The American League West has become known as a division built around pitching. The West is home to the reigning American League Cy Young Winner, Felix Hernandez. All four teams' rotations currently rank in the top half of the American League.
The pitchers can only do so much however. The following 20 players were the top offensive contributors (key word, not necessarily the top producers) to their teams in 2010.
Keeping in mind that players do not always replicate their contributions from the previous season, and there is no guarantee that they will be the top 20 contributors again this season; these players will play the largest roles in their respective lineups to lead their team through the regular season and into the playoffs.
Honestly, I was a little surprised that a few players did not make the list in the top 20, and likewise was surprised by a few of the players that did make the list. Sabermetric evaluation is full of surprises.
A player's batting average, home run total or RBI total does not always tell the whole story about what that player actually contributes to the team's offense. Consider, for example, if the player has 30 home runs but also hits into 30 double plays. He more consistently hurts his team than helps them.
To attempt to put all AL West hitters on an even platform for evaluation, I decided to use Sabermetric statistics to determine the top 20 hitters, making no substitutions based on personal opinion.
Players were evaluated based on offensive statistics only, no consideration was given to the player's defensive contributions. The final order was determined using the players' Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) as well as the players' Equivalent Average (EqA).
VORP is determined by the number of runs contributed beyond what a replacement-level player at the same position would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances. VORP scores do not consider the quality of a player's defense. (This is similar to a player's WAR, only it puts all players on a level field for comparison).
EqA is a measure of total offensive value per out, with corrections for league offensive level, home park, and team pitching. EQA considers batting as well as baserunning, but not the value of a position player's defense. The EqA adjusted for all time also has a correction for league difficulty. The scale is deliberately set to approximate that of batting average. League average EqA is always equal to .260.
Acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays, by way of the division rival Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Mike Napoli joins an already strong Texas lineup in 2011.
Napoli swings a powerful bat, although Texas would like for his batting average to bounce back up to the .270 range where he hit in 2008 and 2009 before dropping to .238 last season with the Angels.
Leaving defense aside, which is a strength of Napoli's, he is an offensive upgrade over the other catching options on the Rangers' roster.
After five consecutive seasons with home run totals in the double digits, Ellis dropped to only five homeruns in 2010. His batting average was the second highest of his career, however, at .291.
Ellis is a consistent hitter with decent power for a middle infielder; patient and efficient on the basepaths.
For Ellis to remain a top hitter for the Athletics in 2011 he will need to keep his batting average and on-base percentage consistent with his 2010 performances, and ideally increase his home run total back to his previous levels.
Howie Kendrick is probably one of the more underrated hitters to make this list. Kendrick possesses a quick bat and makes good contact consistently. He has good speed on the basepaths and has decent power for his size.
Kendrick needs to work on his approach at the plate, however, to become a better hitter. He needs to learn to take more walks. His current approach of swinging at everything makes this difficult for him and drastically lowers his on-base percentage.
2010 marked the third year in a row his batting average dropped. While he was still one of the top 20 hitters in the AL West in 2010, he could drop off this list in 2011 if he does not work on taking more walks and showing better pitch selection.
Cliff Pennington has very good speed on the basepaths, patience at the plate and has quietly developed decent power.
Pennington will not lead the league in power categories, or even batting average, but he will provide consistent contributions to the Athletics offense in 2011.
At only 26 years of age, he still has plenty of upside and should improve on his 2010 statistics.
Bobby Abreu provides the Angels with a power bat in the middle of their lineup. Abreu has a compact lefty power swing. He shows good patience at the plate and works the count. He is a consistent run producer who still possesses good speed and base-stealing ability on the bases.
Abreu has lost some power in recent years and strikes out a little too much, but he is still one of the most consistent run producers in the AL West and a dangerous hitter in the middle of the Angels' lineup.
Injuries shortened his 2010 season with Kansas City, but his .318 average would have made him the top hitter in the Oakland lineup. DeJesus is a professional hitter with good plate discipline who can completely dominate right handed hitters. DeJesus has enough speed to make him an effective base stealer.
To be a true value to the 2011 Athletics, DeJesus will need to remain healthy for the duration of the season and improve his hitting against left-handed pitchers.
For the first time in his career, he is playing on a team that has a chance to contend for the playoffs; his production should improve as he plays meaningful games for the first time in his career with a competent lineup surrounding him.
Murphy is a clutch hitter who has good power against both right and left-handed pitchers. Murphy played an important role in the Rangers 2010 World Series runner-up team.
In 2011, Murphy will need to cut down on his strikeouts and remain consistent in order to maximize his offensive potential.
The Athletics are counting on Crisp to complete a full season healthy for the first time since 2007. When Crisp is healthy, he is an elite switch-hitter with good gap power and good speed on the basepaths. In 75 games last season, Crisp stole 32 bases while only being caught three times.
The biggest obstacle for Crisp has always been his health. When he is healthy, he has produced. To maximize his offensive potential, he could benefit from taking more walks.
Crisp will be the A's leadoff hitter in 2011 and will improve on his 2010 contributions as he enters free agency after the current season, seeking his next payday.
To A's fans this might seem like a flawed statement, but Cust needs to swing more at the plate.
Cust strikes out a lot, but he also walks a lot and hits a lot of home runs. His approach at the plate is one of extreme patience. He swings only at the pitch he is looking for.
Perhaps by swinging at more pitches, we would see his batting average rise and his strikeouts drop.
Cust does add a significant power threat to the Mariners' lineup. Hitting behind Ichiro and Milton Bradley, Cust will have runners to drive in this season when he does swing the bat.
Ian Kinsler is a constant threat in the Rangers' lineup. He is capable of hitting for power and stealing bases, giving the ability to both score runs as well as drive them in.
Kinsler missed a total of 59 games in 2010, dropping a number of his offensive categories, but he entered spring training healthy and ready to contribute in 2011.
In 2009, Kinsler hit a career high 31 home runs before dropping to only nine in his injury-shortened season in 2010. Injuries aside, Kinsler still managed an EqA slightly higher than his actual batting average and had a VORP of 26.6.
Josh Willingham had his 2010 season cut short by injuries, as did many others on this list it seems.
Willingham will be playing his first season in the AL West this year for the A's after coming over from the Washington Nationals in an offseason trade.
Willingham swings a powerful bat and has above-average home run ability. He has averaged over 20 home runs a season for three out of the past four seasons, and was on pace to hit over 20 home runs last season before his season ended due to injuries.
Willingham may swing for the fences a little too much and could benefit from swinging for contact more now that he plays in the Oakland Coliseum—a pitcher-friendly park.
Michael Young could very well find himself out of the AL West at some point this season as trade rumors swirl around him. He lost his starting job at third base over the offseason to free-agent Adrian Beltre and will spend 2011 as the Rangers' designated hitter, unless he is traded.
Michael Young possesses an excellent hitting eye and consistently sprays line drives all over the field. Young's 21 home runs last season was the fourth time in his career that he has hit over 20 home runs in a season.
Young is consistently productive and also a very competent baserunner. His presence in the lineup is a boost to the Rangers offense, and he is one of the better overall hitters in the American League West.
Hideki Matsui enters his second season in the AL West and first with the Oakland Athletics. Matsui has been a consistent clutch hitter throughout his career. He has an excellent approach at the plate, waits for his pitch, has a short compact swing and hits for power.
Matsui steps in to replace Jack Cust in Oakland. The A's will count on Matsui to have a productive season to provide some much needed offense to support their talented young pitching.
Daric Barton ranking this high on the list may have been the biggest surprise to me personally when I compiled the statistics. Barton was touted as an excellent hitter in the minor leagues but hadn't really put together an impressive season in the major leagues.
Last season with the A's, Barton had 48 hits for extra bases, including 33 doubles. Barton also has an excellent approach at the plate and is not afraid to take walks. He consistently gets on base and can drive runs in with his line-drive swing.
Barton spent the offseason working on getting in better shape and developing some pop to his swing. This will only help his production in 2011.
Torii Hunter has posted a consistent batting average throughout his career and has also consistently hit for power, posting his ninth season with over 20 home runs last year for the Angels.
In addition to his skills with a bat, Hunter possesses good speed and is a good base stealer. He can score runs as well as drive them in, as is evident by his 90 RBI last season.
I don't think there is any arguing that Ichiro is one of the top 20 hitters in the American League West. The only argument here may come that he was not ranked No. 1. Once again though, this list goes strictly based on the player's VORP number, and that slotted Ichiro at number five. Go figure...
In his MLB career, Ichiro has never finished with less than 200 hits, or a batting average below .300. Ichiro is one of the best contact hitters of all time. Ichiro is an amazing singles hitter and run producer.
In 2011, it is pretty much a lock that Ichiro will provide the Mariners with over 200 hits again and an above .300 average.
Nelson Cruz has developed into a top-tier home run threat in the American League. His 22 home runs in 2010 came in only 108 games.
Cruz has good size for a hitter, with a powerful swing and nice follow through. His approach tends to be all-or-nothing, resulting in either a home run or strikeout, but he has still managed to be a consistent contributor for the Rangers.
Cruz has good speed as well and is capable of double-digit steals annually.
Vernon Wells had a bounce-back year last season for the Toronto Blue Jays. As he enters his first season with the Angels, he hopes to pick up right where he left off last season. Wells' 2010 production would have ranked him second in the AL West among all hitters. I expect his production to stay consistent with last year's numbers playing in Anaheim this year.
Wells has the ability to hit for both power and average, and surprisingly does not strike out very often for a power hitter.
Wells has been inconsistent and streaky throughout his career, but he has the talent to be one of the best hitters in the AL West this season.
Adrian Beltre makes his return to the AL West after one season in Boston.
2010 seemed to be a bit of a fluke season for Beltre. He posted his highest batting average since 2004, likely a result of his taking advantage of hitting balls off the green monster in Boston last season.
Beltre has good bat speed and can be a big run producer when he is in the zone. Beltre has been inconsistent throughout his career though and has had his effort called into question as well.
When he is on though, he is one of the best hitters in the game. If he approaches 2011 with the intention of proving he was deserving of the overwhelming contract he signed in the offseason, he could be a huge addition to the Rangers lineup in 2011. Hitting with Josh Hamilton as protection in the lineup is a benefit for Beltre and should help his statistics.
|Adrian Beltre ||589||84||189||28||102||.321||.365||.553||.310||59.0|
The reigning American League MVP and batting champion not surprisingly takes the No. 1 ranking among not just AL West hitters, but the entire American League.
Had Hamilton not missed time for injuries in 2010, he could have contended for a Triple Crown, a pretty good indication of the type of hitter Hamilton is.
Hamilton has a good frame for a hitter and has a powerful lefty swing. Hamilton is one of the elite home run hitters in the American League and also hits for high average (as evidenced by his .359 average and batting title last season).
If Hamilton can remain healthy, he will contend for the AL MVP again in 2011 and post a batting average above .300 with 30+ home runs, 100+ RBI and 100+ runs.
In short, there is no other hitter in the AL West that comes close to Josh Hamilton's abilities.