About a week ago, I made a haphazard attempt at making sense of Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections for the Texas Rangers, which more or less said they should win 87 games in 2014. I mean, sure, yeah, I found the projections to bit a bit conservative in a few areas, but in the Wins Above Replacement department, the Rangers made it to the magic number of +40.0, even sans Derek Holland.
If you don’t care about WAR, this sounds like a bunch of gibberish; but in the context of sabermetrics, every Win [Above Replacement] gets added to the theoretical 47-win “replacement team,” so +40.0 wins is really 87 wins, or about what it takes to be in contention for the postseason. (My 6th grade english teacher told the class to never use “and” or “but” after a semicolon, but I’m a grownup now so I can do whatever I want.) According to ZiPS, the Rangers are right at +40.0 zWAR — again, without Derek Holland — so that’s good. With, let’s say, half of a season’s worth of Holland, that number would be around +41.0 or +42.0, or 88-89 wins.
For perspective, ZiPS currently has the Athletics at +36.0 zWAR, the Angels at +37.0 zWAR and the Mariners at +33.0 zWAR. I tend to carry the belief that Texas is, on paper, the best team in its own division. For ZiPS to agree is nice — because the math does tell a helluva portion of the story — but we can’t forget that projections are only projections. The American League West won’t be set in stone until the end of September, and the sad reality is that spring training hasn’t even started yet.
As a one time pseudo-aspiring journalist/writer, it would be irresponsible of me to cherry-pick only the projections that favor my favorite baseball team. Like ZiPS. Because there are other smart people out there, like Nate Silver, for instance, who created the PECOTA projection system for Baseball Prospectus. (Silver is the guy who correctly predicted which presidential candidate would win the electoral college in all 50 states in 2012.)
PECOTA doesn’t like the Rangers as much. In fact, PECOTA likes both the Angels and Athletics to finish in a 1st place tie at 88 wins; the Rangers are picked third with a mere 84 wins, followed by the Mariners (83 wins) and Astros (66 wins), respectively.
Based on the proximity of the top four teams in the West — all within five games of each other — PECOTA seems to suggest that it will be the deepest (if not the strongest), most balanced division in baseball this season. For Texas, 84 wins would rightfully be considered a disappointment after four consecutive 90-win campaigns, especially considering the lengths Jon Daniels traveled to procure Prince Fielder from Detroit, and Shin-Soo Choo from the free agent market.
Essentially, with the amount of money the Rangers will owe Fielder and Choo during their decline years, these next couple of seasons are when Texas needs to capitalize on the enviable position its roster is in.
The biggest surprise, at least as far as PECOTA is concerned, has to be its confidence in Oakland to overachieve for a third straight year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an Oakland hater. I’m also not an Oakland lover, obviously, but I respect the competition. And although they’ve won the West these last two years, it’s not like they’ve had rosters I would have picked to beat the Rangers in a seven game series. Not during the last two seasons, at least. They own the two-year crown — just like the Rangers in 2010 and ’11 — but I’m hesitant to believe their offense can produce as it has in 2012 and ’13, or produce enough, I should say, to support a rotation likely to feature all of A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and Scott Kazmir.
I’m a big fan of Sonny Gray, and a HUGE fan of Jarrod Parker’s change up. But banking on Scott Kazmir to throw 180 innings is foolish, and I’m really just not a believer in Griffin or Straily to be much more than #4-5 starters.
The Angels, meanwhile, are co-champions in the West according to PECOTA. Like ZiPS, who has them about 4 games behind Texas, I tend to think the Anaheim will be Texas’s biggest competition to win the division in 2014. I would have said that before 2010, ’11, ’12 and ’13, too.
We’re probably never going to see the prime Albert Pujols again, so that’s good. But he’s almost certainly due for better than the .275/.338/.485 (124 wRC+) hitter he’s been since arriving to the American League, even if he is a 38 year-old listed at 33. That contract doesn’t look any better now than it did two off-seasons ago, but I have to think a healthy Albert Pujols still has at least one productive year left in him.
Josh Hamilton, who last season hit .250/.307/.432 (104 wRC+) with 21 HRs and 79 RBI, is also a solid candidate to regress back to his mean. Let’s face it, he’s never again going to be the .359/.411/.633 (175 wRC+) hitter he was in his 2010 MVP season, but there’s no reason why he couldn’t hit something in the .275/.330/.500 range. That’s not quite the superstar he once was, but it will feel like a lot after his underwhelming first season with the Angels last year.
Aside those two guys, it should be a productive offense — probably the best offense in the division. Now that Mark Trumbo is gone, the only real hole on the diamond should be at 3rd base with David Freese. They will be at or better than league average everywhere else in the field.
Like every year, but specifically for the Angels — because they haven’t been better than league average since 2008 — the pitching is where it really counts. Per FanGraphs, the Angels rank 10th, 10th, 7th, 11th and 13th in the American League in FIP-wins (fWAR) since 2009. During the offseason, they added reliever Joe Smith, and two left-handed starters — Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs — to an organization desperate and starved of quality arms for its pitching staff.
Will it be enough to make the postseason? PECOTA thinks so. ZiPS says meh. I say, yeah, probably. For some reason I think they will be motivated to give the Rangers a run for all the money they’ve been spending. Realistically, and tentatively, they are my 2nd wild card choice.
I like the Rangers in the West, Detroit in the Central, the Rays and Red Sox from the East, and the Anaheim to be the 5th team. Other candidates to be 2nd wild card: Oakland, Kansas City.
So that’s all I’ve got right now. The National League is boring to me.
Because it’s the National League.