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AL West Preview: The Projections

A look at the preseason projections and a little “what if it goes right/wrong.”

Los Angeles Angels v Minnesota Twins Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Today, we’ll 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 72 0.556 +86 82.1%
Mariners 84 78 0.516 +33 48.0%
Angels 82 80 0.506 +22 39.0%
Rangers 81 81 0.501 +16 33.0%
Athletics 68 94 0.421 -98 0.9%

AL West Baseball Prospectus Projections

Team Projected W Projected L W% Run Diff Playoff%
Team Projected W Projected L W% Run Diff Playoff%
Astros 95 67 0.586 +126 94.4%
Angels 87 75 0.534 +51 58.1%
Mariners 82 80 0.505 +11 27.9%
Rangers 79 83 0.488 -14 14.5%
Athletics 65 97 0.398 -141 0.0%

The numbers you see above represent the 50th percentile results after thousands of simulated seasons. What’s more important is to try and discern what the distribution of possible outcomes could be for these projections. Because predicting baseball is nearly impossible, win projections have fairly wide error bars (around 6-8 wins historically). That means the Mariners are projected to win anywhere between 79 and 88 wins on a traditional bell curve. In fact, the Mariners have beat their 90th percentile projections by winning 90 games in back-to-back seasons. Can they do it again? Possibly. But there’s an equally likely chance that the team crashes and burns and misses the playoffs.

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 “OC vs. Everybody” shirts ticked a lot of people off, true, but that didn’t stop almost the entire Angels organization from sporting them as they lined up with the Commissioner’s Trophy for photo ops with Rob Manfred. Jerry Demings lifted the cup and pumped Phil Nevin’s hand, proclaiming this a “truly historic day” for the city county general geographic area of Orange County, as the tidal wave of blue-clad Dodgers fans streamed from the exits. A matchup for the ages, agreed LA Mayor Karen Bass through clenched teeth, handing over the gift basket of Dodger Dogs, french dip sandwiches, and quesobirria tacos, all while being pelted by stuffed rally monkeys and builder-grade flooring tiles from a crowd still drunk on Goofy Grigio and Mickey Muscat-eers.

The instant a tearful Mike Trout finished addressing the crowd, son Beckham perched atop his shoulders, thanking Angels fans for hanging with the team over a season that started with a losing record before gaining momentum and steaming through the playoffs to become the World Champions he knows they’ve always been, Arte Moreno, clad in a three-piece suit, seized the mic to announce that not only had they extended World Series MVP Shohei Ohtani to a record-breaking, twenty-year deal, his pal Robbo has created, to go along with the “Shohei Ohtani rule,” the “Mike Trout rule,” where any scion of a player currently on a team can be signed to a future contract without needing to be drafted. Beckham Trout immediately picked up a bat and hit a home run off a tee set up at home plate, to be carried around the bases by a somehow-still-spry Anthony Rendon. The A-shaped pile of rocks in the outfield collapsed under the weight of the assembled crowd, but since they were made of plaster all along, everyone just carried pieces home to sell on Facebook Marketplace for 59.99 a gram.

Every year, I am the Cassandra of LL, popping up in attic corridors to say but what about the ANGELS?! in a whippoorwill voice while waving my arms like Kermit. And every year, the Angels make a little show of proving me right before eventually collapsing on the dual axes of their own ineptitude and Arte Moreno’s meddling. This year, they’ve raised the floor with signing Tyler Anderson, and built in a replacement for Anthony Rendon’s knees by acquiring Gio Urshela. They’ve guarded against post-hype prospect Jo Adell failing to solve his strikeout issues by acquiring Hunter Renfroe, as well as signing Brandon Drury and good-vibes-maker Brett “Maverick” Phillips. None of these moves are sexy, but none of them have to be when you employ two of the best players of this generation. It all just has to be good enough. In many ways, this stars-and-scrubs roster of good players on the wrong side of thirty supported by high-floor role players feels deeply familiar. I believed in the 2018 Mariners, so I feel like I am contractually obligated to believe in the 2023 Angels, even if this is a boring year to do it.

If it all goes wrong

The Mariners and Rangers took equal delight in punishing the Angels for having been forecast ahead of them in the standings by major projection systems, taking turns denting the Halos and ensuring the AL West was a three-team race for the majority of the season. Letting go of hitting coach Jeremy Reed, who’d done his best to spin dross into gold over the past few seasons, turned out to be a lateral move at best, and an attempt to tap into the flow of pitching coaching talent from Driveline in the form of new assistant pitching coach Bill Hezel proved too little too late to make a major impact with off-season acquisitions Tyler Anderson and Carlos Estévez — something about teaching old leopards new stripes. There’s plenty of talent simmering in the minors yet, things a new pitching coach could really dig into, but unfortunately, that’s all a little too late for one Shohei Ohtani, out of patience and contract both. Enjoy the Big Apple, Shohei. —KP

The Astros

If it all goes right

All going right for the Astros is all going wrong for the rest of the world. I do not believe that it’s a coincidence that as modern civilization seemingly crumbles around us, the Astros have built a dynasty that seems unassailable. For all to go right for the Astros, inertia need only be maintained. Yordan Álvarez continues the breakout that saw him post the second-best wRC+ in all of baseball. José Altuve, for whom we had such hope last year as a candidate to collapse offensively, replicates his vintage 2022. Michael Brantley gets back to 100% health, Astros fans continue to be 100% annoying about daring to compare Jeremy Peña to Julio Rodríguez, and Alex Bregman’s face continues to be 100% punchable.

Lest you have any hope that the pitching will collapse, the three-headed monster of Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, and Luis García is here for the long run. They’re all under contract through at least 2025. Yes, reigning Cy Young winner Justin Verlander is gone, but wouldn’t it be so Astros for top prospect Hunter Brown to do his best Verlander impression straight out of the gate? Even José Urquidy looks managed to give the Astros 28 starts. It barely even matters whether or not Lance McCullers (who is almost as punchable as Bregman) is healthy! The icing on the cake is that even though the ‘Stros don’t exactly need a great bullpen, they have one. To add insult to injury, it’s anchored in part by former Mariner Rafael Montero, who has had just a smidge more success since leaving Seattle.

Vegas gives the Astros the best odds to win the World Series again in 2023. Once again, this season feels like a painfully drawn out race for another playoff exit for anyone outside of Houston.

If it all goes wrong

And yet, for as dominant as the Astros have been for over half a decade, they are not invincible. Indeed, no team is ever as far away from missing the playoffs as it might seem. The 2014 Red Sox, coming off of their third World Series victory in 10 years, were expected to coast to the postseason. Instead, they finished 71-91, good for last place in a strong AL East. It doesn’t take too much squinting to see some similarly bad luck befall the Astros.

I can’t even pretend that Yordan Álvarez will be anything other than spectacular, so the Mariners will have to hope that he plays a Mike Trout-like role: not godlike enough to uplift a squad of underperforming deadweights. Those deadweights need to be headlined by José Altuve. Altuve, who will turn 33 in May, faltered in 2020 and 2021. He would just need to lose a little bat speed, a little precision, in order for him to fall off a cliff á la 2014 Dustin Pedroia. Likewise, Jeremy Peña will need to struggle mightily – just like Xander Bogaerts did in 2014. Michael Brantley can’t stay healthy. The rest of the Astros’ core – Kyle Tucker, Alex Bregman, and Chas McCormick – need to find themselves in various stages of mediocrity. Not everyone needs to collapse, but nobody can have a career year.

Believe it or not, it’s a little easier to see how the pitching goes wrong. Lance McCullers never gets fully healthy (and he’s already reportedly experienced a setback). Hunter Brown has barely cut his teeth in MLB. Framber Valdez, who last year had a career season at 28, regresses to the 2-win player he’d been previously. Cristian Javier can’t stay healthy, paying the price for putting up a career high in innings last season. Luis García doesn’t pick up the slack, instead simply repeating his 2-win 2022 performance. The bullpen experiences the same volatility to which all bullpens are vulnerable.

Trying to somehow see how the Astros might flounder in 2023 feels like the inverse of squinting at all the bad Mariners teams of yesteryear, desperately searching for a way they might overperform. It’s certainly possible. It isn’t likely. But 5% isn’t 0%, and there’s a very real chance that an Astros team with just a little less depth than they’re used to stumbles, and the Mariners seize the chance for which they’ve been waiting for six years. —ZG

The Athletics

If it all goes right

You’d never seen a team be so happy to have such bad luck. For one thing, they may have had only 65 wins, but they came exactly the way they wanted them. Most importantly, JJ Bleday, the former top-100 prospect whom they’d traded AJ Puk for, cut his strikeout rate by a third while keeping his plus-plus walk rate. With the shift ban increasing his BABIP, that got his wRC+ up to 110, and he looks like a solid piece of the next A’s core. Cristian Pache remains the poster child for their misses on the Matt Olson/Matt Chapman/Chris Bassitt misses in the first wave of selling off the 2018-21 team. But the second wave of those trades is paying dividends, as Kyle Muller’s weak-contact approach is perfect for the Coliseum and Ken Waldichuk’s strikeout rate earned him down-ballot Rookie of the Year votes.

And the coup de grace was swindling a desperate Dave Dombroski by packaging Trevor May and Ramon Laureano together to save the Phillies’ playoff hopes in exchange for Mick Abel at the trade deadline. Abel joined Tyler Soderstrom in AAA, and because the A’s haven’t had to rush Soderstrom, they’ve been able to leave him at catcher, so the pair form the best top-two prospects of any team in baseball.

So why were they so happy to have bad luck? Because despite so much going right, they still underperformed their Pythagorean record by eight games, enough to get a bottom-three record in MLB and accordingly the top odds in the MLB draft lottery. The 2022 A’s met expectations by losing a lot of games. But they’re defying expectations in the speed that they’re becoming good again.

If it all goes wrong

The A’s went all in at the 2021 trade deadline, pushing in their chips by trading Jesús Luzardo for Starling Marte, but they ultimately busted out of the playoff race.

Then they rolled the dice in selling off their old core, making two pairs of bad trades in the 2021-22 offseason, giving up Matt Olson and Matt Chapman for guys that can’t hit (Cristian Pache can’t make contact and Kevin Smith can’t get a ball out of the infield) and Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea for pitchers who can’t stay healthy (J.T. Ginn has had multiple arm issues and Adrián Martínez may never recover from his TOS surgery).

They thought they still had an ace up their sleeves in Frankie Montas, who they kept until the 2022 trade deadline. But they learned the hard way not to trade for someone the Yankees were willing to live without, as Ken Waldichuk’s good strikeout and walk numbers had hidden his serious contact problems.

With the current team bad and the future outlook awful, the Coliseum was never a full house in 2022 nor 2023. That lack of interest made it hard for Oakland to get the political support for a new stadium, and so the plug has finally been pulled: Come 2025, the A’s will be playing in Las Vegas. —ZM

The Rangers

If it all goes right

These Rangers heard them all by the end. Every Western, Texan cliché in the book was thrown at this club, whose free agent bonanzas in the past two offseasons spurred a thousand think pieces on the proper way to build a team and finally broke the stranglehold of perpetual cheap rebuilds that the sport has besotten itself with in the past decade and a half. These two-stepping sons of guns got big years from their middle infield, with Corey Seager benefitting more than anyone could have fully expected from the limits to the infield shift and both he and Marcus Semien providing highlight reel defense. And while Josh Jung was the only member of their infield not to get a trip to the All-Star Game in Seattle, he’d get the last laugh with a Rookie of the Year award eked out ahead of a crowded field, likely fueled by his club’s surprising division title run.

Texas won just 90 games in an AL West where four clubs finished above .500, but in the home stretch they had four of a kind of aces, something no other division rival ultimately could muster. That was the deciding factor in the season’s final week and a half, as Jacob deGrom allowed just a single run in 16 innings across two starts against the Mariners, while Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney each proved as unsolvable for Seattle as they had been often all year, taking six of the final seven against Seattle interspersed with a sweep of the injury-slowed Angels to leapfrog both clubs and Houston for the AL West crown.

With an 84-win Cleveland club taking the AL Central, Texas’ rotation of Gunsmoke gets to fully reload for the ALDS. They’re the team nobody wants to face.

If it all goes wrong

The Los Angeles Dodgers of the 2010s were, as famously titled in Molly Knight’s book on the club, “The Best Team Money Can Buy.” As the Rangers scuffle to their seventh-straight losing season, the Hindenberg and Titanic historical societies have sent them flowers for the massive PR boost both have received, passing the torch for infamously expensive colossal failures into a new synonymous term.

We should’ve known when deGrom’s back began barking in February that things were amiss. But as the ace’s status grew murkier with Opening Day fast approaching, it was an utter shock as he appeared in a surprise press conference with a horned, cloven hoofed creature in a suit. “It’s not natural to throw 100 mph for an entire start, every five days, for 200 innings. I don’t know how else you all thought I was able to do this,” said deGrom with resignation in his voice. “Unfortunately, my agent Dispater here has reminded me that my contract with the Rangers does not supersede the specific and arcane calculations by which our deal was brokered that allowed me to throw this hard for a set amount of time. It’s basically the same as arbitration, yeah. Anyways, time’s up, thank you Tex-”

The residual smell of brimstone and burnt UCL sinew still lingers in the Rangers’ press conference space, no matter how much Lysol and bleach the clubbies scrubbed around it. Their efforts might’ve been better served on their own eyes when they cast their gaze at the injury report for the Boys in Blue, as both Seager and Semien took multiple trips to the IL and for two and a half fateful weeks in August every single member of the projected Opening Day rotation was on the shelf. The greatest indignity was lot only losing the season series to the A’s, but finishing last behind them by a half dozen games as each young player with potential to step up came down with a malady or mysteriously ill-crafted mechanical hiccup. Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker saw their command regress, while Jung and Adolis García found themselves vying for the highest strikeout rate among qualified batters.

Nobody saw deGrom ever again. —JT