Finding Value in MLB Regular Season Win Totals: AL West
Seattle Mariners 2019 Win Total
The Mariners can be a puzzling franchise at times. Ever since their 117-win team led by my hero as a child, Ken Griffey, Jr., it seems that the Mariners have been stuck in a vicious cycle. They are always trotting out a capable, but ultimately flawed team that never has enough talent to cross the finish line. It’s no surprise then to see that in 2018 the Mariners missed the playoffs for the 17th consecutive season. It's a shame, too, that the 2018 team wasn't able to break that streak as their 89-wins usually would at least earn a team the second wild-card spot. Coming so close but failing in the end must be grating on everyone in Seattle; fans, ownership and players alike. So, what did they do in the offseason to finally get over the hump? Well, they made some interesting moves, to say the least.
The biggest of those moves was a trade with the Mets that sent Edwin Diaz, the newly minted “best closer in the game,” along with Robinson Cano in a shrewd move that landed them a couple of win-now pieces along with two highly desirable prospects in Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn. The win-now pieces are all we care about as far as their win total is concerned, and don't laugh at me when the first name I mention is Jay Bruce. It feels like Jay Bruce is old enough to be my dad, but in reality, he is only 31-years-old. If someone told my 31-year-old self that I was "old" I would have laughed in their face. Bruce is still firmly in his power prime and is just a year removed from a 36-homer season. The other win-now piece was relief pitcher Anthony Swarzak who should help solidify the backend of the Mariners bullpen. In addition to that trade, the Mariners also acquired Mallex Smith from the Rays for Mike Zunino and Guillermo Heredia. That move was a massive win for the M's. Smith may not be a household name but he gets on base at a high rate (.367 OBP last year) and has 50+ stolen base potential with everyday playing time.
Another acquisition who may shine with everyday playing time is Domingo Santana, who the Mariners were able to acquire on the cheap from the Brewers for Ben Gamel. Santana is just a year removed from a 30-HR, 15-SB season in 2017. The final win-now piece the Mariners acquired was Edwin Encarnacion in a three-way deal with the Indians and Phillies. Edwin is 36-years-old and on the decline, but he still has the power and patience to be more than capable at DH. What’s so hard to figure out about the Mariners this offseason was their mix of win-now trades, with trades clearly designed for the future. Highly talented shortstop Jean Segura is now in Philadelphia, and former Phillies top prospect J.P. Crawford is now in Seattle. This may work out a few years from now, but Crawford is a definite downgrade over Segura. Another one of the trades that will really hurt the Mariners in the short-term was sending James Paxton to the Yankees for pitching prospect Justus Sheffield. Sheffield was a top-100 prospect, but doesn’t have quite the upside of Paxton, and may or may not make an impact in 2019. Finally, if that wasn’t enough, the Mariners signed Yusei Kikuchi out of the Japanese NPB league for $43-million on a 3-year deal. Kikuchi is 27-years-old and projects to be a middle of the rotation starter.
So, to recap: In: Yusei Kikuchi (SP), Edwin Encarnacion (DH), Jay Bruce (OF/1B), Mallex Smith (OF), Domingo Santana (OF), Anthony Swarzak (RP), J.P. Crawford (SS), Tim Beckham (SS/3B), Hunter Strickland (RP), Omar Narvaez (C) Out: Jean Segura (SS), James Paxton (SP), Mike Zunino (C), Edwin Diaz (CL), Juan Nicasio (RP), James Pazos (RP)
Conclusion: While the Mariners shipped out big names who still had age on their side in Segura, Paxton, and Diaz, I actually believe that they may have improved their team for 2019.
The problem I have with the Mariners is that the majority of their additions are on offense, and they lost their one true ace. Marco Gonzalez had a fine year in 2018 and now sits atop the rotation, followed by Kikuchi, Mike Leake, Felix Hernandez and Wade LeBlanc with Justus Sheffield waiting in the wings. This is by no means a bad starting rotation, but it would look so much better with Paxton at the top. Vegas must have downgraded the Mariners' win total, but I am running circles in my head trying to figure out how much. I think the Mariners can be a .500 team but believe most would probably bet against it, so I'll set their win total at 79.5 games. BetOnline has them at 71.5 wins. I’m pretty shocked. That seems like a massive downgrade to what the Mariners were able to accomplish in 2018. I obviously don’t see them as an 89-win team again, but they don’t even have to come close to that number in order to go over this total. I’ll gladly take the Over 71.5 wins for the Mariners.
Los Angeles Angels 2019 Win Total
Mike Trout, the best player in baseball for the better part of the past decade, has never made the playoffs. Is this the year that changes? I don't think so. Trout’s Angels will field a similar team to last year’s crew which went 80-82 and finished 17 games behind the first-place Astros. The Angels were about as average as it gets in 2018. Their run differential of -1 almost perfectly aligned with their record just under the .500 mark. So, what is going to change this year, if anything?
The first name I’ll throw out there for optimism may leave you scratching your head, but I think the addition of Justin Bour to play first base was an absolute steal for the Angels at one-year for $2.5 million. Bour broke out in 2017, hitting .285 with 25 home runs, but struggled badly last year as his peripherals fell back in line with his career numbers. Bour won’t ever repeat 2017 but should find a home providing patience and pop on the strong-side of a platoon. On the mound, the significant addition for the Angels was the often-maligned former ace, Matt Harvey. The last time Harvey pitched like an ace was in 2015, but he's still just 29-years-old and may still have the upside of a strong mid-rotation starter. The Angels' addition of Trevor Cahill to the starting rotation may turn out to be the better of the two moves. Cahill pitched to a 3.76 ERA in 110 innings last year and the one thing holding him back from contributing more is an inability to stay healthy. Concern over health is something that almost every one of the Angels' starters has in common. Tyler Skaggs was having a breakout season until hitting the DL with an abductor strain, and Skaggs has already had one Tommy John surgery. Andrew Heaney is another quality young pitcher that can't seem to put together a fully healthy season, and I haven't even mentioned Shohei Ohtani who won’t pitch again until the 2020 season. On offense, the Halos should be stout. It certainly helps when you have Mike Trout on your team. Next to him in the outfield, Justin Upton always produces above average numbers with 30-home run pop. Andrelton Simmons is a defensive wizard at shortstop and has turned himself into an above-average contributor on offense. While he doesn't grade out as above average, future Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols will take most of the at-bats at DH. At least until Ohtani is ready to resume playing offense, which will happen at some point in 2019. In the bullpen, the Angels signed former Indians closer Cody Allen. Allen is coming off a disappointing 2018 season but up until last year had been regarded as one of the more reliable closers in the league. The rest of the pen is solid and looks to be capable at bridging the late innings to Allen.
Conclusion: Much like Mike Trout’s personality, this Angels team is too dull for my liking. They have plenty of potential on offense, but no true stars beyond Trout. On the mound, the Angels have a lot of young talent and interesting veteran arms. The problem is that none of them can be trusted to deliver anywhere near 200 innings. The Angels underperformed last year, but that’s understandable when the top two teams in the division, the Astros and A’s, combined for 200 wins. I don’t expect that to happen again, but I also don’t expect the Angels to end their playoff drought in 2019. I’ll set this over/under at 83 wins. It looks like BetOnline agrees, as they have the Angels at 83.5 wins, but with -125 juice on the over. This is a definite pass for me.
Texas Rangers 2019 Win Total
The first thing that came to my mind when thinking of the Rangers was, "let's get this one over with." But I realized a second later that I was being pretty unfair to Texas. This is an interesting team, and I'm hoping that I end up being higher on them than the market.
The intrigue begins with Joey Gallo in left field. He has two straight seasons of 40+ home runs, and two consecutive seasons of a batting average below .210 (.209 and .206). It's kind of pathetic that I am still citing batting average in 2019. The numbers that matter for Gallo: .810 OPS, 110 wRC+ last year after an .869 OPS and 121 wRC+ in 2017. This guy is a beast, and Texas is his home. Chalk up another 40-50 bombs. Opposite of Gallo in right field is a former top prospect who hasn’t fully lived up to his potential yet in Nomar Mazara. The young lefty is still just 24-years-old and is coming off three straight seasons with exactly 20 home runs. He may end up being what he is now, a league average contributor, but there is still potential for him to blossom into much more. In center field is another player that hasn’t fully tapped into his potential in Delino DeShields, Jr. The son of the former Expo has blazing speed, and patience at the plate, but strikes out far too much for a slap-hitting speed guy which led to an on-base percentage of just .310 last year. In stark contrast to their young, upside-laden outfield, the rest of the Rangers' lineup consists of mostly veterans, including Asdrubal Cabrera, Elvis Andrus, Roughned Odor, and Shin-Soo Choo. Those guys may be getting older, but they can all still play.
The Rangers offense is going to produce, that is without question. The issue lies in their starting rotation, which is led by Mike Minor. Nothing against Mike Minor, I think he's a sneaky fantasy play, but if he's their #1, who the hell is #2 through #5? Well, it's the reliably below-average Lance Lynn, followed by comeback project Drew Smyly. Up next is the guy you forgot was still in MLB, Edinson Volquez. The rotation is rounded out by Shelby Miller. It's as if the Rangers honestly think it’s the year 2015. Back in 2015, Drew Smyly had a 3.11 ERA, Shelby Miller was amid his best season as a pro with 205 innings and a 3.02 ERA, and it was the last year that Edinson Volquez posted a sub-4 ERA. We have to go back to 2013 to find Mike Minor’s last year with a sub-4 ERA, but his 4.18 in 157 innings was at least slightly above average last year. That about sums up the Rangers rotation: their ace has the upside of a slightly above average starter. In the bullpen, Jose Leclerc is close to as scary as it gets for opposing batters, putting up a K/9 of 13.27 in 2018. Supporting him is a cast of characters that can get the job done, but they’re going to be taxed heavily having to fill in for a sub-standard starting rotation.
Conclusion: The Rangers have a great offense and awful starting pitching. The deciding factor would be their bullpen, and while I love Leclerc, he's not enough to give them an above average pen. I feel like the right number here is 79, but I’ll set it a little lower, at 77.5 wins for the Rangers. It looks like I was way too high, as BetOnline has them down at just 70.5 wins, -125 to the Over. I have to lean with the Over 70.5 wins on this one because their offense is good enough to win the Rangers plenty of games on their own. It’s just a little scary putting money on a team with pitching that is going to blow a lot of games, early and late.
Oakland Athletics 2019 Win Total
One look at the A’s offensive depth chart and the only thing that comes to mind is that this team is going to be sneaky good. Matt Chapman was putting up borderline MVP numbers last year (accounting for his defensive value), but not many outside the baseball stat-head community took notice. Matt Olson is a power first baseman that could be something more. Jurickson Profar comes over from Texas and may finally be tapping into that #1 prospect in baseball potential that he displayed when he graced the cover of the 2013 Baseball America Prospect Handbook.
As for premier players on offense? Chapman and Olson could be stars but aren't currently. Khris Davis is the true star of the attack, with three straight seasons of 40+ home runs and 100+ RBI. He's also had four consecutive seasons with a batting average of .247, which is just unbelievable. The problem with this team, just as it was with the Rangers, is that they’re all offense and no starting pitching. The Rangers at least have guys that you’ve heard of and who used to be good. The A’s on the other hand, are featuring a rotation of Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn and Chris Bassitt. Their bullpen is what separates the A’s from the Rangers in my mind. Oakland has an elite closer in Blake Treinen, who has the most devasting 97-mph sinker you’ve ever seen and behind him is a solid supporting cast featuring Lou Trivino and Joakim Soria.
Conclusion: The A's seem to always find a way to get it done. I haven't tracked their win totals over the years, but I would suspect that Oakland has beaten their projected win total more often than not. With that said, I'm confident that my projection for this team will be lower than that of the books. I see an average team; this looks like the definition of a .500 ballclub, so I'll go with 81 wins for the A's. I was correct in being less optimistic than BetOnline as they have Oakland’s win total set at 83.5 wins, with -130 juice to the over. This will be a pass for me.
Houston Astros 2019 Win Total
The Astros are the envy of almost every other organization in baseball. Starting pitchers go to Houston to have their careers turned around. Their offense is loaded with young, developing talent and their pitching as a whole is an embarrassment of riches. On top of all that, they still have a deep farm system with elite talent ready to come up and contribute.
The Astros are currently tied with the Yankees as World Series favorites at 6/1 odds and are coming off a 103-win season in 2018. There is no reason to expect this team to win less than 95 games and if the number was set that low, everyone would be lining up to take the Over. As we’ve seen so far going through the rest of the AL West, there isn’t a lot of serious competition for the Astros in the division. Oakland should be solid, but they aren’t expected to come close to repeating their 97 wins a season ago. With 70 games against a relatively easy slate of divisional opponents, The Astros win total has a very low floor.
Conclusion: I’ll set this at 97.5 wins for the Astros in 2019. It looks like I am just a little high, as BetOnline has this set at 96.5 wins. This would be a very slight lean to the over for me, and I probably will pass on the Astros win total.