Darvish has been lights out for the first place Rangers
As the 2013 Major League Baseball season race reaches the quarter pole, it becomes time to take stock of where teams and players are in terms of production.
In the American League West, the Texas Rangers have taken their customary position of being the front runner, largely due to tremendous pitching and consistent power in the lineup. The A's and Mariners have both been largely inconsistent, with the A's scuffling back to .500 since starting the year 12-4.
However, the biggest story has been the lack of success in Anaheim as the Los Angeles Angels are not fighting for an expected spot at the top, but trying to keep clear of division newcomers the Houston Astros. In the basement.
There have been solid performances from individuals on all five teams. But sometimes, overlapping positions keep deserving players from receiving deserved accolades. This will likely be no exception.
So instead of lamenting who is not, we shall spotlight who is. Starting with catcher and ending a pitching rotation (relievers included), here is the AL West's Quarter-Pole All-Star Team.
Pierzynski is the best despite currently being on the DL.
Starting with catcher. To be blunt, pickings have been slim in the AL West thus far. As it stands, someone has to make this list, so the player with the best start gets it.
That's A.J. Pierzynski. Despite currently finding himself on the disabled list, Pierzynski has had a decent start to 2013: .263 batting average, 4 HR, 11 RBI.
However, let's look at the other regulars in the division to show just how bad the position has been thus far:
Jason Castro, Astros: .265, 2 HR, 7 RBI
Chris Iannetta, Angels: .195, 3 HR, 9 RBI
John Jaso, Athletics: .255, 1 HR, 10 RBI
Jesus Montero, Mariners: .205, 3 HR, 8 RBI
Moss has been the best of the bunch at first thus far
Here is where the Angels' relative lack of production first rears its head. Albert Pujols is not the best first baseman in the division thus far. It has been Oakland's Brandon Moss. As a matter of fact, you could make a plausible argument for Texas' Mitch Moreland as well.
Moss has followed up his career year with a very solid .278/.376/.435 slash line while hitting 4 home runs and driving in 20 RBI. Having seen him up close, the tipping point for me is not the fact that he has overall better numbers at the plate.
No, the improvement Moss has made at first base defensively has been the difference. A converted outfielder, Moss has been better than expected with a respectable .981 fielding percentage.
As for Pujols, his numbers (.238, 5 HR, 19 RBI) have not been terrible, but they are not to his lofty standards. Meanwhile, Moreland (.287, 6 HR, 14 RBI) has been one of many that have filled the void of the departed Josh Hamilton.
Kinsler has been off to a blistering start
The most loaded position in this division is second base. That makes the fact that Ian Kinsler is clearly the best second baseman in the division all the more telling.
Kinsler has not just been good enough for the division, you could make an argument (with Robinson Cano having something to say) that he is the best in the game. Currently, Kinsler has a slash line of .329/.390/.550. That gives him an OPS of .940, good for ninth in the league.
It has been more than his seven homers and 20 RBI, though. Kinsler has raised his game the most to keep the Texas offense potent. For that, his torrid production offsets some semi-shaky (five errors) defense to more than warrant this position.
And that is not to say that there aren't players that are not worthy. Houston's Jose Altuve and LA's Howie Kendrick have both been very good to start the 2013 season:
Altuve: .342, 2 HR, 17 RBI (.843 OPS)
Kendrick: .307, 5 HR, 17 RBI
Lowrie has clearly been the best at shortstop in the AL West
Another slam dunk choice, Jed Lowrie is the AL West's best shortstop thus far. Frankly, Lowrie is making a case for the best in the league, as well as an actual All-Star spot.
No one else in the division comes close to Lowrie's production (.298, 3 HR, 15 RBI, .841 OPS). As a matter of fact, the rest of the division is largely putrid offensively. The numbers don't lie:
Elvis Andrus, Rangers: .266, 10 RBI, 7 stolen bases
Marwin Gonzalez, Astros: .253, 3 HR, 9 RBI
Brendan Ryan, Mariners: .137, 4 RBI, .137 slugging percentage
Donaldson has picked up where he left off at the end of 2012
Third base All-Star honors for the AL West have been rightfully earned by Oakland's Josh Donaldson. The converted catcher has flashed the leather at the hot corner while putting up very good offensive numbers (.300/.398/.492 with 4 HR and 24 RBI).
As a matter of fact, the only thing keeping Donaldson from likely getting more recognition in the league is the fact that two superstars are doing their thing ahead of him: Reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera and Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria.
So with all due respect to Seattle's Kyle Seager, who also is having a very good season, Donaldson is the clear choice to this point in the division.
Trout has not been spectacular, but still quite good in 2013
Let's be fair, people. It was going to be hard for Mike Trout to follow his otherworldly 2012 season with anything better. Just equaling a rookie year for the ages would have been spectacular.
That said, if you take his start with a narrow eye, it has not been that bad. Trout has a slash line of .277/.347/.493 with 5 HR and 23 RBI. That OPS of .841 is good for third in the AL for his position.
In other words, not only is it still early, but Trout has not fallen of a cliff in terms of production. And what he has produced is still hands-down the best for any left fielder in the division. But for the sake of comparison, here are the other two players that come closest:
Chris Carter, Astros: .228, 8 HR, 19 RBI, 53 K, .765 OPS
Seth Smith, Athletics: .272, 3 HR, 17 RBI, .768 OPS
Crisp (at right), was on fire before a trip to the DL
Another clear selection, Coco Crisp is the center field All-Star. What is unfortunate is that Crisp was off to a career year before a trip to the disabled list after 24 games. There has been no one who has Crisp's production in center field even though he has missed over 10 games.
Here is Crisp's slash line: .283/.388/.556. The slugging percentage and OPS of .944 were both best in the league. As were his eight stolen bases (Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury now leads with 12). Not only was Crisp the catalyst, he was Oakland's best hitter.
So even with all this missed production, Crisp has been the best. The only other two players that have been in the ballpark are LA's Peter Bourjos and Seattle's Franklin Gutierrez, who ironically has missed time as well.
Bourjos: .308, 2 doubles, triples, and HR, 8 RBI, .827 OPS
Gutierrez: .537 slugging percentage, 4 HR, 10 RBI, .823 OPS
Cruz has mashed his way to the top spot in right field
The battle for right field was supposed to be an affirmation of the big contract heaped on Josh Hamilton as he bolted to Southern California and the Angels.
So, money has not bought this spot. Ironically, or maybe for Ranger fans, symbolically, the best right fielder in the division has been a right fielder in Texas: Nelson Cruz.
Cruz has not been spectacular, but he has definitely delivered thus far. To this point in 2013, Cruz is batting .269 with 8 HR and 25 RBI, both near the top of the AL.
The other contender in right has been Seattle's Mike Morse. He has not hit well, but he has made them count, slamming nine home runs.
Of course, it would not be right to omit Hamilton's slow start. He has come along a bit, but still languishes with a .206 batting average and a .591 OPS. That said, he is producing better than Oakland's Josh Reddick, who has been awful for the most part at the plate.
Trumbo has mashed for the Angels so far
Rounding out the hitters, I give the nod at designated hitter to Mark Trumbo of the Los Angeles Angels. Some will say that Trumbo has not been in the DH slot enough to warrant this spot.
To that I say, make your own list. Okay okay, seriously, Trumbo has been essentially thrust into roles at first base and is meant to be the Angels' primary DH. So I'm going off of early position projections. It can be seen as semantics, but it is early.
That said, there is no disputing Trumbo's hitting. With 9 HR and doubles, 26 RBI, and an .887 OPS, Trumbo has been LA's best overall hitter.
And to be fair, it is not as if there is a close second lurking in the division at DH. Lance Berkman has been solid in Texas (.295/.427/.442 with 2 HR and 15 RBI).
Beyond him, that's it. Houston's J.D. Martinez and Seattle's Kendrys Morales have not had their overall production. And in Oakland, the DH changes based on match ups.
So ultimately, Trumbo fits here. And he will likely continue to do so in 2013.
To quote The Lion King: "The King...has returned"
Unlike the hitters, I won't beat the analysis of these picks into the ground. The numbers clearly dictate that Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, and Tom Milone have been the five best starters in the AL West. Here is a bit more on each statistically:
- Hernandez: 5-2, 1.53 ERA, 56/8 K:BB ratio, 0.90 WHIP
- Iwakuma: 3-1, 1.43 ERA, 46/9 K:BB ratio, 0.72 WHIP
- Darvish: 5-1, 2.56 ERA, 72/15 K:BB ratio, 0.92 WHIP
- Holland: 3-2, 2.54 ERA, 43/10 K:BB ratio, 1.01 WHIP
- Milone: 3-4, 3.13 ERA, 41/6 K:BB ratio, 1.11 WHIP
Truthfully, the fall off from those five has been striking. As a matter of fact, C.J. Wilson is the first Angels' pitcher to break in the ERA leaders list. And he is 30th. That may be the biggest single reason for LA's bad start.
Choosing between Hernandez and Darvish has been the debate thus far, but Iwakuma has quietly been a top 4-5 pitcher in baseball so far. That is how good he has been. It stands to reason that his production will have to tail off, but Seattle has had an incredible 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation.
The biggest question going forward is, when is Oakland's supposedly rock-solid rotation going to perform like it? Jarrod Parker and Brett Anderson have been bad and it can be argued that Bartolo Colon has been Oakland's second-best starter. That does not bode well for a team that expected to contend in 2013.
Wilhelmsen and Montero greeting has been a familiar site in Seattle victories
Rounding out the list are the relievers. I decided to go with one closer and one setup man. The best closer not just in the division, but arguably all of baseball so far has been Seattle's Tom Wilhelmsen. Only Toronto's Casey Janssen can reasonably argue otherwise.
The set-up man has been Texas fireballer Tanner Scheppers. The former Fresno State product has been fantastic for Ron Washington thus far.
As with the starters, the numbers don't lie for these relievers:
- Wilhelmsen: 10 saves, no blown saves, 0.56 ERA, 0.63 WHIP, 11/5 K:BB ratio
- Scheppers: 2-0, 17 innings, 0.53 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 9/4 K:BB ratio
While closers Joe Nathan and Grant Balfour have been really good in Texas and Oakland respectively, they have not been what Wilhelmsen has been for the Mariners. That goes double for setup men like Sean Doolittle in Oakland and Oliver Perez in Seattle.
Altuve has been really good on a really bad Houston team
Before I conclude, let me list the five players I feel are most deserving of honorable mention, regardless of position:
Jose Altuve/2B, Astros
Lance Berkman/DH, Rangers
Sean Burnett/RP, Angels
Sean Doolittle/RP, Athletics
Alexi Ogando/SP, Rangers
That is the list. And as is always the case, individual success often leads to success on the part of the team. The Rangers lead the division with six players on the list. Last-place Houston has no players on the list. It tends to work out that way.
What will be interesting is whether Oakland's talent (five players, good for second) is boosted by improved pitching. Los Angeles has a ton of positional talent that has not delivered so far. But as was the question going in to the year, will the Angels get enough pitching to win big? So far, the answer is a resounding no.
Seattle looks like Seattle has looked recently: Top heavy with their starting pitching and very good at the end of the bullpen, but not enough hitting. What Oakland and Los Angeles can take solace in is this:
2012 standings after 38 games:
And after today (May 10, 2013):
Which is to say, it's still early.