2017 Recap: AL West

This is the sixth and final installment in a six-part series in which I will go division by division and recap the biggest storylines of each team’s season. To find the recaps for other divisions, follow the links below.

NL East
AL East
NL Central
AL Central
NL West

All WAR metrics are fWAR unless otherwise stated.

Houston Astros (101-61, .623)

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2017 World Champions. I’m not saying I called it (seriously, I didn’t), but Sports Illustrated may have with their 2014 cover. The Astros were all-out dominant in 2017, and though they may not have had the best record in the big leagues, they came home with the hardware which is what counts.

The Astros made it clear from the get-go that they were going to go all-in on the season by signing Carlos Beltran and trading for Yankees’ catcher Brian McCann. Beltran chipped in a handful of starts in the outfield but was mostly the team’s starting DH, and McCann became a key cog in the Stros’ two-headed catcher attack (alongside Evan Gattis) while also providing strong veteran leadership in the locker room.

During the season, the Astros got some high-quality production out of their regulars, and though young phenom SS Carlos Correa missed around two months with a torn ligament, Swiss Army knife Marwin Gonzalez was able to fill in admirably for Correa. Shockingly, Marwin’s .303 BA was only the fourth-best on the team out of any regulars, which is not actually all that shocking when you consider that the team’s batting line as a whole improved from .247/.319/.417 in 2016 to .282/.346/.478 in 2017, a 21% increase in productivity.

The main contributors on offense were the aforementioned Correa (.315/.391/.550, 24 HR; all career-highs), George Springer (.283/.367/.522, 34 HR; all career-highs), Jose Altuve ( .346/.410/.547, 24 HR; all career-highs), and Josh Reddick (.314/.363/.484, 13 HR; each triple-slash leg is a career-high). I’m not saying that the Astros can’t repeat as WS champs in 2018, but it seems that everyone had their breakout season at the same time. That being said, Correa, Springer, and Altuve will all be 27 or younger on Opening Day, so the best may still be yet to come for that young core.

As for the team’s pitching, it was also dominant, but not quite as dominant as the offense. Staff ace Dallas Keuchel had a season far more reminiscent of his 2015 Cy Young campaign than his 2016 flop, posting a 2.90 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over 145.2 innings pitched. The rest of their rotation wasn’t too shabby either, with Brad Peacock posting a 3.00 ERA over the course of the season split between 13 relief appearances and 21 starts. Collin McHugh even got in on the action, with a 3.55 ERA and 8.8 K/9, both high marks since his rookie year in 2014.

The biggest difference maker on the staff, though, was none other than midseason acquisition Justin Verlander. The Astros acquired Verlander at the expense of three organizational top-ten (okay, technically Jake Rogers was #11, but the Astros’ system was one of the best in the bigs, so the three prospects would likely be top-ten in most other organizations) prospects: Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron (son of the one and only Mike Cameron), and Jake Rogers. I’m sure the Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow might have given one of his kidneys too if he knew how JV would pitch down the stretch: a 1.06 ERA, 0.67 WHIP (yup, seriously), 11.4 K/9, 8.6 K/BB ratio, and a 376 ERA+ (that means he was 276% better than league average) over five September starts. To top it all off, he threw 36.2 playoff innings over six appearances (five starts) in which he pitched to a 2.21 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, and 38 strikeouts.

The Astros will obviously relish this World Series win as long as possible, but it’s not as though they don’t have a good chance at repeating; they’re set up very well for the future. Look for more content about the Astros in the coming offseason. This is a team that’s set up for success for years to come.

American League hitter ranks: 896 Runs scored (1st), 238 HR (2nd), 98 SB (4th), .282/.346/.478 triple-slash (1st/1st/1st), 33.0 WAR (1st)
American League pitcher ranks: 4.12 ERA (5th), 26.1% K% (2nd), 1.27 WHIP (5th), 20.8 WAR (4th)

Los Angeles Angels (80-82, .494)

The Angels’ season was marked by a lack of transactions and a lack of stellar play. Obviously, the usual suspects (Mike Trout and Andrelton Simmons) were great, but the rest of the team was pretty uninspiring. The team compiled 16.6 fWAR this season from their hitters, and Trout and Simmons were responsible for 70% of that (they combined for 11.8 fWAR). That being said, Justin Upton did perform admirably in the 27 games he played for the Angels in September, triple-slashing .245/.357/.531 with 7 HR (that’s a 42 HR pace over a full season). I’m sure the Angels would have liked to see the batting average a little higher, but when someone posts a slugging percentage in the mid-.500s, there’s really no complaining.

The Angels were actually in the wild card race for most of the season; they were a half-game up on the Twins for the second wild card spot at the end of play on September 5th, but then they proceeded to go 8-15 in their final 23 games, and blew their lead to the Twins. They would have needed to go 13-10 to go to a tiebreaker with the Twins, and 14-9 to win the 2nd wild card spot outright, but none of that matters because of the abysmal showing they put on down the stretch. They ranked 7th in the American League with a 4.09 ERA after September 5th, which isn’t terrible, but isn’t great. Their batting was the bigger issue, though; their offense ranked 12th in the American League and 26th overall after September 5th with an 80 wRC+ (20% below league average). Each leg of the team’s .219/.287/.385 triple-slash over that time frame was in the bottom 20% of the league, with the BA and OBP ranking second-to-last in the majors. In short, this team could have been a playoff team if not for their ice-cold September.

The rest of the season was pretty solid, and the high point was the team’s 18-10 August which put them back in the playoff race. The aforementioned Trout had arguably his best statistical season of his young career even after missing nearly two months with a thumb ligament injury. He triple-slashed .306/.442/.629 in 2017, the OBP and SLG were career-highs and AL-highs as well (yes, ahead of Aaron Judge), but finished outside the top two in AL MVP voting for the first time in his career. He finished fourth. A sad season for Trout fans everywhere (I’m only kidding).

Andrelton Simmons made Braves fans everywhere even sadder this year that the team traded him away by having his best all-around season to date by posting a an obscene MLB-leading 32 Defensive Runs Saved, nearly three times as many as the next-best SS. He also triple-slashed .278/.331/.421, the latter two legs of which are both career-highs. He finished in the top 10 (eighth) in AL MVP voting for the first time in his career and won the Gold Glove at shortstop (shocker!)

As I said before, the rest of the team was pretty uninspiring. The only pitcher over 150 innings on the season for the Halos was Ricky Nolasco (remember him?), and no hitter who had more than 125 PA besides Trout and Simmons OPS’ed over .750. My hope is that the Angels make a splash in free agency in this upcoming offseason so Mike Trout can finally get a shot at his first ring.

American League hitter ranks: 710 Runs scored (11th), 186 HR (t-13th), 136 SB (1st), .243/.315/.397 triple-slash (14th/11th/last), 16.6 WAR (8th)
American League pitcher ranks: 4.20 ERA (6th), 21.8% K% (6th), 1.28 WHIP (6th), 12.1 WAR (8th)

Seattle Mariners (78-84, .481)

I’d hate to be a Mariners fan, because I feel like they never really meet expectations. FiveThirtyEight predicted that the Mariners would finish 2017 with an 86-76 record and the first wild card spot. Despite the fact that this roster is filled with talent like Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Jean Segura, Kyle Seager, and James Paxton, they couldn’t even finish at the .500 mark. I wouldn’t give up on this team if I was a Mariners fan, but Cruz and Cano aren’t getting any younger, and the team doesn’t have any particularly exciting prospects set to make their debut 2018.

With that being said, they did begin the season by making a splash on the trade market, as GM Jerry Dipoto is known to do, by sending young starter Taijuan Walker and SS Ketel Marte to the DBacks for a three-player package including Segura and outfielder Mitch Haniger, would turn 26 before opening day. The trade made Dipoto look like a savant, as Haniger, seemingly out of nowhere, triple-slashed .282/.352/.491 in nearly 100 games with 16 HR. Segura did his usual thing, hitting over .300 for the second straight year and swiping 20 or more bases (he nabbed 22 in 2017) for the fifth straight year. Walker did have the best season of his career and Marte was solid, but certainly not better than Segura, so the trade is looking like a win for Dipoto and the Mariners.

The team as a whole was pretty uninspiring. The Mariners only got to three games above .500 three times during the season, and were below .500 for longer than they were at or above it during September.

In terms of individual performances, SP James Paxton somewhat overcame his injury problems by setting full-season career-bests in starts (24), innings pitched (136), ERA (2.98), WHIP (1.103), and K/9 (10.3). Nelson Cruz hit at least 20 HR for the 9th straight season, and nearly got to forty for the fourth straight year (he fell one long ball short, with 39). Catcher Mike Zunino showed people why he was the #3 overall pick in the 2012 draft by swatting a career-high 25 HR and triple-slashing a career-best .251/.331/.509 over 124 games.

The team did have some players negatively regress in 2017, though, including Robinson Cano and fireballing reliever Edwin Diaz. Cano’s .791 OPS was his second-lowest posted total since 2008, when he OPS’d .715 with the Yankees. Diaz, after making light work of the league in 2016 by striking out over 15 batters per nine innings and pitching to a 2.79 ERA, only (“only”…as if it’s not still impressive) put up a 12.1 K/9 and 3.27 ERA in 2017.

I think the Mariners have a good shot to bounce back in 2018 and at least finish at or above .500. Additionally, I think they have a solid shot of signing Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani, and if they manage to sign him, I’d argue that the Mariners instantly become an AL wild card favorite in 2018.

American League hitter ranks: 750 Runs scored (7th), 200 HR (10th), 89 SB (8th), .243/.315/.397 triple-slash (t-6th/6th/t-8th), 21.5 WAR (5th)
American League pitcher ranks: 4.46 ERA (8th), 20.3% K% (8th), 1.31 WHIP (7th), 9.8 WAR (12th)

Texas Rangers (78-84, .481)

I have a soft spot for the Texas Rangers, primarily because the team President of Baseball Ops and GM is none other than Jon Daniels. Daniels is a Hunter College High School graduate, like myself (go Hawks!) and he spoke at the 2013 commencement, which I attended. He became the youngest GM in the history of baseball, and I’m gunning for his record. Basically, whether he knows it or not, he has played a large role in my choice to pursue an MLB GM gig.

In terms of the on-field product, he has been quite good over his tenure as GM. Since the start of 2006, the Rangers have won their division four times, appeared in the World Series twice, and finished eight of their twelve seasons with a record above .500. Unfortunately, 2017 was not one of those years.

2017 was pretty up-and-down for the Rangers. In May, the team rattled off a 10-game winning streak, which put them in a wild card spot on May 19th. They then went on to lose six of their next seven to put them two games under .500, and they pretty much hovered around that mark for the rest of the season, until their seven game losing streak at the end of September. They missed out on the playoffs for the first time in the past three seasons, but it wasn’t all for naught; they cashed in on star pitcher Yu Darvish by trading him away in a package of prospects headlined by 2B/DH Willie Calhoun. They also traded reliever Jeremy Jeffress back to the Brewers after acquiring him last season, and traded C Jonathan Lucroy, who was having a very disappointing year in Arlington, to the Rockies.

Save for Joey Gallo and Elvis Andrus, none of their hitters were exceptional, and the pitching staff, particularly the bullpen, was a mess. Gallo, a former top-10 prospect in all of baseball according to MLB Pipeline, struggled in his brief 2015 and 2016 MLB cameos, but made his presence known in 2017 by smacking 41 HR and triple-slashing .209/.333/.537. The batting average leaves a lot to be desired, but considering his low average, the OBP and SLG are exceptional, especially for someone as young as Gallo. He could stand to cut down on the strikeouts (196 in 145 games), but if he’s going to OPS .869 over a full season, the strikeouts are tolerable.

Andrus, on the other hand, just continued being Elvis. He stole 20+ bags (25 in 2017) for the 9th straight year, and got to double-digit HR for the first time in his career (he knocked 20 out). He also had a career-high .808 OPS. It seems like Elvis has been around forever, but he’s still not even 30 years old, so we will likely see some more solid seasons from the SS in the future.

On the other side of the ball, the Rangers pitching staff probably wants to forget about 2017. Only one starter had an ERA under 4.00, and it wasn’t Yu Darvish. It was Andrew Cashner, who somehow put up a 3.40 ERA despite having a FIP over one run higher than his ERA (4.61). Cashner also only struck out 4.6 batters per nine innings, so how he had success at the MLB-level this season is beyond me. I’m fully expecting him to come crashing back down in 2018.

The Rangers bullpen was even worse. They had an America League-low save percentage of 58%, and that’s especially bad when you consider that the team only had 50 save attempts. Obviously saves aren’t a good barometer of bullpen performance (#KillTheSave), but blown saves at least tell us that the pitcher blew a game, so it’s a little more useful than saves alone. If we want to take saves out of the equation entirely, the Rangers bullpen was still pretty awful: a 4.76 ERA and 1.48 WHIP (both 3rd-worst in MLB and 2nd-worst in AL), and a K/BB ratio of 2.04 (2nd-worst in MLB and in AL).

Sam Dyson, who entered the season as the Rangers closer, pitched to a 10.80 ERA before the team decided they were done with him. He entered four of his first six games with the Rangers either leading or tied and by the team he left the mound in each of those appearances, the Rangers were losing or had lost (because the other team walked off). And that was within the first twelve games of the season. He would go on to blow two more games (and record zero saves!) for the Rangers before they traded him to the Giants in early June.

The bullpen woes didn’t stop there, though. Dyson’s replacement, Matt Bush, recorded eight saves after assuming the closer’s role before imploding. Over five outings from June 19th to June 30th, Bush gave up seven runs in five innings, blew three saves (out of five opportunities), inflated his season ERA from 2.25 to 4.03, and lost closing job. Jeff Banister, perhaps wisely, elected to take a committee approach to save opportunities after that and didn’t even bother naming an official closer for the rest of the season.

I can’t imagine the Rangers will have similar bullpen woes in 2018, as it seems many of their guys had bad stretches at the exact worst time. They’d benefit from help in the bullpen, but I don’t think it’s imperative that they reinforce their bullpen. I foresee the Rangers being a middle-of-the-pack team in 2018.

American League hitter ranks: 799 Runs scored (5th), 237 HR (3rd), 113 SB (2nd), .244/.320/.430 triple-slash (13th/8th/7th), 16.6 WAR (8th)
American League pitcher ranks: 4.70 ERA (12th), 17.8% K% (last), 1.40 WHIP (12th), 14.9 WAR (10th)

Oakland Athletics (75-87, .463)

The Athletics finished 2017 with a losing record for the third straight year. Fortunately for them, they’re trending in the right direction. That being said, they did trade away staff ace Sonny Gray away this season in a deal that didn’t seem to net them enough. They also traded established relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to Washington, and got another package of prospects/youngsters for those two. The Athletics have made it crystal clear that they are in rebuild mode, so I think it’d be unfair to judge the franchise on another not great season. Instead, I’ll try to focus on the positives.

The biggest surprise for the Athletics was probably rookie Matt Olson. Olson jacked 24 long balls in only 59 games, a pace of well over 60 for an entire season. The power isn’t out of nowhere, he had 60 HR between A and A+ in 2013 and 2014, but then hit only 17 HR per season in 2015 and 2016 in the minors, so the power seemed to have diminished a bit in the higher levels of the minors. Then, in 2017, he hit 23 HR in 79 games at AAA, the A’s called him up, and he just kept raking. The .259 batting average leaves some room for improvement, but considering that he slugged .651, I’m certain that the Athletics don’t mind the batting average, or 27.8% strikeout rate.

Matt Chapman was also a very valuable rookie for Oakland. My guess is that Chapman will be the Athletics third baseman for the next half-decade at the very least because he plays stellar defense. Stellar might actually be an understatement; in a little over half as many innings as Nolan Arenado, who is widely regarded as the best defensive 3B in baseball right now, Chapman had 19 defensive runs saved to Arenado’s 20. If we extrapolate Chapman’s DRS per inning played, he would have ended the season with 35 DRS, which would have been the highest total in baseball of any position player (Andrelton Simmons included). Basically, Chapman is a stud with the glove, and though his .234/.313/.472 really isn’t great, it’s not a huge detriment to the team because of his insane defense.

This next guy isn’t a rookie, but Khris Davis quietly had yet another great season. He hit .247 for the third consecutive season, and had a career-high 29.9% strikeout rate, but also posted a career high 11.2% walk rate and 43 HR. It was his second consecutive year with at least 40 HR, and also his fourth consecutive year with 122 strikeouts (he had 195…yikes). A little good from Khris, and a little bad. Still, though, Davis received a singular MVP vote, and remains under contract for the A’s until 2020, so he could be a valuable trade chip for the team in the future, and if not, he’ll be a mainstay in the A’s lineup for the next few seasons.

After trading Sonny Gray, there really was not anything to write home about in terms of the starting rotation. The bullpen wasn’t particularly great either, but it looks like Blake Treinen, who the A’s acquired in the Madson and Doolittle trade with Washington, could very well be the closer of the future for this A’s team. In 38 innings after getting traded, Treinen posted a 2.13 ERA and 9.9 K/9.

The team’s top four prospects according to MLB Pipeline (Franklin Barreto, A.J. Puk, Dustin Fowler, and Jorge Mateo) are all expected to make their full-time debuts at some point in 2018, so big things are ahead for the Athletics. I don’t think they’ll be contending in 2018, or perhaps even 2019, but the future at least looks bright in Oakland.

American League hitter ranks: 739 Runs scored (9th), 234 HR (4th), 57 SB (13th), .246/.319/.436 triple-slash (11th/9th/4th), 15.8 WAR (9th)
American League pitcher ranks: 4.67 ERA (11th), 19.5% K% (11th), 1.36 WHIP (8th), 10.3 WAR (10th)

Thanks for reading the 2017 Season Recap series. To view the 2017 recaps for other divisions, use the links at the top of this article.

(Image Credit: AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s