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AL West Preview: The Projections

We wrap up our trip through the AL West with a look at the projections and a little what if it goes right/wrong.

Los Angeles Angels v Colorado Rockies Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Now that we’ve got a good idea of what the Mariners will be facing in their own division, let’s wrap up our preview of the AL West with a look at what the projections say. A reminder: we’ve already compared the three major player groups on each division rival to each other: the lineups, the starting rotations, and the bullpens. Here’s how FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus see the division shaking out.

AL West FanGraphs Projections

Team Projected W Projected L W% Run Diff Playoff%
Team Projected W Projected L W% Run Diff Playoff%
Astros 90.1 71.9 0.556 +76 83.8%
Angels 82.3 79.7 0.508 +14 38.9%
Mariners 80.2 81.8 0.495 -6 26.8%
Rangers 74.0 88.0 0.457 -66 5.8%
Athletics 70.5 91.5 0.435 -89 2.1%

AL West Baseball Prospectus Projections

Team Projected W Projected L W% Run Diff Playoff%
Team Projected W Projected L W% Run Diff Playoff%
Astros 90.4 71.6 0.558 +73 76.0%
Angels 88.3 73.7 0.545 +63 67.5%
Mariners 83.2 78.8 0.514 +17 18.5%
Rangers 71.3 90.7 0.440 -95 1.4%
Athletics 65.4 96.6 0.404 -140 0.2%

The very nature of projections means the numbers above represent the 50th percentile results after thousands of simulated seasons. The 2021 Mariners reached their 90th percentile projection by winning 90 games through extremely clutch performances all around. And we’re all familiar with the disappointment that comes with extreme underperformance when a team hits their 30th percentile projection. In that vein, below you’ll find mini versions of our traditional “What if it goes right?” and “What if it goes wrong?” articles for each of the Mariners division rivals.

The Angels

If it all goes right

The gathered media were absolutely losing their minds, some moved to tears, laughing as hard as 13-year-olds who discovered “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” for the first time. They kept laughing as Ohtani took his seat at the first press conference since the awards had been announced. The long, blonde waves of his surprisingly-realistic wig fluttered in the wind of the small fan that a staffer was carrying in front of Ohtani.

“Yo, dudes, what’s up?” Ohtani said in what was apparently his best Syndergaard impression, sending the media envoy howling.

It came out later, famously, that there had been a secret, season-long bet between the Angels aces: Who could rack up more strikeouts this year? A tally was kept inside Ohtani’s locker. By 230 to 201, Syndergaard had won. And so, Ohtani held up his end of the bet - he fulfilled one of Syndergaard’s media obligations. And when it became clear that Syndergaard was going to win the Cy Young, they decided there would be no better time to pull it off than post-announcement.

What had clicked for Syndergaard this year, a local writer asked.

“Just throwing gas, dude,” Ohtani said, with a grin as wide as the San Gabriel.

Regrettably (or perhaps not), we got no equivalent press conference from Syndergaard for Shohei’s second-consecutive MVP.

Lost on no one, of course, was the fact that Mike Trout had put up 10.9 WAR and come in second in the MVP voting (“Was this the first time that the same team had claimed the Cy Young, MVP, and MVP runner-up?” we wondered). It was even more astonishing that 6 or so of those WAR came after the All-Star Game, in that glorious playoff-hunt for the ages. But what can we say? Awards voters are suckers for counting numbers, and when someone throws a perfect game, launches 50 dingers and finishes with as many strikeouts on the mound as hits as a batter in the same season…that guy gets the MVP award.

The Angels probably didn’t need, then, for Rendon to have a career year, and for Jo Adell to figure it out, posting a 130 WRC+, and for Jared Walsh to win the Silver Slugger at first base, and for Iglesias to post the most saves since Edwin Orlando Díaz of the 2018 Mariners - and they certainly didn’t need a team-wide .321 BABIP. But they got all of those things, and they were rewarded with the American League pennant, and a new-found hunger for the rings that those pesky Mets had denied them.

If it all goes wrong

It was late May, and it was the beginning of the end. They had played well so far - they had avoided the nightmarish injury streaks that had decimated the Astros and the Rangers, and were tied for Seattle for first in the AL West.

But, the fan theories (conspiracies, some had called them), that this team had a culture issue, some clubhouse cancer, had been stirring in Angels circles online. The usual teammate-props after wins felt forced, stilted. There was no article published in The Athletic about what a Fun Group of Guys this was, how they had all bonded on and off the field.

In late May, it all fell apart. Ohtani, DHing for the night while Syndergaard pitched, came up empty in the eighth inning of a 0-1 game. With the bases loaded and two outs, he watched strike three sail right down the heart of the plate. Syndergaard slammed his glove down on the bench, fuming. Instead of taking the field, he waited for Ohtani as he slowly walked back to the bench, head hung low, nearly down to the lettering on the front of his jersey.

The game feed didn’t broadcast it live, but plenty of cameras caught it. Syndergaard confronted Ohtani. Jomboy posted a breakdown, because of course he did, but was unable to make out any of the words screamed by Thor. But, it doesn’t take lip-reading skills to understand a firm, two-handed shove. Teammates, to that point watching the showdown warily, swarmed Syndergaard, pulling him away from Ohtani, who hadn’t seemed to bat an eye at the outburst.

In the post-game presser, Madden said all the right things. That this was a competitive, fiery ballclub, that this attitude is what has kept them high in the standings and winning close games, and they would pull together stronger than ever. But even he didn’t seem to believe that, cutting the press conference short.

The next day, it was announced Syndergaard had sprained his ankle, badly, in the scuffle, as Trout ripped him away from Ohtani. The 60-Day IL, so far clean for the Angels, gained its first member. Some speculated it was the same incident that re-injured Trout’s calf, though he had surely been running gingerly before that. The Angels started losing ground, first on the lead in the division, then second place, then third. They played a flat and joyless brand of baseball. Two separate 10-game losing streaks by the All-Star break saw them drop to 14th in the American League.

Then, the report came. Ohtani, through his agent, had politely but firmly demanded a trade by the beginning of the next season, preferably by the trade deadline. A shockwave erupted through the league. First came disbelief. Then, the bidding war. —NV

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros at New York Mets Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros

If it all goes right

When you repeatedly binge eat, your stomach expands. That’s just science. So you had to forgive the Astros for feeling like after playing in five straight ALCS and three of the last five World Series, the only way they’d find 2022 satiating was by ending it with another Commissioner’s Trophy. And bully for them, they did it.

But perhaps the biggest victory for the Astros, bigger even than winning it all, is that the boos have quieted. With Brandon Taubman and Roberto Osuna out of the league, Correa and Springer out of town, and Bregman and Altuve transitioning to supporting roles, this felt like a new version of the Astros. Those guys staying out of the headlines opened up space for the faces of the 2022 Astros to be Yordan Alvarez with his 54 home runs, Framber Valdez with his 3.02 ERA, and Kyle Tucker with his improved defense and 30-30 season sure to land him a top-5 finish when the MVP votes are counted next week. All the winning was sweet, but sweeter still was the ABC/ESPN survey showing that 40% of baseball fans were rooting for them to defeat the Cardinals in the Fall Classic. It wasn’t a majority, but it was enough to make clear that the Astros are no longer the villains. Indeed, not a single trash-can-bang taunting could be heard from Busch Stadium. [Please kill me.]

If it all goes wrong

It wasn’t their own play that aggravated them. The Astros knew coming into the year that 2022 wouldn’t be the same cakewalk to a division title as in recent years. They expected bumps when they decided to rely on Jeremy Peña, who only had 30 games above high-A, to be their replacement for Carlos Correa. And indeed, his 36% strikeout rate called to mind Jarred Kelenic’s rookie struggles but without the burst of promise in September. They knew too that there was risk in counting on Justin Verlander to be his same old self as a 39 year-old with a Tommy John scar. So it went that his curveball stopped curving and his slider stopped spinning. Some say it was the sticky stuff enforcement, but that’s still speculation, and surely there’s an excuse coming in 3 … 2 … 1 …. Beyond that, Yordan Alvarez’s knees limited him to just 78 games and Bregman only put 20 non-juiced baseballs over the fences.

No, none of that really bothered the Astros. What got their goat was Abraham Toro’s 230 wRC+ in games against them leading to the upstart Mariners taking 15 of 19 in the season series. Seeing Toro punish them month after month made them regret not having anyone left on the farm to trade for the necessary reinforcements when they could have just hung on to Toro. They still made the playoffs, of course; they’re the Astros, for Pete’s sake. But with a finally healthy Angels team taking the AL West, they settled for the second Wild Card berth, and the extra round of the playoffs proved too much for them, dropping the ALDS to their postseason rival Yankees. With Correa having already announced his intent to opt-out of his contract after putting up 6.1 fWAR for Minnesota, the Astros are sure to rob a bank if that’s what it takes to get him back this offseason. —ZM

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Athletics

If It All Goes Right

The A’s have been doing this for years. Shoestring budget? The homegrown talent will show up. Stadium woes? Park food trucks outside, plan cool giveaway nights, and raid the local car washes of their supplies of air fresheners to cover up that faint eau d’sewage. The constant threat of relocation hanging heavy over the head of the organization? None of it matters. The faithful A’s fans will still come out in force, bearing their noisemakers and banners, and the team just keeps winning. So who cares they were picked to finish last? The Oakland Athletics laugh, have always been laughing, in the face of predictions and conventional baseball wisdom. Their utter season-long dominance of the Mariners, pushing Seattle into a slapfight with Texas for last place in the division, was karmic just desserts for the upstart Mariners delaying, but not defeating, their playoff aspirations back in 2021.

After an off-season fire sale that stripped down both their lineup and starting rotation, no projection system saw the 2022 A’s coming. Despite their now Matt-less lineup, Oakland found success with equally bland-named Sean Murphy, whose Gold Glove defense plus 30 homers led all AL catchers in WAR, and the surprising Seth Brown, whose Aluminum Glove was made up for by his 45 bombs, most among AL first basemen. Ramón Laureano returned from suspension and quickly made up for lost time, getting back to his contact-hitting ways and living on base while playing the best center field west of the Mississippi. Meanwhile, a rotation that was supposed to be the laughingstock of the division proved that he who laughs last laughs best, as the fairy of arm health finally blessed the long-suffering Oakland pitchers, finally raising A.J. Puk to the Cy Young candidate he once showed promise of being. A particular lowlight of the season for Mariners fans: Cole Irvin’s no-hitter against the Mariners that officially eliminated them from playoff contention, after which Irvin tore the head off of Rachel the Pike Place Market Piggy Bank and wore it as a war mask while doing donuts through the Arboretum.

If It All Goes Wrong

Proving that actions have consequences, the A’s tankariffic strategy of piling up prospects and draft picks in exchange for trading off their entire major-league roster made their future teams better but this present one very, very bad. All the broken and old pitchers and relievers they bought on the cheap were unable to be put back together on the workbench in David Forst’s pool house, and the punchless lineup with nary a Matt in sight came in dead last in all offensive categories in the AL West. On the bright side, A’s fans do get to battle for the top spot in the 2023 MLB Draft with Baltimore, who surge ahead of Oakland in the standings but behind in the Tankathon rankings when super-prospect Adley Rutschman finally makes the majors. —KP

Texas Rangers Photo Day Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images

The Rangers

If it all goes right

The soft thunks of his loafers on the hallway carpet still sound foreign to Chris Young, though it’s now been five years since his strides were accompanied by the distinct click-clacks of cleats on the concrete dugout floor. The upstairs offices, abuzz with energy for the last three weeks, are now eerily silent. Young should be home too, like the rest of his staff, but he’s a man who likes closure - however small it may be. He walks to the giant white board by the coffee maker, uncaps a red marker with a snap-pop and scrawls 5-4 on the final box, underneath “WC G 3.”

Well before the start of the season, an off-hand remark Young made circulated throughout baseball media circles: “I don’t think we expect to just come out and be World Series contenders next season.” Young was practical—friends might say to a fault—and he’d been right, too. Another year without a World Series appearance for Texas this year, but for a team coming off a 102-loss season, that Wild Card series showing wasn’t too shabby.

The lineup did what they’d paid them millions to do, and spent the better part of half a year smashing the ever-loving crap out of the ball. Adolis García proved his breakout year was only the beginning, Mitch Garver was a comforting source for the youngsters on the mound and Matt Carpenter even got another postseason hero moment in red, when he mashed a go-ahead homer in Game 1 of the Wild Card series. Jon Gray and Cole Winn became the unlikeliest of dynamic duos. While the internet couldn’t get enough of their IG Live investigations of the basement of Gray’s Victorian house, Young was particularly fond of the 10 scoreless outings the two had combined for down the stretch. Globe Life Field was raucous throughout the second half, buoyed by Young’s trade deadline acquisition of Ramón Laureano and with Josh Jung’s smooth rehab and Leiter’s recognition as Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year, the future looked bright indeed.

Young recapped the marker and quietly strode back out of the office and into the Texas sunset.

If it all goes wrong

It started with the injuries, as it always seems to do. It wasn’t the hamstring or the hand for Corey this time, but Mitch Haniger’s nemesis, the oblique. For Jon Gray, the specter of last season’s forearm tightness became a forearm strain at the beginning of May. Glenn Otto, brought up to fill Gray’s spot, pulled an Adrian Sampson and retreated to the dugout after throwing two pitches in his Rangers debut against his former team. Torn labrum. From there, the already-shaky pitching staff simply collapsed under its own weight. Martín Pérez remained healthy, but it would have been better had he not. We won’t even talk about the mid-June #Liggies4Leiter movement that took hold after some disastrous news from Frisco.

Semien regressed, Joe Barlow ruined nearly every chance for a win that they had, and the team jettisoned lone pitching bright spot Taylor Hearn at the trade deadline. Kole Calhoun was kidnapped on June 7, but the ransom was never paid. Brad Miller developed a cult following after hitting 13 homers in April, but ruined any goodwill with his historic 227 strikeouts over the course of the season. By August the peanut vendors’ calls could be heard in the outfield, echoing ominously off the cavernous expanses of the tin trough of Globe Life Field.

On October 3, Chris Young announced that he would be stepping down to spend more time on his exotic animal cloning start-up. —IM