The Angels can bite our gray or teal-wearing butt, sort of
I’ve written before that the division’s up for grabs and there’s no reason in particular to think that the Angels are the favorites, much less clear favorites. Geoff Baker at the Times is the most public advocate of the contrary position, in his blog entries from spring training.
I will now spend some time on why I don’t think the Angels are quite that good.
Angels rotation: Lackey, Escobar, Santana the Lesser, Weaver the Greater, probably Saunders
Seattle rotation: King Felix, Washburn, Ho Ramirez, Miguel Batista, Weaver the Lesser
Lackey’s gotta be one of the highest value/ink expended writing about him pitchers, but Felix is his equal. No, really. I’m assuming that Colon stays out or is ineffective this season after returning.
Overall, the Angels’ rotation is way better – pick your projection engine of choice, their ERA runs out to about ~.6 runs/nine innings lower. That’s pretty huge, and you can now feel to free discuss why Ho Ramirez should outperform/Washburn is going to put up a low 3 ERA, etc. I’d argue with Woods/Baek the M’s are better able to take a rotation hit, but right now, Baker & Co. are right – their rotation kicks our rotation’s asssssssss. The extra ‘s’s are for extra superiority.
Bullpen-wise, the Angels run out Fransisco Rodriguez, Scot Shields, and a pick ’em of pretty good options behind them. As long as the M’s are running Mateo out there, it’s tough, but as a unit, they can pretty easily put together the Angels’ equal even with Putz returning to earth a little. It’d be nice if the M’s had a manager who could run a bullpen as well as the Angels, but that’s not an option yet.
What’s that worth, then? It puts the Angels potentially up ~70-80 runs on the pitching side. Whooooo. That is pretty huge. The gap last year between the two teams was 60 runs. So the M’s are losing ground, unless (again) you see Ramirez/Batista outperforming. Or, heck, Weaver.
Defensively, the Angels are a little worse looking to next year than in 2006, which I mentioned – Mathews is not an upgrade on Figgins, Figgins at third would not be an upgrade, and so on. The two teams were pretty close defensively last year, and the Mariners, getting a full season in center out of Ichiro and (cross fingers) a healthy Guillen, should improve over last year. Call it a wash, but if the M’s aren’t ahead of the Angels in defensive efficiency next year, I’d be surprised.
Now, offensively. Last year the Mariners were 12 runs behind the Angels. As much as I hate hate hate this offseason’s moves, I can’t argue the offense isn’t likely to perform better. Last year, overall:
M’s DHs hit .235/.300/.366
M’s CFers hit .249/.294/.362
That’s horrrrrible. Now the projection systems all seem to think that Vidro’s done, but here’s Vidro-is-done projection from PECOTA: .266/.330/.368. That’s a fair upgrade. And if you’re smoking what the M’s are passing, well, you’re looking forward to a bounty of runs. Similarly, the Guillen move helps the overall outfield offense (hopefully). They’d be even better if they’d let Lopez be Lopez, but I’ve ranted enough about that. Or if they’d keep Bloomquist from getting 200 at-bats. Or… sorry. Moving on.
What do the Angels have? Napoli was great and then stank, and I’m not that optimistic about his chances, or the possibility his backups will do well. A full season of Kendrick’s a huge upgrade at second. But Garret Anderson sucks. Mathews’ projections are about what the Angels got out of center last year. Cabrera/Aybar won’t produce more than last year. Shea Hillenbrand, if he DHs, is going to be a huge, huge step back for the team. They managed to get .295/.356/.492 out of their DHs last year, and that’s about Hillenbrand’s 90% PECOTA forecast.
Is it enough to close the gap? It’s unlikely, but the M’s are easily 20-30 runs better than the Angels now, and it could be a lot more than that. We’ll see, what with Guillen’s shoulder and how some of the other issues sort themselves out (for instance, check out the difference in projected performances for Vidro and Broussard – there’s still room to squeeze more out of this lineup).
Overall, then, the Angels come out about 50 runs ahead, which is a lot more than I thought it would be when I started this, but their rotation really looks that much better right now, so I’m crossing my fingers for Ho and Miguel. But lining them up, the rotation’s the only place the Angels are clearly the better team (though, uh, they’re also clearly way better).
In the division, though, I don’t see that making them clear favorites. I see the A’s taking an offensive and rotation step back, which (and I freely admit I haven’t calculated this out either) puts them roughly on par with the Angels on both fronts, and the Rangers take a step back in center, but Catalanotto’s a huge upgrade at DH (Rangers DHs in 2006: .238/.309/.410)(bleeaaghh) and overall, they’re not a substantially better or worse team (the M’s, btw, should totally try and trade for McCarthy if his gopherball/flyball tendencies get him entirely rocked in Arlington and the Rangers sour on him).
Right now, then, I see the A’s and Angels as good teams, followed by the M’s and Rangers, who are both .500-ish teams. In that kind of environment, the division’s not the Angels’ to take, it’s anyone’s to take. The normal swings of luck, much less health, could easily bring either or both the Angels and A’s to earth, or boost the Mariners into contention.