2011 Previews: A.L. West

Let’s check in first on “Signal-gate”…he’s baaack…

Brett Weber, the Yankees’ coaching assistant, was nowhere to be found Saturday after my little tweeted photo of him giving hand signals to Alex Rodriguez in the on-deck circle landed in the Commissioner’s Office. But for Sunday’s finale against Detroit, the former minor league pitcher was had returned to the third row back of the plate at Yankee Stadium. I didn’t stare at him – when I don’t give away my seats to Make-A-Wish I am there to watch the game - but I saw no signals today and only one player (Rodriguez) even looked fleetingly in his direction. MLB reportedly accepted the Yankees’ explanation that he was only indicating pitch speed on Opening Day because the team’s stadium scoreboard gun was busted.

That indeed explains Opening Day. It does not explain a different series of signals directed by Weber to Yankee on-deck hitters last year (especially Rodriguez). (By the way – and barring more developments, I promise to leave this trivial incident alone, but if you’d like to read a reasoned, calm blog about the response to it, here you go).

Now, having picked the Red Sox and Twins, and the Rays for the Wild Card (that’s right, they’re 1-and-8 among them – with only 477 left to play), let’s finish off the A.L. predictions:

Los Angeles: This once dynamic team is rapidly falling back into the ranks of The Dullest Place On Earth Angels of the ’80s and ’90s. There are two brilliant starters in Dan Haren and Jered Weaver, and a brilliant outfield (although if you’re going to add a gigantic salary, you reach for Vernon Wells?). But until Kendrys Morales comes back there is nothing else to distinguish this team, except for the shocking inadequacy of the bullpen (who knew Brian Fuentes could have meant so much?). I mean, even The Rally Monkey seems to have outlived his usefulness.

Oakland: Every season has a boutique, insiders’ favorite, and this year it’s the A’s. And I don’t see it. Mind you, I love this rotation and in particular Gio Gonzalez, but I am not impressed by a batting order that has allegedly been improved by adding David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, and Hideki Matsui at 3-4-5. You cannot win every game 3-2.

Seattle: And you especially can’t win them 0-2. There is a scenario in which Erik Bedard ransoms his talent from the depths of injury, and the rookie Michael Pineda blossoms, and the two of them and Doug Fister form a rotation with King Felix that puts Oakland’s to shame. But, even then, whence the offense? Ryan Langerhans is starting in centerfield. Ryan Langerhans has a lifetime .228 batting average and is just four years removed from batting .167 over 210 at bats with three different teams. Tom Wilhelmsen has made the bullpen after five years off, bartending.

Texas: Here is the most under-reported statistic of the 2010-11 off-season. The Rangers lost a pitcher who made exactly 20 starts for them, won 7, and lost 8 – and they were then promptly declared rudderless and hopeless for 2011. I am not suggesting that that is what Cliff Lee would’ve done for Texas this year (4-6 in the regular season, 2-0 in the Division Series, 1-0 in the ALCS, 0-2 in the World Series) but that is exactly what he did for them last year. Ten separate Texas pitchers won as many as Lee did for them during the regular season of 2010, including Dustin Nippert. Would things have been better for them if they’d re-signed him? Yes. You know what else would help? A farm full of Nolan Ryan clones. I’m sorry, there are no other significant downgrades here from a team that absolutely beat up the Rays in the ALDS and the Yankees in the ALCS and should’ve given the Giants a far better fight in the Series, and the additions of Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli make a potent line-up even moreso. I don’t see them being challenged – unless Josh Hamilton breaks in half.

OVERVIEW: 1. Texas, 2. Oakland (distant), 3. Los Angeles (a good run for 3rd), 4. Seattle (not as bad as last year). The Lee panic and the Lee reality are two different things. You want to worry in Texas? What exactly would happen without Hamilton?

LEAGUE OVERVIEW: Gotta stick with Boston, which if I’m right about the Rays and the Card (although with Evan Longoria out, I very easily may not be), would presumably draw the third-place record which I am guessing is Minnesota’s. Thus it’s Texas-Tampa again and I like Texas this time, with the Red Sox finally stopping them in the ALCS.

25 Comments

1. The league overview is very encouraging.
2. The link to the calm blog was very entertaining. :)

To be fair Langerhans is only starting at CF while Franklin Gutierrez and his stomach issue gets squared away. Also Langerhans is splitting the job with Saunders. They won’t score many runs though.

Mr. Kieth, I’ve been a big fan for years. Thanks for the good words for My Rangers. Hope you’re right; all exept the losing the ALCS of course!

GM Billy Beane will be the MVP for Oakland, if the A’s edge out the Rangers for the AL flag, because he filled the run production void with three second-tier sluggers: DeJesus, Matsui and Willingham. The 2010 lineup hit just 109 homers [Toronto led the AL with 257] and scored 663 runs [Boston led with 818] last season, Oakland’s second fewest in the last 28 full seasons.

Compared to the other two contenders for 2011, the Angels and the A’s, the Rangers led in all major run-production categories and the A’s need to close gaps:

GAP:

HRs: 162 (Texas) 155 (LA) 109 (As) 53

RBIs: 740 (Texas) 656 (LA) 619 (As) 84

Rs: 787 (Texas) 681 (LA) 663 (As) 124

SLG % .419 (Texas) .390 (LA) .378 (As) .041

TB 2360 (Texas) 2142 (LA) 2059 (As) 301

While Matsui goes by the nickname “Godzilla,” the real monster bat for the A’s will be Daric Barton (1b), who is poised for a major Breakout Year. To add more pop and power, he added muscle and dropped body fat and that will translate into more doubles (44) and a few more homers (20). His glove work at 1b is Gold Glove caliber and many forget that he was a decent catcher in the minors.

The rival Rangers sent 162 shots out of the corral, while the Oaktown Boys managed to life only 109 well hit balls over the concrete fortress of the Coliseum. The trio of new arrivals, Matsui, DeJesus, and Willingham and a Beefy Barton should close that gap in 2011.

Confined by the home field configuration, Matsui will increase his doubles (33) and hit fewer homers (19), but raise his RBI total to 100, and hit .293, while Willingham and DeJesus will have similar profiles, to wit: .265, 19 HRs, 80 RBIs, 70 Rs , unless his rebuilt thumb effects his bat grip. Barton could realize the biggest jump in HRs (10 to 20) and RBIs (57 to 80+) .

The long baseball season is not just a marathon, it is also a team relay race, where guys hand off the baton to reserve players, so, depth is a key factor; the A’s are very, very deep in starters, closers, and late-innings arms. They are very deep in the OF and Rosales and Tolleson can both play (2nd,3rd,SS) and the latter (.286 in 25 games) can also play OF. Capable journeyman Conor Jackson backs Barton at 1b and can also play OF. This gives the A’s 10 guys who can play OF.

Backstopping backstop Suzuki is switch-hitting C Landon Powell, who has 80 RBI power with an above average glove and arm. Remember, Barton could also C in a pinch.

Two minor league infielders might also show this year: former Cal SS Grant Green, the man they see as their permanent fix and Rickie’s injury-riddled brother “Weeks On The DL” Jemille, who has the potential—on paper– to break the other Rickey’s SB record as a leadoff hitter and switch-hitter, but will need to find a way to play regularly on grass.

Also waiting in the wings are huge power/low BA slugger Chris Carter (limited to DH), Stanford OF Michael Taylor (just 6 HRs in AAA) and the potential star OF of the future (#10 pick in 2010 draft) Michael Choice (needs to reduce Ks) who resembles Ron Gant. Don’t forget young C Max Stassi, who shows good D and awesome potential power.

Imagine, the only lack of power output in 2011 will be the guy who lead the A’s in HRs (16) last season, [the fewest for team leader in Oakland history] Kevin Kouzmanoff at 3b. His .283 OBP, 96 Ks, 24 Ws and .247 BA were underwhelming for a position that expects offensive output. With low-power backups (Rosales, Tolleson), and a similar player (Adrian Gonzalez) at AAA, the A’s may need to deal a pitcher, or two, for a power hitting 3b.

Yes, the Oakland staff was the best in the AL in 2010, but, consider that no stadium in baseball has more foul territory than the Oakland Coliseum. In fact, statisticians believe that the large amount of foul territory takes five to 10 points off of every batter’s batting average.

The vast foul territory is the big reason the A’s wisely build their team around pitching. A big spacious field like Oakland’s and most of the West Coast teams allow for a more cost-effective mediocre team, something the A’s have been for last the five years. Expect the home ERAs to be significantly lower than those earned on the road. But that may be a minor quibble with the talent and depth in the Oakland pitching corps.

Featuring Cahill, Anderson, Gonzalez, Braden and options at #5 like former A’s star Harden (injured), Brandon McCarthy and dark horse Jeff Outman, who showed good stuff, then went DL for 2010, the A’s could well have the best rotation in the AL West, or even the AL. A sleeper starter who went 9-4, 2.65 ERA in A-ball is Ian Kroll [file that name].

Oakland may lead MLB in the “Closers in Pen” category.

In two seasons, Andrew Bailey owns a Rookie of the Year award, a 1.70 ERA and an insane career ERA+ of 255. And he’s 26, entering the perfect window of experience and youth.

If Bailey gets tired or goes DL, the A’s have three former successful l closers:

Brian Fuentes, Michael Wertz, Brad Ziegler, as well as once projected Atlanta closer Joey Devine. If Outman and MCarthy cannot crack the rotation, they add to the deep pen brigade. And, they just added Rays reliever Gran Balfour (311 K/132 W, .222 BA against), 3.81 ERA.

The A’s were in a virtual tie in team defense and speed with the other two 2011 contenders: Texas and LA.

This is the formula that carried the “No-Star” Giants to the WS and the World Championship in 2010; top-tier starters, deep pen, a great closer (make that FOUR closers), a lineup of non-stars and a good bench.

Look for the AL West pennant race to be decided in September, from the 9th to the 25th, when the A’s face Texas and the Angels in 12 games –6 home and 6 away. If it is still undecided, the A’s catch a break: they finish the season with three games in Seattle, September 26, 27, and 28, while the two rivals play EACH OTHER in Texas Stadium.

FINAL STANDINGS: A’s, Texas, Angels, Seattle

Thank you for having some common sense. I have sat here all off-season feeling like one of the few people (even out of all of us Rangers fans) that were not panicking because we didn’t re-sign Lee. I am hoping that you are wrong about the ALCS outcome, but I have the same thing for my prediction as well, with the Red Sox winning it all. A trip back to the ALCS would still be a great year for a team that has only been to the playoffs 4 times.

Keith, I love you but, the Rangers rotation is in shambles. They may have swept the Red Sox but we all know sample size is a big problem. Just like you said Oakland can’t win every game 3-2, Texas can’t win every game 9-8. Distant? No….

Keep fighting the good fight.

David

Saw the A’s play in the Cactus League and then travelled to Oakland for the opening series. The heavy karma – and seeping sewer gas – of the Coliseum will be hard to overcome.

Kevin Kouzmanoff will likely become the face of the 2011 team. He made 2 errors in a 5 error game, and the home scorer was being charitable.

The key thing about building a team around pitching and defense is to have BOTH in place, and they simply don’t have the latter. There will not much comfort in the low ERAs of the starting pitchers if the A’s give up 1-2 unearned runs a game. Don’t know what that season record is, but consider it threatened.

The Mariners, by the way, have a chance to be worse than last year – but without the drama. They simply cannot wait for the chance to trade Eric Bedard. Let’s hope they can do better than Justin Smoak on that deal.

Seriously? You are going to judge a defense after the first 2 games of the season?! They virtually have the same defensive team as last year. Only four other teams in the AL had less errors than the A’s last year or a better fielding percentage. Watch the A’s take the west. If performance on opening day were a valid metric, then the Mets would be the best team in baseball.

I don’t care what Keith says—I can’t take the AL seriously as long as they have the DL, which is an abomination in the eyes of the LORD! Yea, verily.

Carl Maniscalco:

I say the NL–the only league on planet Earth not to have a DH–teach pitchers how to hit. To remove from a game a pitcher who’s been doing a great job just because the team is in an offensive bind and said pitcher is nothing more than an automatic out, is quite irritating and dumbfounding to say the least.

Kiko Jones

Ah, but that’s part of the drama and beauty of the game! After all, baseball is not truly an athletic contest, it’s a game of skill and, above all, strategy.

Blah blah blah. Same BS.

Keith, how will The Langoliers do? I know it is a red eye (No reference to busted radar gun intended!) from L.A. to Boston, but they think they are the only ones on the planet! We all know who the luckiest man alive on the planet was…is…will be? I love this blah, blah, blah, Evan D. and I never even attended BS! ;o)

Carl Maniscalco:
I don’t know about you, but when I witness the uncomfortable awkwardness and even downright clumsiness in the vast majority of pitcher at-bats and their occasional, subsequent base running, “drama and beauty” are the last things that come to mind.

Interesting to stumble across this today and read the phrase ‘unless Josh Hamilton breaks in half’. Whilst 6-8 weeks out might not exactly be ‘breaking in half’, if it is the latter half of that estimate then we will be in mid-June and The Rangers will have been without Hamilton for two months. Panic in Texas? Perhaps not yet. But a couple of loses in these next few games and I wonder if we’ll start to see it set in.

Assuming you’re right about the divisions (and while the Twins and BoSox are off to wretched starts, I still don’t see a reason you’re wrong) the divisional playoffs go Boston-Minnesota and Texas-Tampa, and Minnesota doesn’t have the problem with Boston they have with the Yankees. Twins in 4 over Boston. Arthur Rhodes comes up short again, Rays sweep Texas. And Gardy follows that with a pennant to go with last years MotY (and another MotY while he’s at it).

The road sees rough a roar, and the roar and walked on.

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