. This was a classic Billy Beane, buy low, pray, then try to trade move.
Bartolo Colon didn’t have any other body parts re-arranged this off-season that I’m aware of, but he had a heck of a comeback in 2011 before tiring late in the season. Who even knows if he’ll be in Oakland come the 2nd half of 2012. If he can maintain the 19.5 K% from LY, the HR’s will decrease and he should do well again.
Brad Peacock came over in the Gio Gonzalez trade. He doesn’t have enough of a consistent track record in the minor leagues to predict what he’ll be. At times he struck out a ton of batters, at times he didn’t. Similar can be said about his control.
Tom Milone came over in the same trade. He spent the last 3 seasons in AAA where his K and BB rates improved each season to where he struck out 26.4% and only walked 2.7% LY. He doesn’t give up HR’s either. Many are concerned that he doesn’t throw hard enough to maintain anything near that K-rate in the majors. Oakland should be the perfect park for him though.
Jarrod Parker was the key piece in the Arizona trade. He has less than 350 professional career innings under his belt, but made the jump from AA to the majors late last season after losing all of 2010 to TJ surgery. He keeps the ball in the park and has the potential to be a high K guy.
What Else?: Is there anything else that anyone wants to read about the A’s? Basically, hitters bad, pitchers good when you think of Oakland.
Jemile Weeks has absolutely no power and has always been a high BABIP guy in the minors mostly due to speed so his .350 BABIP LY isn’t so absurd. He should be able to steal you some bases, but needs to get that BB rate up from 4.8%. If so, he has the potential to be a 50 steal guy.
Brandon McCarty was phenomenal LY (3.49 SIERA, 3.30 xFIP). He made some mechanical adjustments and suddenly became a GB pitcher (46.7% LY – 39.6% career). He didn’t give up HR’s (6.4% HR/FB LY – 9.4% career) and didn’t walk anyone either (3.6% LY – 7.3% career) with a modest K rate (17.8% LY – 16.3% career). It wasn’t park driven either. He was just as good on the Road as he was at Home.
2011 park factors for LHB/RHB: wOBA 95/82, wRC+ 96/95
Aside from the 1 big move, the Mariners have done a lot of little things this off-season. Their pitching staff is almost entirely revamped, full of young, new faces in both the starting rotation and the bullpen.
Fantasy Impact: There are many Yankee haters in the world, but maybe none more so than Jesus Montero who’d like to thank his previous team to trading him to right handed power hitting hell. He goes from a lineup full of sluggers and future Hall of Famers in a stadium increasing RHB HR’s by 15% to…..Seattle with little lineup protection and 18% RHB HR suppression. That’s a 33% gap! This can go a couple of ways, but until he starts playing some games in Safeco, we won’t know which. He can either toy with the gaps and increase his doubles total or those long fly balls can turn into outs. Montero is more than just a slugger though, he never fell below .356 wOBA or 120 wRC+ at any level of the minors. Lastly, it’s going to be interesting to see if the Mariners attempt to keep him as a catcher considering his terrible defensive reputation. Although most Mariner rookies would be expected to get little fanfare, Montero’s reputation precedes him and that could negatively affect his price early on, making him a tad over-valued on some sites.
John Jaso playing time is in question with potentially 2 catchers ahead of him, but we’re more concerned with quality of PA’s over quantity. Jaso walks as often as he strikes out and has a little pop, so why don’t we hear more about him? His .244 BABIP LY was at least 37 points lower than at any level where he’s had 100 PA’s. Has the potential to be a cheap alternative in the right situation.
Carlos Guillen hasn’t made it through a full season since 2007 and has been below average in each of the last 3 years. He’s trying to prove he isn’t done and may not even make the team. He swung at a lot of pitches and rarely hit them hard LY.
Kevin Millwood could be interesting in a pitcher’s park when he hasn’t called one home since leaving Atlanta a decade ago. His velocity has dropped below 90, he doesn’t strike people out, and he’s now a flyball pitcher. He’s going to need a strong defense behind him and he has one in Seattle. He has good control and his SIERA was 3.80 in 54.1 innings in Colorado LY. Again, could be interesting.
I can find very little on Japanese import Hisashi Iwakuma.
Hector Noesi came over in the big Yankee trade and has a chance to start. His peripherals out of the bullpen in NY said approximately league average pitcher (4.09 FIP, 4.02 xFIP, 3.82 SIERA), which potentially means good pitcher in Seattle. Note though, that his K-rate has rapidly decreased at each level in the minors to where it would be tough to predict much more than 15% as a starter. He doesn’t walk many though, and there’s that good Seattle defense again too.
Danny Hultzen was the Mariners top prospect before Montero came over. He’s not expected to reach the majors until at least somewhere around the AS break.
What Else?: Ichiro Suzuki is going to start the season batting 3rd because Eric Wedge thinks it’s a great idea to put his worst hitter (Chone Figgins) at the top of the lineup to give him the most PA’s on the team. Ichiro thinks he could become a power hitter if he wanted to. At 38, I don’t think so. His BABIP (.295) dipped below .300 for the 1st time in his career. This could possibly be a sign of an inability to beat out infield hits that he would have in the past. His LD, GB, FB, IFFB, and HR/FB %‘s were all on the wrong side of his career levels, although not necessarily the worst of his career, but close. He still stole 40 bases last year though. Tough to completely write him off yet, but most of his fantasy value lies in his legs.
Dustin Ackley is good, but probably not .339 BABIP good. He walked more than he struck out in the minors, but struck out twice as much as he walked in the majors. A 22.3 LD%, which is what he achieved with the Mariners LY, is pretty special though. He might have some more protection in the order too this year, but probably not enough to hike his Runs and RBI totals enough if he regularly sports a hefty price tag.
It might not be time to give up on Justin Smoak yet. He started and ended strong, struggling in the middle when he was dealing with a nagging injury and the death of his father. He had 3 months with better than a 124 wRC+ and only 1 below 100. He had absolutely zero L/R split and actually hit better at Home too.
2011 park factors for LHB/RHB: wOBA 103/107, wRC+ 119/114
New Faces: RHP Yu Darvish, RHP Joe Nathan
There. That was simple. 2 guys. They essentially replaced CJ with Yu. Who, me? No, Yu….enough with the Abbott and Costello routine. AL Champs 2 years running and they replace their one big loss with a potentially better player. Not much reason to fiddle with success.
Fantasy Impact: Yu Darvish is supposed to be the greatest thing ever to come out of Japan. In America, he has the potential to be many things, but the 2nd coming of Pedro Martinez in his prime is unlikely. It’s a tough park to pitch in, but the Rangers have had a good staff the past few years so it’s not impossible. It’s possible the park factors are over-stated a bit due to all the talent on the home team’s roster. He surrendered only 5 HR’s LY in over 200 innings and only 39 in his career in over 1K innings in Japan. If he’s going to keep the ball on the ground with such a stellar infield defense, continues to miss bats, and not walk anyone, he could be really, really good. It’s all just speculation though as he’s impossible to project. If he has a price tag to match the hype early, it may be best to wait. If he starts off conservatively priced however….
Joe Nathan needs to recover consistency with his velocity. It was up and down LY…or rather down and up and down. His K rates were still decent (22.5%) even if below his career average (25.6%), but he’s a flyball pitcher (45.2% career) and that could be trouble in Texas. The good news is that the Rangers pen is loaded if he struggles. I’m not trusting him yet, but he could surprise and be a decent low priced option, at least on the road in the AL West.
What Else?: The offense is still pretty awesome. Mike Napoli had an absurd .444 wOBA and 178 wRC+. His .344 BABIP was .041 higher than his career average. His HR/FB was 25.4%. The power is probably real, especially in that park. He can hit 30 HR’s again, but the BABIP along with the career high 39.2 GB% probably means he found a few more holes than he should have so maybe the batting average comes back to earth a bit. More good news is that he had virtually no L/R or Home/Road splits. He was merely great vs everyone everywhere.
Neftali Feliz is yet another convert project. There seems to be more of them this year than in any other in recent memory. The same 15-20% loss in K% and 2-3 mph in velocity applies. His BB% was 11.9 LY with a 3.91 SIERA. He’s a fairly extreme FB pitcher. I’m skeptical.
There it is. Now that you know everything you need to know about the American League, we’ll move onto the senior circuit next, starting with the NL East, where changes in stadium dimensions are a big story.