This is the third in a series of articles that aim to compare the four teams that have been assembled to compete for the 2010 title of AL West champion. The first article revealed that the Mariners and Rangers have done the best work in preparing starting rotations for 2010. The second article predicted that the Athletics will have the top bullpen.
The third installment will address the hitters of the AL West. As with the pitching previews, I used CHONE projections to compare the Angels, Athletics, Mariners and Rangers. In 2009, CHONE's on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) projections had an average error rate of 8.3 percent for players with at least 250 plate appearances. CHONE whiffed on a few in 2009 (did anyone expect Ben Zobrist to OPS .948?), but, overall, the system did an amazing job of predicting hitter performances last season.
Provided in the tables for each team in the AL West are the thirteen position players who are most likely to accumulate the most at-bats in 2010,assuming everyone stays healthy. The ages and projected plate appearances (PA), on-base percentages (OBP), slugging (SLG), and OPS are provided for each player.
The Angels scored 883 runs in 2009 behind career years from Kendry Morales (.924 OPS), Torii Hunter (.871 OPS), Chone Figgins (.789 OPS), Erick Aybar (.776 OPS) and Maicer Izturis (.794 OPS). Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero departed via free agency, but CHONE expects Hideki Matsui and Brandon Wood to mostly replace their offensive production. But CHONE doesn't foresee a repeat of the .326 BABIP that the Angels enjoyed in 2009. If the playing time and CHONE projections listed in the table prove to be prescient, then the Angels slash line will drop from .285/.350/.441 in 2009 to .270/.335/.430 in 2010. That doesn't sound like a huge change, but it will likely mean an almost 100-run drop in scoring if the Angels are league average in hitting with runners in scoring position.
The Athletics combined for a .262/.328/.397 hitting line in 2009. That's pretty close to what the average major league shortstop did in 2009 (.274/.329/.391). The team's big off-season additions, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Coco Crisp, Jake Fox, and Gabe Gross, seem unlikely to provide much of a boost to the team's hitting in 2010. Highly regarded prospects Chris Carter and Michael Taylor are likely to spend time in the majors this season, but CHONE doesn't expect either to blow the roof off the place in their rookie seasons (.239/.318/.402 for Carter and .272/.324/.437 for Taylor). Assuming the at-bats and hitting projections break down as indicated in the table above, Oakland fans should brace themselves for another season of dismal hitting (.256/.333/.402).
While the Athletics' offense was among the worst in the American League in 2009, the Mariners' offense was among the worst of the past decade. The team scored 640 runs in 2009, which was the fewest that an American League team had scored since the hapless Tigers of 2003. As a team, the Mariners hit .258/.314/.402. The team's .314 OBP was the lowest in the majors, which is quite a feat given that they were competing for the title of worst team OBP with 14 National League teams whose numbers were dragged down by the .179 OBP that was posted by pitchers.
Russell Branyan (.251/.347/.520) and Adrian Beltre (.265/.304/.379) have departed, but their replacements (Milton Bradley, Chone Figgins, Ryan Garko and Casey Kotchman) should provide an upgrade for the team's offense. Though the numbers in the chart don't reveal it, Garko's abilities against left-handed pitchers (.313/.392/.495 career-wise) should result in more production from the first base position than is suggested by CHONE's projection.
Likewise, Eric Byrnes is unlikely to post a .661 OPS given that he will play predominantly against left-handers, whom he has batted a robust .284/.345/.511 against during his career. Assuming the at-bats work out as predicted in the chart above and the team features platoons at first base and the outfield, the team's batting line is projected to be .268/.338/.405. That will put the team at the back of the American League pack, but it will be a significant step up from their 2009 performance.
CHONE projects that eight hitters in the AL West will OPS over .800 in 2010. Five of those players are Rangers. The Angels had five such players in 2009 and scored 883 runs. The Red Sox also had five and scored 872 runs. The Rays had five, too, and scored 802 runs. Last year, only three Rangers had OPS'd over 800 -- Michael Young at .892, Nelson Cruz at .856 and Ian Kinsler at .814.
As a team, the Rangers hit .260/.320/.445 in 2009. If the playing time estimates and hitting projections shown above are accurate, then the Rangers will improve to .269/.332/.440 in 2010. Some of the Rangers' improvement is expected to derive the team bettering the .299 BABIP it had last season, which was among the lowest in the American League. Other anticipated improvements include an upgrade at DH and better seasons from Josh Hamilton and Chris Davis.
To estimate how many runs the four teams in the AL West are likely to score if the hitting projections prove out, I used OBP, SLG, and runs scored for each of the American League teams from the past three seasons to create an equation that estimates runs scored using team OBP and slugging. The equation was then used to estimate the run production for the Angels, A's, Mariners, and Rangers. As noted in the table below, the Rangers and Angels figure to have the best offenses in the division. Teh Rangers are projected to score approximately 80 runs more than the Mariners and Athletics.