2012 AL West Predicted Standings
1. Texas Rangers
2. Los Angeles Angels
3. Oakland Athletics
4. Seattle Mariners
2012 AL West Actual Standings
1. Oakland Athletics (94-68, +99)
2. Texas Rangers (93-69, +101)
3. Los Angeles Angels (89-73, +68)
4. Seattle Mariners (75-87, -32)
Ending the season on the wrong side of an Oakland sweep is what damned the Rangers in 2012, and more importantly, cost me my first place pick’s accuracy. Texas spent the great majority of the season being one of the most well-rounded teams in the game — something we lauded them for extensively in our season preview — before yielding to the seemingly unstoppable Athletics on the very last day of the season. Ultimately, the that tough finish put them in a one-game playoff against the Orioles, and their season ended there. This is sad, considering the roster was definitely good enough to make an unprecedented third straight trip to the World Series, but don’t condemn the better of baseball’s two Lone Star teams just yet; they still had a fine season.
Thanks to another excellent offensive effort from Josh Hamilton in addition to Adrian Beltre taking on the lead supporting role quite capably, Texas’s vaunted offense produced every bit as well as its reputation said it would. This is a team that cruised through much of the year — they were never below .500 at any point, they got as far as 29 games over .500 at one point, and they led their division for a 186 consecutive days, surrendering the crown at the very end of the season as mentioned above. Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz may have fallen a little short of their expected contribution, but players like David Murphy and Craig Gentry filled in capably in their own roles to help make up for some of that lost production. Elvis Andrus also took a noteworthy step forward offensively in his own career.
On the pitching side, homegrown starters Matt Harrison and Derek Holland continued to be solid rotation options, Colby Lewis was outstanding in the 16 starts he made, and after a so-so start, Yu Darvish really took off and established himself as the true ace Ranger fans hoped he could become. Darvish,who just turned 26 in August, improved his BB/9 rate by about a full batter in the second half of the season, and if that improved control stays with him going forward, the Rangers will certainly get their money’s worth on that massive investment. In the bullpen, Joe Nathan had a great comeback season, Alexi Ogando remained nasty, and Mike Adams apparently forgot he’s not supposed to have a WHIP anywhere near 1.00, let alone the 1.40 he finished at this year.
The Rangers were a very, very good team this season, and they likely deserved a better fate than the one they’ll be stuck with forever in the baseball history books. Their offense, rotation, and bullpen all ranked near the very best in the game, and were it not for an uncalled for surge from a certain Bay area team who shall remain nameless, they would have made our prediction a reality, and who knows, maybe gotten some revenge on the annoying Giants in the World Series. Or lost again to the Cardinals. Either one of those would have been way more enjoyable than how things actually went.
Los Angeles Angels
Albert Pujols is bad. Relax, I only mean he’s bad by his own standards, and it may be about time to lower those. Pujols may have earned the $12 million Los Angeles paid him for 2012, but he sure as hell isn’t going to do a very good job of earning the remaining $242 million owed over the next nine seasons. The hitter that was once unquestionably the game’s best posted a triple slash line of .285/.343/.516 and wasn’t even the best player on his own team in the first year of his mega deal; that mantle belongs to Mike Trout, and it’s unlikely he’ll be relinquishing it anytime soon. Trout may already be the best player in baseball, so Albert doesn’t need to be too upset about finishing second to him, but in terms of WAR, he didn’t even do that — Torii Hunter did. Again, that’s no disrespect to Albert, as Hunter had a great season.
In fact, several of the Angel position players did. All told, this team had one of the top offenses in all of baseball, something we certainly did not necessarily see coming. We figured they’d be solid enough, of course, but not one that finished second among all team with a 112 wRC+ behind only the Yankees. They managed to accomplish this without being an especially patient team (7.3 BB%) or an overly powerful one (.159 ISO), but there were usually no wasted spots anywhere in the lineup Mike Sciosca presented to the umpires before every game — aside from the laughable Vernon Wells, of course.
If there’s an area of the this team worth condemning, it’s the disappointing starting rotation. When your rotation has Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, Ervin Santana, and gets a mid-season boost in the form of Zack Greinke, it’s not unreasonable to expect it to be one of the best in the game. This was not at all the case in 2012, however, as Angels starters combined for just 9.1 WAR all season long, a cumulative total that ranked just eighth from the bottom of all 30 teams. That’s just not good enough, and each pitcher played a part. Weaver was the best of the bunch, but he had more than his fair share of good fortune, so his season is not as strong as it may look on the surface; you might be tempted to think a 20-win pitcher with an ERA of 2.81 would be worth more than 3.0 WAR, but in this case, you’d be wrong. Wilson was solid enough as well, but he was overly wild and somewhat disappointing after netting a contract that paid him like an ace. Haren may have been a bit unlucky, but he still got hit way too hard. As unimpressive as the rotation was, the bullpen was even worse — Angel relievers failed to contribute even 1.0 WAR to the team as a whole, and apart from Ernesto Frieri, there aren’t a whole lot of names to talk about in that department.
With better pitching, the Angels might have been the best team in their division and maybe even in baseball as a whole. If they had managed to sneak into the playoffs, no team would have wanted to face them, but as it happens, an 18-9 September still wasn’t enough to get them in. Expect the pitching to rebound next season, but can the offense be this good again with just one player truly on the rise?
We weren’t very impressed by the A’s in the season previews, and we stand by our projections. The lineup this team was expected to rely on every night looked alarmingly weak, and while the team’s season ending .714 OPS was only good for 11th in the league, Oakland wound up being a better offensive team than anyone should have ever thought possible. This was possible thanks to the emergence of death masher Chris Carter, Josh Reddick and his 32 home runs, a shocking contribution from Brandon Moss (of all people), and Yoenis Cespedes actually living up to the hype. That’s not exactly a cast of all-stars, but they all came together at the right time, and it was good enough to get this team into the playoffs.
They got there by going 51-25 in the second half of the season, including an incredible 19-5 in July when no one was really paying much attention to them yet. Why would anyone have been talking about them in July? They were as far as 13 games back at the end of June, after all. It seemed obviously over for them, and the only remaining question was whether they would finish third or fourth. Looking back at the individual performances on the team, I’m still not quite sure how they pulled it off.
After all, we were higher on their farm system than their actual Major League talent going into the season, particularly a few of their top pitching prospects. We’ve already discussed how underwhelmed we were by the projected offense, but the pitching wasn’t exactly can’t-miss, either. As it turned out, both the starting rotation and bullpen were solid, but hardly exemplary. Jarrod Parker led the way with 3.7 WAR, but soft-tossing Tommy Milone and 24 starts of Bartolo “Beefcake” Colon also gave the A’s a boost as well. In the bullpen, Grant Balfour and Ryan Cook notched most of the saves for the year, and each pitched very well. Sean Doolittle also managed to rack up 11.4 K/9 while striking out over five times as many batters as he walked.
Oakland had a nice feel good season for sure, and I didn’t mind rooting for them all things considered. I’m just not sold on their offensive capability for the long term, even if they do look to have plenty of pitching to spare. If Billy Beane continues to be the savvy general manager he’s already well known for being, this organization should have a very good chance of competing in the AL West for the next several seasons. The process may just have to involve moving surplus pitching for more impact bats.
Well, at least we got this one right; I guess congratulations are in order. One spot in four isn’t something that happens every day. The Mariners finished here because they aren’t good at baseball, quite frankly, and there’s no getting around that fact. That said, they were not an awful team — Baseball Reference’s Simple Rating System actually ranked them as a slightly above-average team in 2012, although they were clearly significantly worse than the other three teams in the AL West. That’s not an insult, though; their division just turned out to be a very good one. Keep in mind before we continue that this is a team that actually finished 39-36 in the second half of the season, and that includes a September collapse (9-17). They were playing quite well for a little while.
It’s really hard to find good things to say about this offense. Third baseman Kyle Seager found himself atop the position player WAR leaders, and while that .738 OPS may not look like much, consider the stadium he plays half his games in. On the road, Seager is a whole different player: he clubbed 15 of his 20 home runs away from home and put up an .835 OPS in 330 plate appearances. He could stand to walk more, the Mariners may have something in their 24-year-old third baseman. Thanks to a walk rate north of 15.0%, John Jaso was the second most productive Seattle position player, and Michael Saunders wasn’t bad, either. Brendan Ryan… well, he’s awfully slick with that glove; just cover your eyes when he trades it for the lumber. He might consider hitting with his glove, in fact, since he’s so much more comfortable with it.
One might be led to think that since there are so few good hitters on this team, they make up for it on the pitching side, but one would be wrong. Felix Hernandez is an incredible pitcher, easily one of the game’s best, but he’s about all Seattle had in 2012. Kevin Milwood — yes, Kevin Milwood — managed to contribute 2.1 WAR in around 160 innings of serviceable work, and Tom Wilhelmsen took over as the team’s closer and ran away with the job, but you’d be hard pressed to find many other compliments to pay this group of pitchers. Charlie Furbush (that’s just an awful name, by the way) and Steve Delabar also had nice seasons in relief, but considering the two combined for a mere 83 innings, it didn’t have much of an impact on the overall picture.
No, the 2012 Mariners weren’t a bad team, but they sure were boring. For an organization that seems to be focusing on defense, they didn’t even excel that well at it per FanGraphs UZR data. They did finish eighth in baseball, but the 19.4 UZR end season total ranked well behind the likes of the Braves, the Angels, and even the Red Sox. It would take several changes for this team to break into contention the way the rest of the division currently shakes out.