The Glass Eye: MLB Baseball Preview – American League, Part One
Spring training games are underway, which means Opening Day will be here before you know it! Time for our annual MLB preview columns – we’ll look at the major moves each team has made, and take an educated guess at the final standings. Let’s start with the teams I think will be AL also-rans and then take a look at the very competitive AL West:
Houston Astros (6th in NL Central in 2012)
Key additions: 1B Carlos Pena, SP Philip Humber, RP Jose Veras, SS Tyler Greene
Key Losses: SS Jed Lowrie, RP Brett Myers
Key 2012 Stats: It ain’t pretty folks – the Astros were dead-last in hits, runs, average, slugging percentage…and the pitching wasn’t much better, next-to-last in ERA, hits, and runs allowed. No Astro had 20 home runs, and only three players even had double-digit homers! Simply put, they were awful.
Outlook: They’re still awful, but now they have to compete in the VERY tough AL West. The Astros ABSOLUTELY did the right thing in committing to a total rebuild – especially after 4-5 years of trying to hang on with old talent – but while their future is brighter, the present will NOT be any fun to watch. The Astros have lost 107 and 106 games the past two seasons and I think 110 is quite possible in 2013 – there are simply no ‘gimme’ teams in their division, their roster isn’t significantly improved, and the AL is stronger overall. I can’t see the Astros getting more than 55 wins, and 50 is in play – let’s call it 50-53 wins for Houston.
Minnesota Twins (5th in AL Central in 2012)
Key Additions: SP Vance Worley, SP Mike Pelfrey, SP Kevin Correia
Key Losses: CF Denard Span, SP Francisco Liriano
Key 2012 Stats: Joe Mauer returned to health and to form, batting .319 with a .416 on-base percentage; Josh Willingham slugged 35 home runs, but the team was slightly below-average overall offensively. Only one Twins pitcher (Liriano) recorded even 100 strikeouts, and he has left the team – the Twins finished a DISTANT last in the AL in strikeouts, recording less than 1000. They also were last in hits allowed, next to last in ERA and runs allowed.
Outlook: the stats show there were some offensive highlights, let by Mauer, Morneau, and the breakout season from Josh Willingham…but the pitching was absolutely terrible and doesn’t look a lot better in 2013. The three starters added are all 4th/5th starters at best on a good team, and none of them will record many strikeouts – which leaves the Twins totally reliant on their defense and Lady Luck to improve this season. The loss of Denard Span hurts the offense, and if Mauer falls off even a little this could be among the worst offenses in the AL. The days of the Twins dominating the AL Central are long gone, and I see no hope in 2013 for Minnesota either….it will be a long road back for the Twins, even in the mediocre AL Central. 60-65 wins for the Twins.
Cleveland Indians (4th in AL Central in 2012)
Key Additions: OF Drew Stubbs, CF Michael Bourn, 1B Nick Swisher, DH Mark Reynolds, P Brett Myers
Key Losses: RF Shin-Soo Choo, DH Travis Hafner, SP Derek Lowe
Key 2012 Stats: Finished last in AL in ERA, runs, and next to last in walks allowed and strikeouts. Offensively, no Indian recorded 20 home runs but they had seven players reach double-digits.
Outlook: The 2012 offensive stats really don’t mean much given that the Indians have four new starters on offense, and each has the potential to be an upgrade in some way. Bourn and Swisher in particular should really solidify the team at the top of the order, as both get on base a lot. The problem in Cleveland, however, is the pitching…and the team didn’t take bold enough steps to correct the problem. There’s more talent here than there is in Minnesota, and I think the offense could be pretty good for the Tribe, but the pitching simply isn’t nearly good enough to allow them to contend. I see improvement in Cleveland this season, but only enough to get them to 74-78 wins.
Baltimore Orioles (2nd in AL East in 2012)
Key Additions: None
Key Losses: 1B Mark Reynolds, DH Jim Thome
Key 2012 Stats: Went from allowing 860 runs in 2011 to 705 runs allowed in 2012 – almost a full run per game less; Orioles had 43 comeback wins, and most impressively went 29-9 in games decided by one run, the best in modern-day MLB history. The O’s won 93 games despite outscoring opponents by only seven runs.
Outlook: I know I’m a bit out on a limb, picking a 93-win team to fail to contend…but the simple fact is, the 2012 Orioles were very lucky. Their record in 1-run games is simply not repeatable, which means they will need to find a way to outscore their opponents by a much wider margin this year to achieve a 90+-win season. Unfortunately, the Baltimore brain trust decided that they already had the team they needed, and they made NO major changes to either their lineup or their rotation. There are several hitters who cannot be reasonably expected to repeat their 2012 seasons (Adam Jones, Nate McLouth, and Chris Davis in particular), and this was a mediocre offense to begin with. The return of Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis to full health will help, but I see this offense as no better than slightly above average. The pitching staff REALLY overachieved a year ago – no starter recorded 200 innings, and after Chen, no other pitcher even had 140 innings! They do have some young, talented pitchers, but none of them project as aces and all of them have significant question marks.
In short, I see both the offense and pitching as around league-average…and that simply won’t cut it in the rough-and-tumble AL East. Baltimore may not finish last – Boston has a lot of work to do, and New York may struggle as well – but of all five teams, Baltimore seems the most likely to me to finish below .500. 2012 was a miracle, but it’s unlikely to be repeated…I think 75 wins is a LOT more likely than 90 for this team, call it 76-81 wins for the O’s.
AL WEST CONTENDERS
Oakland A’s (1st in 2012)
Key additions: C John Jaso, 3B Jed Lowrie
Key Losses: SS Stephen Drew, SP Brandon McCarthy
Key 2012 Stats: Finished second in AL team ERA, despite having the second-fewest strikeouts in the league. Oakland only hit .238 as a team, and they struck out more than any AL team, but they hit 195 home runs which helped them finish seventh in runs scored.
Outlook: Oakland was a HUGE surprise in 2013, and with their deep stable of young pitching they figure to be a solid team in 2013. If their starters can stay healthy (a BIG if, especially in the case of ace Brett Anderson), there’s every reason to believe that Oakland can compete for another postseason berth. Expect some regression on offense – The Coliseum is always tough on batting stats, and players like Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick will probably struggle more in 2012. Yoenis Cespedes looks like a perennial All-Star and there is some young hitting talent as well. The problem is the incredibly tough competition – the Angels and Rangers both figure to be strong in 2013. The addition of the hapless Astros will inflate all other AL West records a bit…I think Oakland takes a small step back in 2013 all the same. 84-89 wins.
Texas Rangers (2nd in 2012)
Key additions: C AJ Pierzynski, RP Joakim Soria, DH Lance Berkman
Key Losses: OF Josh Hamilton, C/DH Mike Napoli, SP Ryan Dempster, 3B/DH Michael Young
Key 2012 Stats: Inverse of the A’s, the Rangers finished Top-3 in every major hitting stat while averaging mid-pack stats on the mound…however, Texas is a hitters’ paradise which skews all of their stats towards offense. Texas finished third in the AL in walks allowed and fourth in strikeouts, which indicates that they are an above-average staff once you take park effects out of the picture.
Outlook: The Rangers remind me of the 2011-12 Phillies – both teams are at the tail end of great runs, and both have really tough decisions coming soon. Texas has lost a LOT of talent the past two off seasons, and now appears to me to be a bat or two short. They are counting on prospect Mike Olt to replace one of those lost bats, but if he struggles I look for the Rangers to be very aggressive in the trade market. This is probably the Rangers’ last title shot for a few years, and I think they will pull out all the stops if they are in contention in July. I like their rotation and bullpen – Soria is a very underrated move for them – but as the rosters stand now, I think Texas is just short in the divisional race. I do think they will contend all season and should be a favorite for one of the wildcard berths – I’m predicting 88-92 wins for the Rangers.
LA Angels (3rd in 2012)
Key additions: OF Josh Hamilton, SP Tommy Hanson, SP Joe Blanton, SP Jason Vargas
Key Losses: SP Dan Haren, OF Torii Hunter, SP Zack Grienke, SP Ervin Santana, DH Kendrys Morales
Key 2012 Stats: Mike Trout had one of the greatest rookie seasons in history, especially when you consider his superior defense as well – he batted .326, hit 30 homers and stole 49 bases despite being held in the minors until May. He should have won the AL MVP award, and even if he declines a bit, he’s still one of the best players in the game. Typical of Angels’ teams under Mike Scioscia, the team led the AL in batting average but was near the bottom in walks.
Outlook: The Angels appear to be the class of the division on paper, especially with the addition of Josh Hamilton (and the bonus is they took him from division rival Texas). However, I see some potential issues with this team…Hamilton is great when healthy, but he tends to miss a lot of time – he hasn’t played in 150 games since 2008. Torii Hunter isn’t the hitter Hamilton is, but he’s a better fielder so the upgrade here isn’t as big as you might think, especially if Hamilton misses 20-30 games. The other issue is that the Angels lost 60% of their rotation, and all three new starters have significant question marks…Hanson seems to have lost his stuff, Vargas has to prove his good numbers weren’t a product of Seattle’s home park, and Blanton is a mediocre fifth starter at best. However, the Angels’ offense has the potential to be the best in the division by a rather wide margin, and like Texas; I expect LA to make any in-season moves needed…so barring a catastrophic injury to Pujols, Trout, or Weaver I expect the Angels to win this division with 93-98 wins.
Seattle Mariners (4th in 2012)
Key additions: DH Kendrys Morales, LF Michael Morse, SP Joe Saunders
Key Losses: C John Jaso, SP Jason Vargas, C Miguel Olivo
Key 2012 Stats: No Mariner hit more than 20 home runs…but on the flip side, in 2013 no one in their starting lineup should be older than 31 and other than SS Brendan Ryan, all are in their 20’s. No AL park has been more pitcher-friendly than Safeco, but with the fences moved in for 2013 it remains to be seen how much that will change. Ace Felix Hernandez has thrown 200+ innings five straight seasons, and 230+ for the last four seasons.
Outlook: Seattle is making progress…since their historically inept 2010 offense, the team has scored more and allowed less runs each season, while becoming a very young team. Unfortunately, even with the more hitter-friendly dimensions aiding the cause I still see this as a below-average offense, especially compared to powerful teams like Texas and Anaheim. Seattle has the best pitcher in the division in Hernandez, but their rotation is very questionable after that – lots of talent, but lots of question marks and you cannot count on all the young pitchers to come through. I think this is a team on the rise, and they are a reasonable dark-horse candidate if everything breaks their way- but I think 2014 is their ‘due date’. 73-78 wins for the Mariners.
Next week, we’ll look at the rest of the American League.
Dave Glass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.